Monday, September 29, 2008

How to Get Rich as a Televangelist or Faith Healer

I heard the author of this book interviewed on the Infidel Guy show a couple of months back. It was reasonably interesting, so I thought I'd buy and read the book.

Its a short book. You could probably read it in a single sitting if you had a few spare hours. It is also reasonably interesting and informative, even if it does have a few annoying characteristics, which I'll get to in a mo.

However, its not a particularly uplifting or affirming read (as you might have guessed) and is downright depressing at several points.

The author of the book is clearly a disgruntled guy who got taken in by some religious con artist a couple of decades ago. He presents himself as a once gullible, evangelical Christian, but doesn't really say what his beliefs are now, which is a big hindrance to fully understanding where the book is coming from.

Even having finished the book, I'm not sure if the author's main point is:
  1. "All successful Christian leaders are charlatans and just out to make money out of your gullibility; there is no God really...", or
  2. "These are the techniques the bad guys use to lead good Christians astray, watch out for them and keep following the good guys..."
I suspect the author's intent is actually somewhere between the two, while this is not stated in the book, I suspect the author was raised in a fairly fundamentalist church, had a bad experience or two and now is an agnostic or an atheist.

So anyway, the book is presented as a 'how to' guide, but is really more of a guide through some of the more colourful pseudo-Christian con-men (and women) of the 20th and early 21st centuries.

The book presents all of these characters as being corrupt and charlatans from the outset, whereas in some cases I have sometimes wondered whether some of these people started out with the right intentions and gave in to the temptations that their positions afforded, ending up being out for their own gain, but possibly starting off with a gospel agenda. I mean, some are clearly con-artists at the start, but maybe not all of them. Or maybe I'm being too naive.

I recently blogged about the Lakeland 'outpouring' and Todd Bentley. Given that this book was written last year, it never mentions Todd, but it is amazing just how much of a fit there is between the 'instructions' given in the book and the things that seem to have happened at Lakeland. A few good Christian people have told me good things about their experiences with the Lakeland thing, but I must admit that I am still agnostic on this one. I'm considering 'revisiting' Lakeland in another post soon...

So, you're probably wondering how to go about getting rich as a televangelist or faith healer. Well, there's a few easy steps to follow. These are:
  1. Get some form of credentials, but not from a prestigious institution. Some small bible college that nobody has ever heard of is good. There are several online ones that will ordain you for cash. These are fine.
  2. Present yourself as the mediator between God and man. Yes, the bible presents Jesus as the only mediator, but you need to present yourself as the mediator between the people and Jesus, who then mediates between you and God.
  3. Build your mailing list. It is reasonably easy to persuade people to part with $1 or other small amounts of cash, but to make money this way you need a big mailing list.
  4. Target Christians from specific denominations only. You'll get nowhere going for folk from the big denominations like the Anglicans and the Presbyterians, but rather target folk from the smaller denominations with names like "Full Spirit Assemblies of the Family of God"...
  5. Preach the 'prosperity gospel' and look the part - your 'flock' will expect you to have a big car, a big house, expensive suits, expensive jewelry, etc.
  6. If you're balding, wear a wig. Its all about image.
  7. Learn some bible verses and quote them often, but be careful which ones you use.
  8. Avoid actually preaching about what the bible says about Jesus - I mean, he doesn't exactly promote the prosperity gospel, does he? He loved the poor and saw riches as a hindrance to getting to heaven. What you need is 'Diet Jesus'...
  9. Demonise your opponents. Anyone who says anything against you must be in the control of Satan.
  10. Speak in tongues. Any random string of syllables will do.
  11. Be careful who you attempt to 'heal'. You're not gong to be able to heal amputees. Bring people onto the stage in wheelchairs, but only those who are capable of walking. Only heal non-visible illnesses, cancer is good, etc.
There is other advice, but you get the idea.

The thing is, you come away from reading this book wondering if there are any genuine or honorable 'televangelists' out there. Are any of them serving the gospel or are they all con men?

There probably is an answer to that, but not in this book.

So, all in all, this is an eye-opening read but is probably not recommended for anyone as it will make Christians less sure of their own church leaders, and will give non-Christians a skewed view of honest preachers and genuine healers (if such people do exist).

Monday, September 22, 2008

Being mislead by statistics...

  • In a 1997 study, Beit-Hallahmi and Argyle concluded that out of 700 Nobel Prize winning scientists, only one beleives that there is a God.
  • A 1998 study by Larson and Witham revealed that of those American scientists considered eminent enough by their peers to have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, 93 percent do not believe in God.
  • In a 2006 British study by Elisabeth Cornwell and Michael Stirrat on the Fellows of the Royal Society, 95 percent of its members do not believe in God.
What does this tell us?

Well, if you listen to the propaganda, it tells us that the more intelligent you are, the less likely to believe in God you are.

Is this right or are we being blinded by skewed statistics?

What kind of person gets to win a Nobel prize? In the vast majority of cases its someone who is utterly devoted to their research and study. Someone with no time to, for example, take a day off every week and go to church. Who get elected the National Academy of Sciences or the Royal Society? People who have made the choice to put science first in their lives.

It is not a measure of intelligence, its a measure of a combination of intelligence, hard work and lifestyle choice. Those who decide to put something else first - be it God, church, family or friends - do not generally get elevated to such positions in science. But this is not necessarily a matter of intelligence, its a matter of choice.

Be careful of statistics. You can prove anything you want with them if the audience isn't thinking!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Two dogs

"An Eskimo fisherman came to town every Saturday afternoon. He always brought his two dogs with him. One was white and the other was black. He had taught them to fight on command. Every Saturday afternoon in the town square the people would gather and these two dogs would fight and the fisherman would take bets. On one Saturday, the black dog would win; another Saturday the white dog would win - but the fisherman always won! His friends began to ask him how he did it. He said, "I starve one and feed the other. The one I feed always wins because he is stronger."
From "The Holy Spirit: Activating God's Power in Your Life," by Billy Graham (1978)
I've listened to and read a lot of good, sound, Christian material this year. I've also listened to and read quite a lot of the 'new atheist' material by the likes of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.

What I've noticed is that I have a natural, inbuilt tendency to align my beliefs with whatever I am listening to. I try not to, but it happens. If I listen to Christian stuff I get more Christianised, if I listen to the atheist stuff I get more skeptical.

We know this. Preachers have preached on that point many, many times before. But I find myself questioning the whole thing. It seems to be merely a comparison between two equal and opposite ideologies.

But if Christianity is true, it isn't merely an ideology. What about Jesus saying 'I am the truth', what about the Spirit of God? Surely that should bias the comparison, more than slightly? If Christianity is true then reading about the false alternatives should not be enough to cause my faith to falter. But it looks like it might be.

To be a 'good Christian' do we really need to remain ignorant of the alternatives that the world has to offer? If so I'd need to give up being a scientist (and a Bayesian) too, because the scientific method is always to question, always to consider the alternatives. I'm not sure I could force myself to remain ignorant.

From the point of view of someone sitting (skeptically) in the middle, there seems no compelling reason to choose to go either way, only good arguments and compelling reasoning on either side. If I feed one dog (by biasing my reading and listening towards one side) then that dog will win. But there is no obvious reason why I should choose one dog over the other, both appear to have merits, both appear to have faults. I simply have to choose which dog I want to win. What if I pick the wrong one?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Creation in the classroom

Weird. Its happening on this side of the pond. [BBC News Link]

I thought the 'teaching creationism as science' debate was a peculiarly American issue. But some leading someone (actually the director of education at the Royal Society; a biologist and reverend) has opened the debate up in the UK.

I have no problem with creationism being taught in the classroom.

But I do have problems with creationism being taught as science and as an alternative explanation to evolution.
  1. It simply is not science. Creationism in its many forms (bearing in mind that Hindu creationism is completely different from Judeo-Christian creationism, etc.) is an explanation of how we got here based on dogma, tradition and (possibly) divine revelation at some point in the past. It may be true. But. It is not science. It is not a testable theory, it is not based on empirical observation. Thus it is completely outwith the remit of science and should not, therefore, be taught in science class.

  2. It also is not an alternative to evolution. The theory of evolution - a description of the process by which one thing can slowly turn into a different thing over a span of many generations - has no explanation of the start point. It describes the change from A to B, from B to C, and so on, but cannot offer any explanation as to the origin of A. Evolution assumes a population of the original things as a starting point. Creationism, on the other hand, only offers an explanation of where the original things came from. Creationism itself does not consider the change from thing A into thing B. One creationist school of thought allows for evolution to work after the initial creative act. Another school of creationist thought says that we were created more or less as we are and there was no evolution.
Sigh. I wish they would teach kids how to think about issues in school, rather than just presenting them with issues as if they were facts. There are actually very few facts that we can be absolutely sure of in the realms of both science and faith.