Posted by: Damon Whitsell | July 3, 2010

The Prosperity Gospel: A Modern Day Cargo Cult? by Sylvia Cochran

Law of Attraction or Divine ATM?

Would you believe me if I told you that right now there are people in this world who are constructing make-believe World War II airstrips and via elaborate rituals seek to entice the dropping of cargo – such as was the norm during that war when American GIs were supplied via airdropped cargo shipments on remote islands and outposts while the fighting was raging?

In a day and age of the Internet, television, and even just plain radio technology this seems to be an entirely fictitious notion, but not so! There is indeed on the island of Tanna (located in the South Pacific) a still operating cargo cult which reveres a mythical deity known as John Frum (a term anthropologists believe to stem from the way GIs may have introduced themselves to the villagers’ ancestors, i.e. “Hi, I’m John from America”). The BBC reported in February of 2007 about the parades the island’s young men hold, many of which carry wooden weapons painted with the letters USA.

The goal of the parades and worship is the wished for and much anticipated return of the mythical John Frum who is said to then bring them abundant wealth and also happiness.

Understanding the Prosperity Gospel

The prosperity gospel – also known as prosperity theology, the law of prosperity, and “the secret” – is a belief system that is common within certain Christian charismatic congregations but also heavily favored in the new thought movement.

In simplest terms, the idea of the law of prosperity requires the adherent to think themselves rich. Whether the blessing is to emanate from the Christian deity or the universe, the philosophy behind the mindset is pretty much the same.

If you were to put it down in an equation, it may look something like this: Sincere belief in a power waiting to bless abundantly + earnest actions displaying that belief = abundant blessings and fiscal prosperity

The prosperity gospel for those of the Christian background requires eager believers to understand that God wants to bless them. Since He is the maker of the universe, there is no blessing too big or too hard for Him to give. All that He requires is a sincere belief in Him and His blessing power.

This belief needs to be followed up with actions that prove it. To some this means that the individual will need to think of themselves as blessed and rich, before they even see this in reality. Some proponents of the prosperity gospel, such as prominent Pastor Joel Osteen, suggest the believer spends time visualizing themselves blessed. The goal is a detailed visual image of the blessing they wish to receive. This is then to be followed with a sincere prayer of thanksgiving to God for the blessing He is soon to pour out. Other proponents of the prosperity doctrine require that believers add seed money to their expression of belief. Televangelist Pat Robertson terms this the law of reciprocity and he states that the more you give to God financially – by way of his ministry – the more He will bless you with earthly riches.

The Connection between Cargo Cults and Prosperity Gospels

While the example of the cargo cult might have made you chuckle, the mentioning of the prosperity gospel (law of reciprocity) might have struck you as being true. Why? Obviously, being American you know that there really is no mythical John Frum who will one day reappear to the islanders and bless them with cargo drops and abundant wealth.Yet if you are a Christian who is thinking of beseeching a deity to drop abundant wealth and fiscal windfalls on you, are you not doing the same? Granted, you are not praying to John Frum but you are praying to a God whom you believe to be the giver of good things; but at the end of the day, is that not turning God into a glorified ATM? Furthermore, the advent of so many pastors and preachers who focus directly on this aspect of the faith appears to lend credence to their appeals. After all, one look at Joel Osteen – a most sincere, affable, kind, and very likeable person – and his congregation that is measured in the tens of thousands, and you are convinced that he has something to offer. On the other hand, if you consider that many of the proponents of this kind of theology require that believers tithe to their ministries and with the help of these tithes demonstrate their willingness to believe and their readiness to be blessed, the abundant blessing the Osteen, Robertson and so many other ministries have received seems to have an entirely traceable origin.Yet is the tithing to a religious organization as a means to an end (the goal of being blessed financially by God) instead of simply for the love of that deity not pretty much the same as the February parades held by the Tanna youth in honor of John Frum?The Shaky Theology of the Prosperity Gospel

Perhaps John Piper said it best when he pointed out that the three or four scriptures prosperity gospel preachers like to hang their theology on quickly crumble against the wealth of remaining Biblical verses.

When Cargo Cult Prosperity Theology Turns Into Small Business Marketing

It would seem that a philosophy which essentially claims that you simply think yourself rich and before long you will be does not really lend itself to small business methodologies. Yet even outside the churches proclaiming this gospel there are plenty of entrepreneurs who are cashing in from the law of prosperity.

Whether you call it prosperity gospel, law of prosperity, or the law of attraction, when there is a buck to be made, there is someone selling you a books or other bits of media to make it happen. Take for example the Centerpointe Research Institute which promises personal growth so powerful that it will leave you in charge of your destiny and ready for dramatic improvements overall.

Since there appears to be more to it than just imagining yourself rich, healthy, and abundantly blessed, there are CDs and DVDs for sale, including a wealth of material totaling about $180 (plus shipping).

Does it not stand to reason that something which is supposed to require little more than an active imagination should not really cost you any money?


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