COVID and Prosperity Theology
Believe it or not, I consider these two posts to be related.
Americans have gone from having access to most of the world to being banned from most of it. Today, Americans are only allowed in a few Caribbean islands and the Balkans. An American passport is now worthless. Worse than worthless, it’s a plague.
In the absence of a humane government, America is now ruled by COVID-19.
The most reliable projections are saying 200,000 dead and 50 million infected by election day in November.
American now have access to exactly two dozen states, five more if they want to endure a 14-day quarantine on the end. Americans have gone from world power to getting the side-eye from Ecuador in a matter of months.
It’s not that other nations don’t want to welcome Americans, they just can’t. The point of a passport is that a sovereign power vouches for its bearer, but America can’t vouch for the health of their citizens at all. America’s public health regime is far less trustworthy than Liberia’s
At the same time, you can’t trust Americans. Americans have poor hygiene (low masking rate) and at least 40% of the population can’t be trusted to even believe that COVID-19 exists, let alone to take it seriously. They’re likely to refuse testing, not report symptoms, break quarantine, and generally NOT follow rules. Americans have a toxic combination of ignorance and arrogance that makes them unwelcome travelers.
They have a lot of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with them. Some of them, I assume, are good people, but it doesn’t matter.
In the end, Trump did what he said. He built a wall around America and made the world pay for it. He just never told Americans that they’d be stuck inside.
Prosperity theology, in its downplaying of spiritual practice in favour of its valorisation of avarice and its obsession with privilege framed as providence, is in fact not just morally vile: under its original name of Montanism, it has been in the catalogues of historical heresies for centuries, having been anathematised by the Church since the Council of Iconium in 230CE. It’s perhaps not surprising that for decades, charismatic/Pentecostal writers keep “rediscovering” it, as if it was lost (rather than in fact it being an easily accessible part of church history that evangelicals just don’t care about). There have been bodies of work for a good thirty years that have attempted to reclaim it as a long-suppressed prophetic movement in Christianity…and the general thought process has evaded the obvious conclusion (that is, that Christianity saw this as the wrong turn it evidently was a whole century before the foundation of the Catholic Church) and instead tended to “hey, we’re Montanists, so that means the Montanists were the good guys and the awful institutional Church crushed a genuine Move of the Spirit, which we’re only reclaiming now!”
Which is par for the course, really, since the reclaiming of the immoral as moral, aside from being, according to scripture, the work of the antichrist (II Thessalonians 2:9-11), is how you manage to win at normalising dreadful things. Americans are particularly good at doing this in the secular realm too – remember that the response to being called out for imprisoning pre-school children in concentration camps is not a denial, but a refusal to call them concentration camps. It’s the same thing. You take something that was considered beyond the pale, and you don’t deny you’re doing it, you just find a way to justify why it’s actually OK. Do not get me wrong: the prosperity gospel is morally abhorrent, in that it doesn’t just deny the reality of human suffering, but it blames the one suffering, in denial of every strand of historical Christian theology. And of course it is hugely powerful in the USA, and it is at the centre of the sort of evangelicalism that is sticking by Donald Trump through thick and thin – it’s no accident that the president’s main spiritual advisor, Paula White, is a prominent prosperity preacher (who, being on-brand, denies that what she’s doing is called prosperity teaching, even while she’s doing it). The Christian church has always, throughout history, been at its best when it’s stood up against secular power and, conversely, at its absolute worst when it’s been in cahoots with that power.
It’s fashionable for more principled Christians to deny that these people are Christians at all. But that’s itself an act of avoidance. A heretic is still a member of your religion; they’re just at odds with it, and really a heretic is a religionist who stands against the majority view. Also, more concerningly, who’s the heretic? A heretic is a dissenter against a majority doctrine, after all. This has happened before. Back at the dawn of the organised church, there was about a century where different theological factions – Nicenes and Arians, mainly (whose difference of opinion centred on who Jesus was) – had the upper hand in the Christian world, and declared the other faction the real heretics. In the end the Nicenes (simply, the ones who believed in the Trinity) won, but for a while, they were the heretics. The point is that while, in terms of traditional Christian doctrine, American evangelicals might in fact be beholden to something that is closer to Manichaean witchcraft than credal Christianity, they’re the ones sitting down and having dinner with the President of the USA. It’s their songs that are sung in Christian churches around the world. They have the TV stations. They have the platform. They have the money. They are the most powerful quarter of the Protestant faith, and if they’re calling the shots, that makes traditional Christians the heretics, because that’s how it works.
It might be this part of Wood’s teardown of American evangelicalism that ties them together:
The final episode of the first season will end with him giving an unironically inspirational and genuinely heartfelt sermon about forgiveness that genuinely warms people’s hearts. It is moving. It touches people. And I’ve spent all these words explaining what’s wrong about prosperity theology and evangelical megachurches, but it’s important to remember that these people say a lot of stuff that’s true. They say a lot of stuff that gives meaning. They say a lot of things that warm hearts and nourish spirits. They say things that are good. And these things aren’t mutually exclusive from the greed. Humans are complex, contradictory things, and religious humans are more contradictory and complex than most.