What's crackin' friends? Welcome to another bailout Monday, in which a reckless bank gets more money and reckless auto industry bosses get told to sit and spin on Capitol Hill for, um, being reckless.
Some of you may know that I am a student of formal religion, an amateur, but a student nonetheless. What can I tell you? I'm a geek who is always curious about how people worship - if they worship - and who or what they worship. And no, I don't think my father being a minister had anything to do with my dull hobby. Seriously, I don't.
So over the past couple of years I've been hearing more and more about this preacher from Houston, Joel Osteen. I've heard people say he's the greatest thing since sliced bread, and I've heard people say that he's delusional 'cause his sermons tend to be one-track messages that if you believe that good things will happen for you, they will, because God, on the strength of your faith, will make it so.
Can we say twist on Norman Vincent Peale, anyone?
So I finally managed to catch Osteen on television a few months ago and watched several of his sermons. And sure enough, they were all about what Kanye West might call "The Good Life." Themes to the effect of If you're down, don't be! Be up! Being up is much better! If you're broke, believe you won't be, and soon enough you'll have cash in your pocket! Of course, I'm oversimplifying. Respectfully, the sermons were more complex and involved Osteen's exhortations to have faith. Then today I read this article in one of my old newspapers about a recent Osteen concert.
And I won't lie. I found the tone of his messages uplifting. But at the same time I was bothered by a missing element of reality in his messages - the element that addresses heartbreak that doesn't come with a quick fix, failure in spite of ambition, persistent tragedy, etc. You know, the kinds of things that Average Joe and Average Jane deal with everyday but you never hear about 'em in the news?
My open-minded side says maybe religious folks need positive-only messages, since they're probably immensely aware of the negative things in life without some guy in an expensive suit reminding them.
But my cynical side says it's easy to subscribe to a philosophy that tells you to use your faith like The Force to think your negativity out of existence, when you preside over a ministry that brings in more than $70 million a year. And it's easy to tell your parishioners and fans that true prosperity is about health and happiness and spiritual and mental wholesomeness - all "free" things, when after you've delivered that message you pass around collection buckets so that they can share with you that other kind of prosperity, the green kind.
But I'm not here to poke fun at anyone. Well, I am, but not in this particular case. Worship how you want, if you want, and if you believe positive thinking alone, or more than anything else will make your life better, then more power to ya. When we meet and compare notes down the line, you can tell me how that worked out for you.
Still, I'll leave you with this food for thought: Keeping in mind that I am a religion junkie, there was something about the nature of Osteen's message that seemed vaguely familiar to me. And then I remembered. It seems to be a modern, more polished incarnation of the messages of the late evangelist A.A. Allen and Dr. Frederick Eikerenkoetter AKA Rev. Ike from back in the day.
If you're my age - 30s - or younger, you probably don't know about either of these men, unless you too are an egghead. But if you're my folks' age - late 50s - or older then I'll bet you've heard of 'em.
In the late 1970s, at the height of his popularity, Rev. Ike preached a prosperity message that, for all intents and purposes, said that if your faith was strong enough all the good things you wanted out of life should happen for you.
Allen, who died in in 1970 of liver failure caused by alcoholism (with a name like A.A.?), also preached a prosperity gospel.
The funny thing is when Rev. Ike and Rev. Allen used to preach prosperity and positive thinking they were called con men by mainstream cultural critics. Osteen gets love and accolades. What has changed about how we view this brand of formal religion? That question isn't rhetorical. If you have a theory, I'd like to hear it.
Anyway, I'm not saying Osteen is a con man. I told you, I found his style of delivery very uplifting. And apparently so do millions of other people...people who, unlike me, give money to his ministry.
But just for fun I'll leave you with this legend about A.A. Allen.
They say that like many preachers Allen used to collect cash offerings after his sermons. But unlike many preachers, either Allen or his ushers would toss the cash in the air, and as it floated he would say "What goes up is the Lord's, and what comes down is mine!"
Given the evidence of gravity on our planet, you can probably guess who hung onto that cash.