Joel Osteen's new Lakewood Church in Texas
July 20, 2005 5:30 PM   Subscribe

Joel Osteen's new Lakewood Church in Texas recently became the first in the U.S. to average more than 30K worshippers a week. This is the kind of news that gives many lefties with a fear the god-fearing the heebie-jeebies. But then, on closer inspection, the brand of Christianity Osteen is offering, if shallow, also seems rather mild: a kind of dim-witted boosterism simply designed to get you through the week. He has been called "prosperity gospel's coverboy," and been viciously attacked for it on Larry King. What to make of this new capitalist mutatation in Christianity?
posted by Hobbacocka (40 comments total)
Larry King attacked him? I'm pretty sure that Larry King killed Our Lord, too.
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:38 PM on July 20, 2005

Have you ever noticed how often Joel Osteen blinks? It's really surreal.
posted by billysumday at 5:40 PM on July 20, 2005

FTA: "Osteen took over the church in 1999 and has increased the size of the congregation almost five-fold since then. His book, "Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living Your Full Potential" has sold almost 3 million copies."


There has been a historical dissonance between the US's Christian religious tendencies and its capitalist economic tendencies. This just seems like what you get when you've mixed the two together for long enough.
posted by voltairemodern at 5:40 PM on July 20, 2005

Well it looks somewhat like a cult of personality, I'd be much more afraid of the iconbusters than him. He serves a benign version of Christianity that appeals to a broad spectrum of people. Judge that how you want, it's better than the anti-Catholic, strict fundamentalism of iconbusters.
posted by geoff. at 5:42 PM on July 20, 2005

Does he tell his followers to hate people, to deprive them of civil rights and liberties, to kill because others are different, and to vote for politicians who support these same policies? As long as he doesn't, Osteen's religion is the kind of Christianity with which I can coexist. Live and let live; an it harm none; etcetera, etcetera.
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:47 PM on July 20, 2005

We're attaining Moonian proportions here.
posted by NewBornHippy at 5:55 PM on July 20, 2005

Internet Monk Outs Joel Osteen. iMonk says all I feel about this guy. Forgive the gratuitous use of the word "blogosphere."
posted by brownpau at 5:56 PM on July 20, 2005

I'm only interested in the basketball angle:
America's largest church celebrated its move into the former arena for the Houston Rockets...

"I'm looking at the shot clock, brothers and sisters, and time is running out, yes indeed, time is running out! And the question is, are you going to foul out and hit the showers of fire, or are you going to stay out of foul trouble, hit the holy trey in the clutch and spend eterninty in the key with the original Hall-of-Famer, the one who has posted up before you..."

The sermon practically writes itself!
posted by planetkyoto at 5:57 PM on July 20, 2005

planetkyoto, you almost made me snort water out my nose with that.
posted by rhiannon at 6:01 PM on July 20, 2005

Yes he does blink too much. He shows too much teeth. And the mullet disturbs me.

My in-laws went to see him - I was disappointed that I received neither a T-shirt nor a program.

As far as his ministry, it's all feel good Christianity, no fire and brimstone. Personally, I'm happy-happy with the feel-good, do-no-harm flavor of Christianity as opposed to what normally passes for the teachings of Jebus these days.
posted by rzklkng at 6:05 PM on July 20, 2005

Where did this idea come from that "lefties" are instantly scared witless by the idea of religion?
posted by nightchrome at 6:22 PM on July 20, 2005

I catch him on TV sometimes early in the morning. I'm barely religious, but he's hard to stop watching sometimes. It's bizarre.

But I still secretly hope he pulls some kind of "Hulk Hogan in 1996" thing and suddenly goes all evil and shit.
posted by Cyrano at 6:23 PM on July 20, 2005

I was told the local Houston news spent a third of their 10 pm newscast airing what was essentially an infomercial for this church. How much more publicity do they need?
posted by rolypolyman at 6:30 PM on July 20, 2005

nightchrome: Of course they're scared! Those Godless Communists fear the Word of the Lord. And rightly so, because they know, deep down in their blackened hearts, that they will be held accountable for their multifarious sins. They're all against us, People of Faith, and we must remain unified against them...

To answer your question, the religious right accused the left of being scared of religion, and--with the rise of the neocons--it has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
posted by voltairemodern at 6:33 PM on July 20, 2005

See, THIS is why it would be cool if the fairy stories about Jesus coming back were true ... I'd love to see what his take on people like Osteen would be like.

Larry King:
"So, Mr. Christ-"

Jesus Christ, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, et al:
"Larry, please, Jesus will suffice."

"Alright then ... have you spoken with Jerry Fallwell or Pat Robertson yet?"

JC, KoK, LoL:
"Larry, those dudes are fucked up right there ... have you heard what they've said about WOMEN? Seriously man ... "
posted by Relay at 6:44 PM on July 20, 2005

Where did this idea come from that "lefties" are instantly scared witless by the idea of religion?

From reading mefi for more than five minutes at a stretch. It's sorta like the library scene from Attack of the Killer Tomatos:

Man: "God."
Mefiers: Evil! Evil! OMG! The fundies are going to eat your children! Aaagh!

Any time anything even remotely religious comes up, at least 10 posters comment that the followers are creepy, the teachings evil, and the writings outdated. Like the homophobes who shout about "the gays", that level of hostility screams fear.
posted by unreason at 6:45 PM on July 20, 2005

Osteen's Carnival Christianity treats people like shills.
Jesus didn't teach that we have to be poor, what He did say is that those who are blinded by the pursuit of wealth are lost before they start. In my half dozen viewings of him, Osteen always glosses over that issue.
posted by garficher at 7:21 PM on July 20, 2005

"New Capitalist Mutation"?

All the trendy people know that that backlash to that particular breed is full-fledged, even within the Christian church itself. I grew up fully aware of it in its current form, even if you don't take into account that the recent incarnation is just the latest showing in the long long history of mass faceless religiousity.

Also, just the sheer amount of that man's face on the website sends small shudders through me.

Can we have more posts about the emergent church? Those give me tiny ripples of blessed assurance.
posted by redsparkler at 7:22 PM on July 20, 2005

Around here, we got this guy.
posted by black8 at 7:25 PM on July 20, 2005

Gov. Rick Perry praised the church's new look and told the crowd, "As lawmakers we do a lot of things, but only the church can teach people to love.

Got that everyone? Only the church can teach people to love.
posted by euphorb at 8:00 PM on July 20, 2005

This is the kind of news that gives many lefties with a fear the god-fearing the heebie-jeebies.

Many of my political views lean left, but I don't anticipate the "heebie-jeebies" until the 30,000 members of Joel's church become fanatical, interpret every slight against Christianity as a call for holy war, begin waving AK-47s around in public, kidnap & decapitate perceived enemies, link up with others around the globe to train together on improving bomb-making & assassin skills and scream "Allahu Jesus" while unrepetentingly killing thousands of innocent citizens around the world in hopes for martyrdom.

Until then, to declare Joel's operation "benign" would be an understatement, though I don't doubt it feels super cool to denounce it all as "shallow" and "dim-witted" on MeFi's homepage.
posted by dhoyt at 8:15 PM on July 20, 2005

Yeah, thank God Christians don't have anyone like eric Rudolph hanging around.
posted by Relay at 9:29 PM on July 20, 2005

I don't doubt it feels super cool to denounce it all as "shallow" and "dim-witted"

Um, whether you happen to think it would feel "cool" to describe Joel's "if-you're-happy-and-you-know-it-clap-your-hands" brand of "Christianity" as shallow is independent of whether it, in fact, is shallow. And, even for this heathen, it's shallower than my currently-clogged bathtub.

This is like Norman Vincent Peale on a Paxil and cotton candy binge. I think belief in an omniscient, omnipotent, benevolent creator deity is pretty much bullshit (i.e., incoherent) but a good part of me prefers the fire-and-brimstone, money-where-your-mouth-is brand of monotheism over this sugary pap any day of the week.

I have nothing but contempt for those who will excise (or selectively ignore, as in Joel's case) the more troubling (or demanding or challenging) elements of their professed belief system in favor of increasing their bottom line, their attendance figures, or their popularity. My parents taught me a word for that: it's called opportunism and it sorta smells like my aforementioned clogged bathtub, now that I think about it.

(off to AskMeta for plumbing advice, g'night)
posted by joe lisboa at 9:31 PM on July 20, 2005

Someone needs to teach these Texans how to finish a goddamn sentence.
posted by ddf at 9:39 PM on July 20, 2005

I've paused on Osteen's televangelist show while channel surfing and been impressed with him as a speaker -- seems like a postive message for a change. And I'm a lefty Unitarian, for the record.
posted by Toecutter at 9:56 PM on July 20, 2005

I'm just amused that the place I spent many a stoned night watching Ozzie Osbourne, Ronnie James Dio, and Rush perform is now a church.
posted by beowulf573 at 10:04 PM on July 20, 2005

"What to make of this new capitalist
mutatation in Christianity?"

New Capitalist mutation in Christianity? Where the hell have you been? This shit has going on for centuries!
posted by thedailygrowl at 11:24 PM on July 20, 2005

What to make of this new capitalist mutation of Christianity?

When faith is sold as a product, many will inevitably opt for the bargain version.
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 1:02 AM on July 21, 2005

Not new. Christianity, like all religions, is driven by money and power. All religion eventually leads to stupidity and waist., but that road is not instantaneous. This is just some guy making a buck telling people to be happy in silly ways. So what? He is just padding his own bank account with money the fundy doctor killers want for themselves. Let him take it. Heck, lets help make him #1 on google's search for christianity.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:15 AM on July 21, 2005

In a way I feel for the guy. He thinks of himself as an "encourager," and I kind of think that's really all he wants to do: encourage people. I'm happy to give him the benefit of the doubt. On the Larry King interview, King (predictably) tries to pin him down on whether Jesus is the only way to salvation, and whether other religions, therefore, are false. Osteen totally ducks the question, but then, later, apparently in response to an outpouring of protest from his own congregants, he issued a clarification on his web site, saying, yes, Jesus is, in fact, the only way to heaven. Implication being: yes, Islam and Judaism follow false teachings. This message going out to thousands if not millions. Perhaps this explains the heebie-jeebie factor?
posted by Hobbacocka at 4:49 AM on July 21, 2005

Joel Osteen is a disgrace to Christianity. To echo brownpau, let me link to another iMonk article on him:

Spurgeon and Osteen: The Tale of Inaugural Sermons
posted by aaronshaf at 7:01 AM on July 21, 2005

There's a lot more to churchgoing than "stupidity and waist" and even being a control freak, but then, the exceptional is what gets all the attention, and people who simply believe and try to make a positive difference in their lives, and the lives of those around them, don't get noticed enough even to be sneered at on MeFi.
posted by alumshubby at 7:10 AM on July 21, 2005

I can see why a lot of people think Osteen is shallow and namby-pamby. To them, he is. He's "spiritual cyanide", in the words of the iMonk; his message will poison your ability to get to heaven through Jesus Christ.

But the last time I checked, most Christians don't really buy that "only through Jesus" reading. Sure, it's in the Bible; but any honest practitioner of a religion based on a holy text knows that it's impossible to follow the texts literally. (In the immortal words of Tim Lovejoy: "Have you actually read this thing? Technically, we're not allowed to go to the bathroom.")

Which is to say, religions -- all religions -- are defined by practice, not by what's in the book or the legends. Certainly that's not how religionists experience it, but that's not really my concern right now; I'm really interested in the effects of the religion on the world.

I am not a christian, so I don't really care whether people are "damned to hell" or not according to somebody's reading of the internal logic of this system or that. I don't buy into the idea that there are "true" variants of religions -- they are what they are. They do what they do. They are effective or they are not. They are social phenomenna. Osteen's church will prosper or not. It will result in a net increase in happiness or well-being, or it will not.

In my final analysis, I'd rather people acted constructively than destructively. As far as I can see, most evangelical christianity (and evangelical/fundamentalist islam, and fundamentalist hinduism or sikhism or what have you) are destructive in the balance. I have some qualms about uniting diviinity-based religions like Christianity (or Islam) with Capitalism, but they're minor by comparison with my concerns about people creating evil in the world by fighting grimly against it, wherever they imagine it to be.
posted by lodurr at 8:42 AM on July 21, 2005

The real scary question is, will he run for President? He looks like he's willing to try.
posted by funambulist at 9:08 AM on July 21, 2005

Jesus drives a Maybach.
posted by mrhappy at 12:06 PM on July 21, 2005

I'd rather see guys like him than guys like Fred Phelps.
posted by SisterHavana at 2:12 PM on July 21, 2005

This is the source of reality-based thinkers' intense distrust of religious leaders: they are all shills. Every single one of them. From your friendly neighbourhood priest to the Ayatollah, each and every one of them lies to people for personal gain. The gain differs--sometimes it's money, sometimes it's to push an agenda of hate and fear, sometimes it's just wanting to be liked--but it remains that religious dogma is untrue, has been known to be untrue since shortly after we invented the concept of science, and as an untruthful alternative to verified data, has no place in the minds of educated people.

As for the "good" religion does, "do unto others as you would have them do to you" is the axiomatic basis of every philosophical system we've ever come up with. Religion concerns itself largely with the creation of exceptions to that rule: the distinction of "saved" and "unsaved", "believer" and "infidel".
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:24 PM on July 21, 2005

Are those iconbusters on LK for real? It reads/sounds like ten people reading in unison froma Jack Chick booklet.
posted by Sparx at 7:34 PM on July 21, 2005

dhoyt - I was following you there until you threw out the "AK-47s around in public..."

That's just weak, man. Everyone knows that the Evanbaristagenilicalisticas are about AR-15's or M4's. Geeze, AK-47's are soooo Commie. Besides, it's all about the AK-74s, now; or th4e AK-Ms.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 9:12 PM on July 21, 2005

...each and every one of them lies to people for personal gain.

... and then you proceed to provide tortured (albeit accurate) examples of personal gain which turn out to apply to just about every field of human endeavor.

This kind of extreme chhallenge ("they're all shills") is exactly the kind of thing that pisses off strong Christians. I'll grant that, by your defininition, all religious leaders are "shills". But then, so is ever corporate leader, and every elected civil leader, and heck -- just about every leader, period. Leadership is shilling for power.

Believe it or not, I'm sympathetic toward your position. I am an atheist. I've been one for thirty years -- three-quarters of my life. So what I have said should under no circumstances be construed as an endorsement of religionist world views. But if you sit there and say stuff that's guaranteed to piss them off, you really shouldn't be surprised when people you oppose take steadily more entrenched and often more radical positions to oppose you. That's what people do when they think they're being attacked.

For myself, as long as Joel Osteen continues to think and say that it's OK for me to exist, I'm not going to get upset about him.
posted by lodurr at 4:46 AM on July 22, 2005

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