Friday, January 20, 2012
God is bread
It was mostly a mistake. The new semester had just begun and I was adjusting to a new early-rising regimen. I clicked on the television as I dug bleary-eyed into my cereal. The screen lit up with what seemed to be a news broadcast, with a talking head reading off a sequence of headlines. I looked up from the morning newspaper and realized why the television broadcast sounded a little strange. The talking head belonged to Terry Meeuwsen, a pioneer in the now-common practice of former beauty queens becoming spokespersons in right-wing media.
The television station was broadcasting The 700 Club in this early morning time-slot. My hand reached out for the remote control, but then I paused. I had not seen Pat Robertson's program in many years—with the exception of certain choice excerpts featured on the YouTube channel of Right Wing Watch—and I was curious what would pop up next. The program had already caught my attention with its sudden segue from headline news to a hand-wringing statement that the sad state of the world was due to insufficient devotion to the message of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (You can always hear the capital letters.)
Yes. The happy couple had successfully bribed God with a tenth of their income. In return, God had given them financial security for their retirement. I guess it was supposed to be a miracle. The details, however, were less than fully compelling. They had been struggling to make ends meet when the wife suggested to her husband that they were not meeting their obligation to give the Lord ten percent of all they earned. As the husband admitted, he had argued that it made no sense to try to live on ninety percent of an income that was already marginal, but his wife had argued forcefully that ten percent was God's by right. She smiled for the camera, looking smug.
The next miracle was the husband's promotion at work. His new position and salary brought them a level of income and security they had never experienced before. Good work, Jesus! Also, they could now send even more money to The 700 Club.
A pitchwoman came on camera to exhort viewers to join The 700 Club for only twenty dollars a month—“only sixty-six cents a day!”—and to reassure indigents in the television audience that making a sacrificial offering would be more than offset by God's future blessings. The most important thing was to scrape up some dough and ship it off to Pat Robertson's money-handlers. Amen!
I punched the button on the remote control and the television winked off, sparing me any further nauseating exposure to the conscienceless money-grubbing of Robertson's minions. To be sure, there have been more overt examples of televangelist cupidity (like Robert Tilton or Mike Murdock), but the smooth come-on from The 700 Club is particularly noisome. Given the program's reach, I'm sure they have very little difficulty combing through their correspondence for testimonial letters from folks with strokes of luck that can be conveniently attributed to divine intervention—even in the case of such mundane examples as a promotion at work. I'm certain they ignore the letters and e-mails from those sinking ever deeper into poverty. Or, worse, they reply to those people with faux concern and suggestions that they aren't sending in enough money.
Televangelism is a transparent con, but it still hooks those too blind to see. My brief exposure to The 700 Club reminded me what a disgusting spectacle it is. I had mercifully forgotten just how much.