Friday, January 20, 2012

God is bread

Dough, ducats, shekels, moolah, ...

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.)

I was rewarded with a teaser for a segment on financial success. Not exactly a grabber at the hour of dark o' clock, but no waiting was required. A woman appeared to give her testimony that God had showered her family with success. Her husband appeared, looking a bit chastened, as he admitted that he had initially resisted his wife's God-inspired counsel. He was now, however, a firm believer in the magical power of tithing.

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 husband picked up the story by recounting their first windfall after he and his wife began to send more money to The 700 Club. Their insurance company contacted them to report an error in the computation of their premiums; it had resulted in a significant overcharge and the company was giving them a big refund check. God is great! (He can even create an honest insurance company.)

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.


Jens Knudsen (Sili) said...

I wonder if they'd accept contributions of 666 cents a day?

(I know it's 616, but does Pat?)

Gene O'Pedia said...

Same thing happens with the state-run lottery. When a winner claims a $17 million prize, wow! That's the headline, and the winner will be interviewed and say how that money will change his life....

But they never seem to talk about the loser or, rather, the millions of losers who have been pouring money into the lottery all year long. Their lives have been transformed by the lottery, too. Probably not in big ways, but in countless small ways, having their financial lives slowly pared down to the bone.

Like televangelism, a state-run lottery has the moral backing of our government, so it surely must be okay.

Kathie said...

"Televangelism is a transparent con, but it still hooks those too blind to see."

Nothing new. Back in the '50s my great-aunt used to listen to Oral Roberts's broadcasts and, when he instructed, place her hands on the radio in hopes he would cure her failing vision. At his broadcast exhortation, she also mailed in half of her monthly Social Security paltry widow's benefits. She went blind, and her only living relative (my mother) had to make up the monetary difference, since she didn't have enough to live on (meaning that, effectively, WE were donating to Roberts, even though my blue-collar parents' means were quite modest). Ya don't suppose I'm a tad bitter against religious scammers, do ya?