Don’t worry — Bill Hanson’s own personal pastorpreneur is back on duty in today’s News and Tribune, evangelizing on a platform of mass shooting aftermaths.
Now about those ten-percent tithes to keep the one-percent ensconced on their thrones …
A Grift From God, by Meagan Day (Jacobin)
The prosperity gospel promises material riches to believers. It’s on the rise, and no wonder: it’s the perfect religious expression of capitalism, especially in the age of Trump.
Forty percent of Americans are liquid asset poor, which means that if they don’t receive their next paycheck they have no means to make ends meet. Why?
If you’re a socialist, the answer is that society’s capitalist minority is exploiting the working-class majority. People are broke because they are dependent on wages to survive, and their bosses are paying them as little as they can get away with. Low labor costs yield high profits, and the compulsion to maximize profits is the driving principle of capitalism. It’s baked into the economic system and exacerbated by low levels of organized working-class resistance.
If you’re a believer in the prosperity gospel, though, the answer is very different. The prosperity gospel is a movement within American Christianity, also known as the Word of Faith, that says God wants you to be rich, but you have to will his financial blessing into being. Forty percent of Evangelicals are taught the prosperity gospel, according to which the root cause of poverty is faithlessness.
Barbara Ehrenreich took a glance at the prosperity gospel in her book, Bright-sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America. She links it to the overall trend of “positive thinking” that emerged first in self-help and business literature and has bled over into religion. According to the laws of positive thinking, writes Ehrenreich, “You can have all that stuff in the mall, as well as the beautiful house and car, if only you believe that you can.”
From a socialist perspective, it’s cruel enough that the prosperity gospel locates the potential for economic uplift somewhere else besides mass politics and united class struggle, distracting and demobilizing people, and making it harder for them to actually win real society-wide victories. But it gets worse.
Prosperity gospel ministers don’t usually stop at urging positive thinking. To manifest financial success, believers can’t simply have faith. They must demonstrate that faith — preferably in the form of a tithe to the person doing the preaching. As rapper Ice-T put it, “The preacher says, ‘I know God a little bit better than you. If you pay me, I’ll hook you up.’”
Like payday lenders, prosperity gospel ministers see the broke and struggling as a consumer market. Their target demographic is those who suffer from lack, and their product is the promise of abundance, or at least relief. Financially, the prosperity gospel is nothing but a swindle, prying money from people who by definition have very little and desperately wish they had more.
Ideologically, the prosperity gospel dovetails perfectly with right-wing ideology, which views poverty as a consequence of individual failure rather than rigged economic and political structures. As Ehrenreich writes, “Always, in a hissed undertone, there is the darker message that if you don’t have all that you want, if you feel sick, discouraged, or defeated, you have only yourself to blame.”
When times are hard, it’s because you didn’t think positively enough, pray hard enough, or tithe enough. It’s a spiritual spin on meritocracy, the ideological handmaiden to neoliberal capitalism.
The prosperity gospel is one of America’s greatest grifts. Little wonder, then, that it’s made its way to the White House, currently occupied by a master con artist himself …