Sunny Bindra asks,
How else to to explain the fact that these folks often have large security details (God’s protection is evidently insufficient); or that they wear more bling than rappers (the humility of the real prophets is evidently no example); or that they milk their congregations for obscene contributions to their personal wealth? And their unlettered, unthinking followers lap it all up.
It is this line that gives me pause: And their unlettered, unthinking followers lap it all up. It gives me pause because it looks and feels right, doesn't it? I am not so sure that we should be so condescending of the acolytes of Rolls-Royce-riding pastors and other men of the cloth.
The "traditional" or "mainstream" churches, including venerable institutions like the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church. the Presbyterian Church, and the Pentecostal Church, have taken solemnity to heights that would warm the cockles of the ever-serious. Their leaders eschew ostentatious displays such as high end SUVs and palatial mansions. More often than not, they are managed, especially their finances, with a degree of openness and transparency that makes the congregations feel like they are part of some solemn, united undertaking as members of the Church of Christ.
The more evangelical strains of the Christian religion embrace the finery of the Prosperity Gospel: believe in God and plant the "seed", and you will live in the lap of luxury. To show the congregation that there is indeed prosperity in the life of the evangelical church, "bishops" swan around in Rolls-Royces, live in hundred-million-shilling mansions, holiday in South Africa, shepherd "branches" in California or Texas, feature in the "society" pages of the newspapers and host TV talkshows in which they discuss everything from the Christian view of sexual intercourse to real estate investment with "Christian values".
There are many things that differentiate the "traditional" gospel from the "prosperity" gospel but only one that defines both: faith. "Faith" as my King James tells me in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews is
"the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."
There is nothing as unseeable as the Hand of God in our lives. No matter what faith you profess, few of you have ever seen your gods but millions of you have an unshakeable faith that your god has done wonders for you, shaped your lives, favoured you with success and material wealth and punished you with death and pestilence for your sins. Your faith renews your trust in your co-religionists every day and forms a large part of the moral and ethical codes you believe you live by. When you call upon your god, he, she or it, answers, no matter if the answer is "Yes", "No" or "Wait".
But your faith, no matter how you slice the analysis, did not emerge spontaneously; you were taught to believe, you were inculcated with the faith. Your teachers might have been your parents, siblings, friends, school teachers or even, yes, politicians, but your most important teachers of faith, indoctrinators of belief, were your faith-leaders, whom you believe have been called by your god to lead your faith. One man or woman or a couple taught you the key tenets of your faith and instructed you on how to believe. If they taught you that you had to give and give and give, and not ask questions about what your giving has done, how would you know that you shouldn't give blindly, that you shouldn't question the preacher's Rolls-Royce?
I neither pity nor praise the blind believers of a Rolls-Royce-riding preacher because, in our own way, we are all blind believers of a Rolls-Royce-riding preacher because the preacher doesn't have to hold a book of faith to snooker us. He could be the "investment guru" who promises securities' market success to the "wise"; the star "professor" who promises intellectual superiority to the academically precocious; the "civil-rights icon" who promises political liberation for the courageous; the "inventor" who promises the solution to the world's intractable problems; the "corporate governance doyen" who promises to unlock value held in the corporation by matching skills with ambitions, profit with ethical values. Faith (and the gossip that inevitably accompanies it) is the only thing that unites all humankind. No sir, they are not unlettered or unthinking; they are simply, believers.