Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Charlatans in the Pulpit: John Oliver Exposes the Prosperity Gospel

Charlatans in the Pulpit: The Prosperity Gospel
Charlatans in the Pulpit: The Prosperity Gospel

by Catherine Giordano

Bill Maher likes to joke that “Pope Frank” (as he calls Pope Francis) may just be an atheist. He has said that gay people shouldn’t be marginalized and that atheists will be welcome in heaven. He has a lot about the problems of income equality  and climate change while not saying very much on issues like contraception and abortion.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Pope Francis was an atheist. I researched the issue of religious leaders who are secret atheistS. I discovered that this is a lot more common than you may think. It seems that one of the fastest ways to become an atheist is to attend a seminary. I wrote about my findings in an article titled, Atheists in the Pulpit: Non-Believers in the Clergy.
From Apostle to Apostate
(A group called the Clergy Project is an online group led by volunteers to provide educational, charitable, and peer support to current and former religious professionals who no longer hold supernatural beliefs.  It was founded in March 2011. You can read about it in this book, From Apostle to Apostate: The Story of the Clergy Project, written by Catherine Dunfrey, a founder of the organization, with a forward by Richard Dawkins.)
I think that many ministers who are atheists are not deliberate hypocrites. They began their studies and careers with sincere belief; and by the time they realized that the dogma of their religion was false, they felt trapped. Some did not want to leave their profession because they felt that they were helping people and doing good in the world, and this is what they genuinely felt they were called to do. Some felt that being a minister was the only way they could earn a living and they often had a family to support. Some felt that they could not bear the consequences of “coming out” – they would lose the respect of their community and the love of their families.

Your friendly neighborhood preacher may be one of those trapped in the clergy. These people are mostly good people who made a mistake and they don’t know how to get out of it.

However, there are others who are deliberate charlatans. They preach the prosperity gospel because they are greedy; some may even be authoritarian personalities with a sick need to have power over others.They become millionaires and billionaires preaching the prosperity gospel and bilking the poor and the desperate. "Send a faith offering to me," they implore, "and God will reward you—your credit card debt will vanish, you disease with be cured, your life will be blessed." The charlatans live in mansions and own private jets while their flock of suckers are induced to hand over their last penny.

It’s just one of the ways that religion does more harm than good. Here is a good article that enumerates the little bit of good and the enormous harms done by religion. Does Religion Do More Harm than Good These charlatans do a tiny bit of good--they give people hope--but an enormous amount of harm when their hopes are dashed and they don't have enough money left to live on.

It’s all legal. The law can’t touch them. If your stockbroker promises you unrealistic returns or simply takes your money and never puts it into any investments (like Bernie Madoff) he can be sent to prison or at least be sued. But this is religion and the law can’t lay a glove on it.
John Oliver, a comedian, exposed this brilliantly on his HBO show, Last Week Tonight, which aired on August 16, 2015. (Each week's show premieres at 11:30 pm on Sunday night on HBO.)

He began with an exposé. He presented it in a hilariously funny way, but the comedy was overshadowed by the pain of the sympathy I felt for their victims. Fortunately for comedy, the second half was unadulterated parody and comedy gold. John Oliver actually set up a church named “Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption” (that is, tax exemption, folks) and mimicked the exhortations of the charlatan preachers. He even brought in a gospel choir.

It was wonderful. Watch it here.

James Randi The Faith Healers

John Oliver used his comedic skills to expose the preachers of the prosperity gospel. James Randi, a magician, used his skills as a master of illusion to expose the faith healers. He wrote about their tricks and how he exposed them in his book, co-authored by Carl Sagan, The Faith Healers.

Take a scholarly look at the prosperity gospel—its origins, unifying themes, major figures and its effects on Christians and Christianity.. Kate Bolwer, the author, an assistant professor of the history of Christianity in America at Duke Divinity School, does a complete examination of the topic in her book Blessed


The “Reverend” John Oliver returned on Sunday, August 23,t2015 to lead another service with congregants of his “Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption” church. He preached the gospel of “the seed” once again, only this time he stressed he did not mean actual seeds. He wants only U.S. currency, thank you very much.

As he sat in a room full of United States Post Office crates piled high with the mail he received, he told us that the response was greater than he expected. Since the money will eventually go to Doctors without Borders, please keep the donations coming.

Here is a video clip of the follow-up segment. [Sorry, it has been disabled for now.  You can watch it if you CLICK HERE )

Final Update

The “Reverend” John Oliver shut down his church on Sunday September 13. The Gospel of the Seed had gone a little too far. Lots of people sent in money, all of which will be donated to Doctors without borders. That part was just fine. Some people continued to send in actual seeds—the kind you plant in the ground to grow vegetables. That part was just silly. But a few decided to take “seed” to a new level and sent in “man-seed” as Stephen Colbert used to call it on The Colbert Report. Yes, I'm talking about semen. That part was just gross.

So Rev. Oliver decided the ministry had run its course, and with his lovely wife, Wanda Jo, by his side, he announced the end of his ministry, as workers disassembled the set around him. 

His final words were, "If you want to send money to a fake church, send it to Scientology. "

Here is a video of the final update. CLICK HERE