#3 AANEWS 4/8/96 aanews is distributed by American Atheists, a nationwide movement founded
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THE PROSPERITY GOSPEL AS AN ECHO OF THE EASTER RELIGIOUS FRENZY
Remember Michael Douglas in the 1980's movie "Wall Street"? "Greed is
good!", insists a high-rolling Gordon Gekko played artfully by the younger
Douglas, in a tale of money, power and hubris. Indeed, that statement came to
typify some of the excesses of the 80's with its junk-bonds, S & L scandals,
monopoly-style financial games and the erosion of economic security.
Well, greed is back. It may never have left the cultural landscape, of
course, but in an era of economic uncertainty and social dislocations, the
religious "prosperity gospel" -- a peculiarly American artifact -- is back,
and with a vengeance. The identification of the business enterprise with
christianity has been a mainstay in modernist economic and sociological
theory, starting with Weber's "Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of
Capitalism". The financial booms (and busts) of the late nineteenth to
mid-twentieth century were accompanied by a panoply of literature, schemes,
self-improvements regimens and other devices intertwined with a "prosperity
gospel" declaring that, yes, god DID want you to become rich. Juvenile
literature extolled the virtues of the poor down-and-out kid who, by thrify
and sweat, managed to pyramid a few coins into a business empire. Hard work
and "clean living" was often identified with other religious goals, including
temperance; reward in the material world was interpreted as god's way of
saying that you were climbing the ladder of success.
Not everyone in religious quarters agreed, however, and there was the
coincident development of the "social gospel" movement as well. Jesus was
portrayed as less of a business tycoon and more of a social worker worried
about the poor, downtrodden and un-employed. Regardless of your class or
disposition, however, there was a gospel for you.
In the 1890's, Charles Sheldon's "In His Footsteps" was a hot seller, with
its story of a successful businessman who patterned his life after that of
Jesus Christ. A review of contemporary books by Deborah Shead in the New
York Times noted that "True to the Protestant ethic, his highly moral action
brings him even greater material wealth." Another popular novel was "The Man
Nobody Knows by Bruce Bartin, "which casts Jesus as a brilliant adman for
In the late 1970's, the "greening" of American culture saw the importing
of new age and oriental-kitsch ideas into the American management
marketplace. Books which purported to combine "eastern though" with
financial strategies sold well; seminars peddled ways that one could use
"Samuri techniques" or the philosophy of obscure martial arts masters to
"outsmart the competition." Invaluable secrets of the ages were ostensibly
available for the trouble of an evening's read, or maybe a high-priced
seminar. By some indicators, though, we are back to where we started
fifty or seventy five years ago -- a new version of the "prosperity gospel"
is rolling off the printing presses, and finding a receptive, credulous
audience among would-be moguls, flabby middle-management drones and worried
white collar types who see themselves just a paycheck or two away from having
to work the counter at McDonald's. There is also the growth of the
prosperity gospel message in marketing sales, even real estate. Some
Firms which have a distinctly religious, often Christian message are
thriving. The giant ServiceMaster Corporation ("In Service to the Master")
is showing record prophets. Another example is the Mary Kay cosmetics firm,
with its official motto of "God first, family second and career third." A
recent regional convention brought out nearly 1,400 of the groups 400,000
independent sales reps, for a weekend of motivational pep talks, chanting,
cheering and sign waving. Annual sales have soard past the $1.7 billion
mark. Even with its "God first" slogan, Mary Kay execs exhort their
followers to "Look to your directors as guides...Follow closely in their
footsteps and you, too, will live in the castle of your dreams."
The new age financial scam books are still around, but there is a sudden
profusion of distinctly Judeo Christian "wealth building" materials.They
include The Management Methods of Jesus" by Bob Briner, "God Wants You to Be
Rich," by Paul Pilzer and "Jesus C.E.O.," by Laurie Beth Jones.
Seeing the son of an almighty god in an Armani suit with Rolex and
cellular phone may stretch the limits of credulity, but why not? As Stead
notes: "These days, executives are being urged to buy books on the
'management' wisdom of basketball coaches, medieval despots and Winnie the
Jesus-as-tycoon, though, resonates with strong religious trends in the
United States. Religious neo-conservative types have already tried to hop on
the Toffleresque Third Wave bandwagon (with mixed results); one thinks of
George Gilder suggesting that married men are more financially secure than
their bachelor counterparts, and enjoy greater emotional and monetary
security. The Heritage Foundation works over-time in constructing its
tenuous thesis that religious belief somehow correlates to a wide range of
benefits -- longer life, greater income, permanent marriage, lower suicide
rates. The benefits of prosperity, it is maintained, accrue to those who
believe in and practice the message of the gospel.
Facts may say otherwise, of course, but for believers, it is "attitude and
motivation" which make a difference. So why not use the story of Jesus and
his planned parade into Jerusalem during Passover as an example of marketing
acumen? Strike while the iron is hot. Watch Your Timing (a chapter title
from "Management Methods of Jesus"). Location, location, location.
Brother, can you spare the price of a book?
THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS
by Conrad Goeringer
You've heard of Mad Cow disease, right? But how 'bout Mad Hindu disease.
Seems that nearly 140,000 Hindus in Britain organized prayer services for
the millions of cows which are due for slaughter in that country, due to fear
of viral-infected beef. Mad Cow disease has been linked to the destruction
of brain tissue, and can be passed on to humans. The slaughter of the cows
is part of a government effort to prevent the spread of the virus. Hindus,
however, consider cows to be sacred animals. Our question: who REALLY has a
Moses a party-pooper?
OK, I admit it -- I vegged out last night and caught some of the 1956
Cecil B. DeMille classic movie "The Ten Commandments." To this reviewer, the
"Chosen People", the Israelites, were a credulous group of feckless fools.
Moses pulls off some heavy-duty stuntwork as he manages to part the Red Sea,
crush the Egyptian Army, bring plague and suffering upon the empire of
Pharaoh -- and he can't even get to the top of Mt. Sanai before Edward G.
Robinson has organized the mob to give away their money and build a golden
calf. "Moses! Moses!" cries the child-like tribe as a sternful patriarch
climbs down with his stone tablets. The story is SO unbelievable that I
wonder if DeMille was serious.
There is little or no evidence for most of these tales, of course;
historians and archeologists find little support for biblical myths such as
the exile out of Egypt. How could so many people wander the desert for 40
years and not leave a trace? How did they live? What did they drink?
Surely, a god which could split the waters of a sea could just as easilly
"beamed" his followers into the promised land. Why did they have to walk?
Perhaps the answer for these and other Moses-related mysteries is found in
a review which Time Magazine did of "The Ten Commandments."
In a review, a critic noted the many difficulties faced by DeMille in
creating this epic masterpiece. "The result of all these stupdendous
efforts? Something roughly comparable to an 8' chorus girl -- pretty well
put together but much too flashy...what DeMille has really done is to throw
sex and sand into the moviegoers eye for almost twice as long as anyone else
has ever dared to."
In an effort to give equal time to the other side; while "Jesus as Tycoon"
has become a popular, Easter-season kitsch item in the business books
department, new age mumbo jumbo isn't out of the running entirely. 'Simple
Spells for Success" by Barrie Dolnick includes "spealls to start an
enterprise, increase business opportunities and attract new investors."
There's also the Forget Love Potion No. 9 which can be purchased from the
Spellbox Co. of Colorado. You get some ju-ju supplies to attract a new lover
or get rid of an old one -- incense, talismans and candles. Find out if this
really works for just $24.95.
Bizarre? Crazy? Of course, but consider something else -- real estate
agents throughout the country are still on a kick where they bury religious
statues on property they are listing. Put the Virgin in upside-down if you
want to sell your house; bury her upright on your own property if you want to
buy somebody elses. Or is it the other way around? Doesn't matter, of
course, and believers just insist that it works.
The next time somebody insists that "religious charity" is one of the many
outstanding works performed by churches, tell them to check their facts.
Everyone from the Christian Coalition to Rep. Ernest Istook wants to
"privatize welfare" and social services. The Congressman has even introduced
legislation which would permit the flow of government monies into religious
groups REGARDLESS of whether such funds end up being used for religious
purposes mixed in with social charity. According to the Philanthropy
Roundtable, more "religious charity" is simply government aid being funnelled
through churches. 65% of the funds for Catholic Charities, for instance,
comes from the Federal government. Local and state governments are pouring
millions into religious groups, which then administer social programs --
while grabbing the credit as a "charitable institution."
A note from the LISTMASTER...
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Finally, AANEWS will be sending out another dispatch later today. This
will be a special report on the Freeman group in Montana, which is still
locked in a standoff with government agents. This report will explore the
religious underpinnings of the Freemen, with special emphasis on the
Christian Identity movement.
Thanks for your interest in aanews!
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