Editor’s Note: I got the idea for this column while watching Black Entertainment Television (BET) one day. Apparently, there’s a whole group of white preachers who prey on black people and take their money, promising them wealth and health. You can get a look at this by clicking on camp meeting.com. Two of the slickest hucksters, you’ll ever see on this channel are Mike Murdock and Todd Coontz, who push a scam called “seed faith.” You’ll find yourself asking how anyone could be taken in by this, but half the country believes the Noah’s Ark story is history, so nothing surprises me anymore.
In one of my favorite comic strips, Dilbert is told that his cousin Lauren has received her degree in English and is asked whether he has any advice for her. His reply, which resonates with all English majors, questions how she’ll “enjoy scratching out a meager living.” Lauren answers, “I never thought about it.” To which he observes, “Obviously.”
Most of us on that career path eventually ask ourselves, “What was I thinking?” Many of the guys I knew in high school who opted to skip college have retired early, following well-paid careers. Compared with English majors, they seem like Mensa members.
the late 1960s, I asked Mr. Hargrove, my high school guidance counselor, what I
should take in college. He said it didn’t matter all that much: “Just get
that diploma.” Whatever they paid him to dispense such advice, it was too
much. In fact, I wish I had his job. Instead, I spent six years in college
earning a master’s in English, so I could earn a meager living.
would’ve gotten better career counseling from science-fiction writer L. Ron
Hubbard. The story may be apocryphal, but Hubbard and fellow novelist Isaac
Asimov were reputedly lamenting the difficulties of making a decent living
writing sci-fi. Hubbard said the best way to get rich quick was religion, and
bet Asimov $100 that he could make a million dollars in a year by starting one.
Twelve months later, he’d written “Dianetics,” dreamed up Scientology and
collected his C-note.
Fact or fiction, Hubbard knew what he was doing. If you’re smart (and unscrupulous), religious leader can be a lucrative career path. For example, profiting from Americans’ gullibility toward the supernatural, spiritualists and faith healers have used the media like a 24x7 carnival midway to rake in profits.
in the footsteps of Harry Houdini, former magician James “The Amazing”
Randi has had a second career debunking the paranormal. Just as Houdini
revealed that all mediums are fakes (which did little to slow the séance
business), Randi has worked with organizations such as the Committee for
the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) to prove
that spiritualists, including faith healers, are hucksters.
a PBS documentary, he showed how televangelist Peter Popoff was able to
literally fill buckets with cash by scamming the sick and the lame. Randi
knocked Popoff off the air for a time, but he’s back on the BET channel,
once again healing the faithful. He’s also hawking Miracle Spring Water
that provides “supernatural debt cancellation.” (I have a feeling I
know whose debts are being canceled, and there’s nothing supernatural
have bunions on both my feet that need surgery, so I’m offering $1,000 to any
faith healer who’ll fix them. Bunions are a minor ailment, so any preacher
who’s out there healing cancer or epilepsy should be able to take care of my
little problem. That’s $1,000 for only a few minutes of laying on hands, but I
doubt I’ll be paying out that cash anytime soon.
into faith healing have repeatedly shown that the vast majority of the
“cured” fall into three categories: the healers’ shills, suggestible
people cured of psychosomatic illnesses and those whose ailments return once the
adrenalin rush of the healing service subsides. (In a tiny fraction of cases,
spontaneous remissions can occur, unrelated to who does or doesn’t lay hands
2005, CSICOP has had a standing offer of $1 million to anyone who can
demonstrate any sort of supernatural ability — from levitation to psychic
powers to faith healing — in a scientifically monitored environment. No one
has collected a penny; in fact, no one has even had the courage or the
convictions to try.
counterargument is that those who truly have these “gifts of the spirit”
won’t use them for monetary gain; however, anyone who’s seen religious
programming on TV knows how fatuous that statement is. Before becoming Bill
O’Reilly’s straight man and an icon of the Religious Right, erstwhile comic Dennis
Miller cleverly observed that, although many evangelical preachers like to
call themselves “nondenominational, the denominations that really make their
eyes light up are twenties and fifties.”
of the more-lucrative, faith-based initiatives proliferating on channels such as
BET involves pastors who preach “seed faith.” They induce viewers to pledge
money to their ministries to secure future monetary gain. Even the poorest are
encouraged to spend their last dollar “sowing a seed” to procure a windfall
from the Big Banker in the sky.
this scam, which is promulgated by slick ministers in $800 suits, the Holy
Spirit often speaks directly (by voicemail?, email?, IM?) to the preacher. God
tells him how much — usually, some random amount like $261 or $78 — viewers
should contribute to his ministry (rather than some other church or another
one popular parable, the minister related how a young woman who was almost broke
and needed a place to live responded to his message by sowing a monthly seed for
a year. She ended up renting a house from an elderly woman with no children. The
older woman liked the younger one so much, she promised that, when she died, her
tenant could have the house for free. Lo and behold, a few months later, the old
woman suffered a fatal heart attack.
heartwarming story of how God smote an elderly woman so one of the preacher’s
paying customers could have a mortgage-free home must be a real crowd pleaser,
because the televangelist repeats it regularly. That’s quite a racket. I’m
envious of their business model, and wish they had a spot on the roster for a
onetime English major.
if no one out there can heal my bunions, then maybe I can do some healing of my
own. This morning, a voice told me that some of my readers have high
cholesterol, which I’m willing to cure for a mere $87/month. Make the checks
out to cash, please.
Click here to return to the Mark Drought home page.