The Bible can be twisted to say anything… as can any religious text
In 1952, the pastor of Marble Collegiate Church in New York City Norman Vincent Peale wrote a book called The Power of Positive Thinking. Its claims that thinking positively could result in material rewards was roundly criticized by the psychological and the faith communities. Nevertheless, Peale was praised by five Presidents in a documentary, and he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the highest award available for civilian service. Donald Trump’s family, by the way, were parishioners.
It shouldn’t be terribly surprising that there is so much enthusiasm about such an acquisitive theology. For some, Christianity has become an identity rather than a faith tradition. After all, how could any reading of the Jesus’s teachings become the basis for slavery, racism, and segregation? And yet for some people, they did.
Even today, the idea that prayer will result in temporal rewards is an appealing idea. One of its most prominent proponents, Joel Osteen, has turned it into a fortune worth upwards of $50 million. Convincing his congregants to make contributions to support his lavish lifestyle is his stock in trade. They contribute in exchange for the promise from Osteen and his ilk that God will repay such generosity hundredfold. Never mind that very little of this largess actually goes to the poor and needy as Jesus urged, as we saw when Osteen’s church initially refused to shelter newly homeless in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
Jesus, you may recall, said that “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.” Matthew 19:24. He further states that with God, all things are possible. But just look at his life or at the life of the ascetics who followed him. Earthly materialism is certainly not part of that program.
As heresies go, however, this one is pretty tame. Some evangelicals, even those who claim to follow the literal words of the Bible, take some pretty twisted positions.
Consider Jerry Falwell, Jr. Where Jesus urged his followers to “ Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also,” (Luke 6:27–29) fundamentalist preacher Jerry Falwell Jr. urged his followers to get guns to fight Muslims.
Then you have Sen. Lynn Hutchings of Wyoming, who argued on the floor of the State Senate that without the death penalty, Jesus Christ would not have been able to die to absolve the sins of mankind, and therefore capital punishment should be maintained. Jesus Christ, you might recall, had quite a bit to say about the death penalty, not the least of which is “let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Most amazingly are the Christians who are looking to bring about the end of the world. Really, I’m not exaggerating. They have created this myth of the rapture in which the faithful are taken to heaven. I say myth because the idea of the rapture appears nowhere in the Bible. So much for following the literal meaning of the Word.
Gordon Robertson of the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) argued that supporting Israel will help bring about the end times. Therefore, they are urging support for Israel not because it is good for the Jews, or it is the right thing to do, but because it will accelerate the end of the world. There’s a philosophy you can get behind.
Again, Jesus had something to say about this, “but about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Matthew 13:32. In other words, anyone who says they can predict the end times is nothing more than a charlatan.
In truth, Jesus warned us about people like this. “ Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many.” Matthew 13:5–6.
There are always people hoping to take enrich themselves in the name of God, to gain power in the name of God. But if there was any central message to Jesus’s teachings, it was humility. Maybe a little more of that would do our country good.
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