I saw John Oliver’s segment on televangelists scamming their followers out of money, which can be viewed below. There are several points I want to make about what I saw.
1) Moderate/liberal Christians – or any Christians opposed to these money-grabbing practices – will look at this segment and see no conflict with their own religion.
But there is a conflict. If you acknowledge that these “seed” practices are a scam, then you are also therefore acknowledging that there is no god that intervenes and heals people who have faith in him – i.e. the sort of god in Bible-based Christianity. If that kind of God were real, then it *wouldn’t be a scam*. It would *work*.
You may argue “But it didn’t work because God doesn’t care about money.” Fine. That isn’t the point. The issue is rewarding faith. The point is that people who have extreme faith and devotion to God are not being helped by that God despite their faith and devotion. Giving money was just a result of that faith.
So either no god exists, or just Christianity is not true and you must believe that God would let a poor faithful believer accumulate debt or even die like the people Oliver talked about on the show. That is not a loving God. And it is not one that helps his loyal followers. He could just reward their faith when they gave money, or he come to them and convince them not to listen to the preachers, etc etc etc.
2) What Oliver of course declined to mention the real source of the problem. Those scammers – the “prosperity gospel” preachers – can only do what they do because so many people in our society hold serious religious beliefs. This kind of scam cannot work on people who are less trusting in the claims of the Bible, or not religious at all.
So Prosperity Gospel practices could not even be a problem in the first place if our culture acknowledged that it was as ridiculous to believe in poorly evidenced illogical religious beliefs as any other poorly evidenced beliefs. But moderates and mainstream liberals – religious and atheist alike – still help enforce our cultural defense of religious delusion as perfectly valid and exempt from being denounced for what it is.
(And by the way, has anyone considered that some of these preachers might really believe it themselves? Then are they truly scammers, or just inept investors? The reality is that if the preacher is himself deluded, then both the preacher and the followers are victims of the scam of religion itself)
3) Normally, when people are scammed, if the scam is really obvious, then we say that some blame lies on the person who was scammed, because they have some personal responsibility to not fall for such obvious, stupid tricks.
The scam would have to be really clever and hard to detect before we’d say that the scammed person didn’t partially bring it on themselves. But if someone sends money to that Nigerian prince they keep getting emails from, then you’d say they were an idiot. The scammers are bad, but also, part of the blame rests on yourself.
And Prosperity Gospel preaching is as obvious as a scam can be. Unlike the sort of deceptions we normally call “scams”, this is completely transparent. There is no deception regarding that the money is entirely a donation to the church. The church leaders only claim that God will provide the reward; they promise nothing from themselves.
But since this painfully obvious scam is religious in nature and takes advantage of people’s religious beliefs, onlookers act as if the scammed person is 100% a victim who had no personal responsibility in the matter. It is a ridiculous double standard.