Prosperity Theology

by dschapman

I recited the prayer of Jabez to myself as I walked with my head down through the quiet city. “Oh God, I wish that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from harm that it may not pain me.” Unlike Jabez, however, my prayer was not immediately answered. I walked on, in pain, without a blessing in the world.

The streets were empty and the moon was sitting in the middle of an empty blue sky. It had been there already. “What are you up to, old moon,” I said to it, “Hanging around all day for?” I told it to quit clowning around and it smiled at me. It sat there, crescent-smiling, and made not a move. I wanted to pull it down from its perch with a rope and throw it in the ravine with the rest of the rubble. “The moon is no good,” I think. “There is no good in the moon.”

In the city park I let my dog off his leash and he ran excitedly through the gravel and grass. At the end of the park we walked down a path that entered some woods. Deep in the woods the path forked and the right split was the smaller, less traveled path. A sign was erected to the right of the fork, with an arrow saying “New Bridge,” but which path it designated was ambiguous. I went right, down the path less traveled, and my dog ran ahead of me. But he stopped, and he tried to go back to the fork in the path. “Come on, dog,” I said. “Don’t you know this is the path to the new bridge? That is why I am smarter than you. I can read the sign that says, ‘New Bridge.'”

He ran ahead again, stopped, and looked back at me. He was being stubborn. As I approached him, however, the path ended and, of course, there was no bridge, only a cliff into a dry riverbed. We went back and took the left path. “You knew all along,” I said to my dog. “I should have listened.”

When the Healing Revivals swept the South in the 1950’s people engaged with the spirit of Christ in passionate spasms of relief and inspiration, and they found sanctuary in the doctrine of good living and health and prosperity. The televangelists took up the mantle and lead the needy, hungry, thirsty – this is me – souls in evangelical, powerful prayer. It is admirable and contemptible behavior and I envy and resent it. It is a traditional shamanistic culture and it can be very moving. I try not to be moved anymore, but in these things sometimes I am moved, in a way that unfulfilling things used to move me.

As I drove into back home into my valley, listening to the National Public Radio talking about how to cook zucchini, thinking, “My God, this is bad radio,” a static overcame the airwaves and a radio preacher cut in from the Christian, conservative for-profit station. He said to me, as though speaking to me personally, “It is the greatest poetry ever known. Greater poetry than the best work of Keats, Wordsworth, or Lord Byron. It is all in the Book of Psalms.” He was absolutely right. What did all of secular literature have against the Book of Psalms? Why would any decent man spend his time reading and writing secular literature, when there was real poetry, divine poetry, right there, where it had been for millennia, guiding far better men than me towards salvation? Everything leads back to the simple myths and prayers anyway. Anything significant that could ever be said has already been said – it was conceived by the desert-mystics, the visionaries of the monotheistic God of Abraham. They did not invent the Logos, but they taught us how to listen to it.

The radio preacher was trying to sell me a leather-bound Bible on a six-month installment plan. He promised me it was the only book that I would ever need, and it would provide personal and spiritual comfort to my entire family for generations. He was absolutely right about everything. But I am a weak man, and I did not buy the book.

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