God, Inc.

It’s funny; all we’re hearing from the wingnuts lately is about the War on Religion. It used to be confined to Christmastime, this war; every year, rightwing bloviators like Bill O’Reilly could be reliably counted on to make wishing someone “Merry Christmas” the upfront and blatantly hostile equivalent of “make my day.”

The war started early this year, with the right’s latest bugaboo:  birth control. Now, I’m taking away my boss’ religious freedom if I want to take birth control pills and have it covered by my health insurance. If I don’t happen to have an employer, and thus, no health insurance, if I want to go to a Planned Parenthood clinic to get a low cost pap smear and a mammogram, I’m a babykilling, Satan-worshipping Christian-basher. If I believe that women have the right to control their own bodies and in equal rights for LGBT Americans, well, dirty atheist me – I’m kicking Jesus and Christianity square in the ass. I’m an insult and an abomination to pious Americans everywhere, and I’m persecuting them, sans lions.

Whut?

Christianity has never been bigger business than it is in America today.

Megachurches abound, complete with the slickest of slick advertising and websites, like Saddleback Church in southern California, which boasts franchises all over the country. Pastor Rick Warren has an estimated net worth of $14 million and legions of faithful followers who open their wallets every time he asks for money. Pastor Warren recently asked for $900,000 to “offset a deficit resulting from hard economic times.” He received $2.4 million. But of course, claims Pastor Warren, that deficit had absolutely nothing to do with management; the church was busy, busy, busy looking after the flock. Pastor Warren appeared on Meet the Press on Sunday, where he proceeded to tell  ABC news anchor Jake Tapper that basically, it’s wrong to help the poor (it “robs them of dignity”) and right to help the rich (he believes in “wealth creation”). Well of course. The Lord helps those who help themselves, right, Pastor Rick? And you have certainly helped yourself, big fella.

Pastor Warren has also involved himself in politics, setting himself up as the authority on how his flock can live a “purpose-driven life,” have a “purpose-driven” marriage and for whom his flock can cast a “purpose-driven” vote when they enter the voting booth. He is anti-choice, anti-gay, anti-stem cell research and was a vocal proponent of California’s infamous Prop 8, which put the civil rights of LGBT Californians up for a vote. Later, in a move that confused his supporters, Pastor Warren backpedaled and declared that stopping gay marriage was very low on God’s To-Do list.

Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church, according to Church Today is considered to be the largest and fastest-growing church in the country. Osteen just moved his church into the former Compaq Center, a 16,000 seat auditorium and claims 38,000 worshipers every Sunday, along with 7 million television viewers. Joel and his wife Victoria are worth an estimated $44 million and unapologetically live in a $12.5 million mansion. Pastor Osteen claims that to be apologetic about his wealth is an insult to God. That’s convenient, isn’t it?

Pastors Warren and Osteen are just the tip of the religion racket’s iceberg; plenty of other names come to mind: the disgraced Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker and Ted Haggard, the 2000 pound leg-presser and famous “Katrina-was-caused-by-the-gays-or-maybe-Ellen-Degeneres-or-abortion” Pat Robertson, Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, Benny Hinn, John Hagee and many others. All of them live very high on the hog, thanks to their legions of wallet-opening faithful.

According to the gospel preached by these charlatans, their obscene wealth “proves” them worthy in the sight of God. The rich are God’s beloved children, and are showered with His blessings in the form of big piles of greenbacks, mansions, fancy cars and offshore bank accounts. And conversely, of course, because there always is an opposite, today’s “Teavangelicals” preach that if you’re poor, sick or unemployed, well, it must be because you aren’t right with the Big Guy in the Sky. But don’t despair, poor people! If you send Pastor Whozis a ten-dollar bill, God’s blessings will shower upon you, too! The more you send, the bigger the blessings! Hallelujah!

The New Testament is full of quotes from Jesus about riches. Jesus was very clear about how He felt about helping the poor and the sick, and sums it up nicely in Matthew 25:45, ”…I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” In Mark 10:25, Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Today’s Teavangelicals have stood His message on its head in an obscene corruption of the true message of Jesus and the real teachings of Christianity – with an eye to their bottom line and in justification of their ostentatious lifestyles.

God is very, very, very big business here in America, cash-heavy and regulation-light – right up there with smuggling illicit liquor during Prohibition and the cartels dealing in marijuana, heroin and cocaine. Religion has always been one of the most reliable fast-tracks to riches – especially since the churches, like illegal liquor and drugs, are tax-exempt.

I wonder sometimes that if churches were regulated and taxed like any other profitable corporation, there would be so many Bible-thumping CEO’s in their expensive suits with their manicured hands out for donations. I’d like to find out.