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And The Lord Said, "This Is A Stickup!"

religionwhattaracket.jpg

Religion! Whatta racket!

See that Newark, New Jersey palace of god above? Well, it's around the corner from some of the most blighted buildings in town. Clearly, I've been missing the boat, the one with all the moneybags on it. Well, now I'm joining "The Prosperity Gospel," from a story in The New York Times by Michael Luo:

It is time to pass the offering buckets at World Changers Church New York, and Troy and Cheryal Anderson are eager to give the Lord his due. They wave their blue offering envelope overhead, as all around them worshipers whoop and holler their praises to God.

Inside the envelope is 10 percent of the weekly pay Mr. Anderson takes home as an electrician's apprentice - he earns about $30,000 a year - and a little more for the church's building fund.

The Andersons, who live in the Bronx, are struggling financially. A few weeks ago, the couple, who have two young children, had no money to buy groceries. But they believe what their pastor, the Rev. Creflo A. Dollar Jr., said on this recent Saturday night about the offering time: "It's opportunity for prosperity."

"Remember," said Mr. Dollar, a familiar figure across the country because of his "Changing Your World" television show and best-selling books, "if you sow a seed on a good ground, you can expect a harvest."

Mr. Dollar, whose Rolls-Royces, private jets, million-dollar Atlanta home and $2.5 million Manhattan apartment, furnish proof to his followers of the validity of his teachings, is a leading apostle of what is known as the "prosperity gospel."

It is a theology that is excoriated in many Christian circles but is becoming increasingly visible in this country, according to religious scholars. Now, it is beginning to establish a foothold in New York City, where capitalism has long been religion.

Mr. Dollar - his real name - is the most prominent among a host of prosperity preachers that have put down roots in the city. He is quick to insist that he warns Christians to "love God, not money" and teaches "total life prosperity," meaning prosperity not only in finances but in everything from health to family life.

"Money by itself cannot define prosperity," Mr. Dollar said in a recent phone interview. "When you say, 'prosperity,' people think money. They are not incorrect, but they are incomplete."

Asking the faithful to donate is a part of virtually all religions. Outside of Christianity, Muslims pay zakat, and Jewish synagogues have membership dues. Conservative Protestants see tithing - offering a portion, usually a tenth, of one's income back to God and the church - as a biblical mandate.

Many Catholic churches suggest that tithing be divided between the local church and a charity of their choice. Most teach that believers can trust God to take care of their needs.

As an atheist, I'm not one of them, but if you're inclined to donate $10 on the PayPal button on the left, I can't promise you salvation or anything, but I can assure you, I'll have a better life! Yes, and that's where I differ from religion. They promise you all this stuff -- you'll go to heaven, blah, blah, blah. You know anybody who's been to heaven, and maybe come back and shown you their halo? Me neither. But, with me, again, just give me your money, and you do know you'll be making a difference. Maybe I'll have a nice steak or sushi for lunch. Or maybe I'll buy some Leonor Greyl Creme Moelle de Bambou shampoo. That stuff is pricey! But, sorry, I can't resist: shampooing with it is a religious experience. On a purely follicular level, of course.

UPDATE: Wow, I just got a $10 donation. This is cool. I'll keep a tally here. Of course, it's entirely possible that the total will remain $10. Whatever I get, I'll be sure to report on what I buy with it, so, unlike with religion, you'll see exactly what you're getting for your money!

MORE: Okay, it's 11:49am PST, and I still have only $10 in the kitty. (The dog is filled with kibble and a piece of tortilla chip she found on the kitchen floor.) It seems atheism isn't anywhere near as lucrative as religion, perhaps due to the honesty factor. I'm not asking for your money for your benefit, but just for mine. Me! Me! Me! Contribute to Amyism today. Better snacks, better clothes, a better class of air carriage for The Advice Goddess. Don't think of it as doing your part for atheism, but for Me!-theism! It's no different than what these other Prosperity Gospel people are doing. I'm just frank about exactly what you're going to get out of it, which is limited to, perhaps, some small satisfaction you might get out of increasing the quality of food I eat at lunch...and, beyond that, bupkis!

Sushi-a-luyah!

OOPS! I spoke too soon, it seems. At 11:47, I got another $10 donation, bringing the grand total to $20. Ooh, what a thrill! The next person who donates $10 will get...absolutely nothing! But, I, on the other hand, will get a glass of wine with my sushi!

Posted by aalkon at January 16, 2006 1:59 PM

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Comments

One of the few redeeming features I've ever been able to give churches (and religion) credit for is that in the past they did a good job taking care of needy people. Everyone pitched in when the collection plate went around, and in addition to basic upkeep on the church, that money went to help poor people get back on their feet again. It was a much more effective system than what the government is trying to do today, and of course there have always been secular charities for the godless heathens among us.

It boggles my mind to see people who are barely making ends meet pitch in money to keep the preacher in style with a sportscar and loads of bling. I used to work with a gal who was having a terrible time financially, yet she would pitch in 10% of her earnings to the church every month. If you ask me, her church should have been helping HER! Then she could have gone back to contributing when she got back on her feet again.

Posted by: Pirate Jo at January 16, 2006 12:47 PM

When I was young and still went to temple, one of the many problems I had with religion was how the rabbi was constantly asking us to give to others in need and to give to the latest project, while he was riding around in a BMW and living in a giant house in a ritzy neighborhood. I'm not saying that religious leaders should take vows of poverty, but it's obviously a big business.

Posted by: Jason Ginsburg at January 16, 2006 2:35 PM

Apparently, those "in need" is a group which includes those in need of a new BMW.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 16, 2006 2:39 PM

Sweet! That means I'm in need, too! No reason I should have to drive around in a 6-year-old vehicle. Where do I sign up?

As Jason illustrates, though, people start to notice when the money they contribute winds up making the religious leaders rich. I still say it's a superior charity system compared to the government, because if your church stops helping the needy with that money and switches into self-aggrandizement mode, you can vote with your feet.

I also think voluntary charity - especially when it's done at a local, neighborhood level - has less moral risk than government welfare. When you know your friends and neighbors are helping you out - when you see their faces instead of a faceless (and frequently incompetent) bureaucracy - you're a little less inclined to go further into credit card debt or have yet another child you can't afford to raise. There's a sense of accountability there - you don't want to let your friends down. And if you KEEP doing one dumb thing after another, your friends will eventually get sick of supporting you after a while. You have no incentive to stay in poverty and every incentive to get out. After you've been helped to your feet, you will most likely show your appreciation by contributing to the same people who helped you when you needed it.

And yes, yes, I already know someone is going to come up with an exception to the rule, etc. etc. So I will say right now that I am making a generalization, but it's one I think holds true about 95% of the time. To all those people going to churches who are soaking you, stop making some rich old fart even richer! Attend a church that actually strengthens its community, or find a secular charity.

Posted by: Pirate Jo at January 16, 2006 2:56 PM

More welder's wife tail! More welder's wife tail!

Posted by: Crid at January 16, 2006 10:58 PM

I donated $10 and all i got was this lousy T-shirt. Oh wait, I didn't even get that! Oh wait, I didn't donate $10. Well, I'd like the T-shirt anyway.

Posted by: Mao See Tung at January 17, 2006 4:14 AM

Religion IS the ultimate con game, and it's LEGAL! Try making promises and not delivering in any other business, and you're in big trouble. Remember folks, it's death AFTER life, not the other way around. Enjoy life now to the fullest, because this is it! Don't forget: There's a sucker born again every minute; don't be one of them!

Posted by: Bill Henry at January 17, 2006 6:39 AM

I couldn't find the paypal button. rudy

Posted by: Rudy Salazar at January 17, 2006 11:43 PM

"What does God need with a starship?" James T. Kirk

Posted by: chicknlady at January 19, 2006 7:56 PM

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