I thought with all this Joel Osteen furor going on (he allegedly kept his ginormous megachurch closed to Hurricane Harvey victims), now would be a GREAT time to drop my personal knowledge on televangelists. During a few years starting around 2003, I started listening to these broadcast preachers—and like everything else I really get into, I REALLY GOT INTO IT.
I’m not here to exclusively sing their praises—though I’m also not here to necessarily “bury” them, either. I never gave a dime to televangelists, mostly because I was dead broke when I was listening to them (of course, that sort of stood in the way of the “prosperity doctrine” that some occasionally preached—a doctrine that, surprisingly, wasn’t that much different than the one the New Age self-improvement gurus taught me years later).
And so I have no big axe to grind with these guys (and occasional gals) in terms of what they did to me specifically. I found some of what they said useful at the time, bought a couple of books, and that was it. But I do realize that people do donate large sums of money to them, even those who are dead broke. And I can understand what would motivate people to do that, even though many of these televangelists look like they are fashionplates and millionaires.
I’ve read a lot of comments recently along the order of: “who could possibly listen to Joel Osteen and his shit?” Who could possibly “fall” for it? And then the conclusion: “probably dumb hicks.”
But this is a failure of imagination in terms of understanding other people’s Reality TunnelsReality Tunnels, as well as most likely not a lot of actual experience watching the sermons of people like Osteen.
Having listened to like 30+ Osteen sermons, I have to say: he is a fucking master at delivering comforting and inspiring material. An absolute genius. This is the nucleus of why he is so popular. He’s really, really good at it—with a sincerity and an aw-shucks charm that might very well be an “act” but if it is, again, he’s really damn good at it.
A lot of the Osteen stuff is almost indistinguishable from the aforementioned New Age self-improvement stuff—outside of a little prayer or mention of God at the beginning and end, and maybe like one Bible passage in the meat of the thing. Very, very secular.
So secular, in fact…that Osteen became a frequent target of hatred by other more “old-school” preachers. Him, Rick Warren, Joyce Meyer—they were portrayed as “false prophets,” as working against Christ, as promoting a more humanist/secular agenda with the goal of destroying Christianity. (picture those insane muckracking YouTube videos with scary music and occasional blood-dripping flashes of Baphomet)
No matter that many of these critics were also hardcore asking their followers for cash. How much of their ire was because of a difference in philosophy and how much was because this new crop was cutting in on their racket? (probably 50/50)
And that leads me to an important point to be made here regarding Osteen, Warren, Meyer, etc. They did bring a more inclusive, tolerant, loving strain of Christianity with them into a sphere that traditionally was a lot more close-minded and “fire-and-brimstone.” That’s not nothing, in my opinion. I mean, Meyer did ground-breaking stuff regarding dealing with sexual abuse that none of these other televangelists EVER dealt with. Warren continually tried to build bridges with other faiths and the secular community. But this was, to some people, heresy.
But then we come back to the central question that has sparked the recent Osteen controversy. These televangelists all seem rich, and always seem to need more cash. Are they not being “real” Christians?
However, I can ask the same question about those peeps in the New Age self-improvement set (and, having been around some of these types and gone to conferences and whatnot, you can see the lavishness firsthand). So this actually becomes a much bigger, basic question. Can you both be super-spiritual and super-rich? Is the “prosperity doctrine” and the “power of positive thinking so I can get more $$$” sort of a blasphemy in the face of all the poverty in the world?
Interestingly enough: both reality tunnels—as well as their old-school forerunners—employ, at heart, this idea that if you’re poor…you probably brought it upon yourself.
Sad but true. Sometimes, when I crave comfort, I conveniently ignore this & just listen to these people anyway. But that’s the basis of a lot of this stuff: the only person you can blame for being destitute or even sick is you. You are the only person who “controls” your financial situation. The big bankers, the corporations, corrupt governments, social inequality, the mafia, all this other shit? Nope, they haven’t done this to you—you did it when you stopped thinking positively. (so, you know, you don’t need to be politically active or anything) You did it when you didn’t love Christ enough. It was you.
That, I think, is where things become problematic. I don’t have a further answer to it at this time but I am acknowledging it.
That all said…probably my favorite televangelists of that time wasn’t even on TV at all, but rather the crazypants eschatological antics of Harold Camping and Family Radio. They also continually asked me for money, but provided a lot of comforting music and high entertainment as well.
In the end, it all comes down to Reality Tunnels: who activates yours at any given time in your life. Who activates them, and when you know it’s time to switch tunnels.