Armor of God

“Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil… Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith…”

—Ephesians 6:11-16

Among the fundamentalist Christian set, it’s a common tenet that faith in Jesus offers the believer some sort of literal supernatural protection against those who would do them harm. The passage quoted above, which goes on in this tedious analogizing vein for some time, has probably been the greatest single inspiration for that belief (as well as being the inspiration for Christian fundamentalist children’s pajamas – seldom has Richard Dawkins’ point that religious brainwashing of the young is the mental equivalent of child abuse seemed so apt).

While the supernatural efficacy of Christian belief is still a dogma awaiting its first piece of supporting evidence, the “armor of God” in a different sense is a very real phenomenon. I refer to the way in which many religious believers accused of wrongdoing immediately seek to hide behind their faith, claiming that God is on their side and that their accusers are wicked, godless people seeking to persecute the faithful with false accusations. In my experience, this claim is one of the last refuges of a scoundrel, and usually a reliable indicator that the accused’s guilt is about to become evident to all.

The latest high-and-mighty religious authority trying to hammer God into a shield is Richard Roberts, son of televangelist Oral Roberts and president of the university his father founded and named after himself. Three former professors recently filed a lawsuit against Oral Roberts University, accusing the Robertses of illegal political activity and misappropriation of college resources for personal benefit. Some of the more salacious details of the suit include:

• A longtime maintenance employee was fired so that an underage male friend of Mrs. Roberts could have his position.

• Mrs. Roberts – who is a member of the board of regents and is referred to as ORU’s “first lady” on the university’s Web site – frequently had cell-phone bills of more than $800 per month, with hundreds of text messages sent between 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. to “underage males who had been provided phones at university expense.”

• The university jet was used to take one daughter and several friends on a senior trip to Orlando, Fla., and the Bahamas. The $29,411 trip was billed to the ministry as an “evangelistic function of the president.”

• Mrs. Roberts spent more than $39,000 at one Chico’s clothing store alone in less than a year, and had other accounts in Texas and California. She also repeatedly said, “As long as I wear it once on TV, we can charge it off.” The document cites inconsistencies in clothing purchases and actual usage on TV.

• Mrs. Roberts was given a white Lexus SUV and a red Mercedes convertible by ministry donors.

• University and ministry employees are regularly summoned to the Roberts’ home to do the daughters’ homework.

• The university and ministry maintain a stable of horses for exclusive use by the Roberts’ children.

• The Roberts’ home has been remodeled 11 times in the past 14 years.

(These details and the tip for the story go to Pam’s House Blend. Also, don’t miss Greta Christina, who has by far the best take on this I’ve seen.)

These lurid details have been dissected at length elsewhere, so I won’t focus on them. Instead, I want to comment on Richard Roberts’ reaction to the suit:

At a chapel service this week on the 5,300-student campus known for its 60-foot-tall bronze sculpture of praying hands, Roberts said God told him: “We live in a litigious society. Anyone can get mad and file a lawsuit against another person whether they have a legitimate case or not. This lawsuit… is about intimidation, blackmail and extortion.”

Got that straight? The claim that this lawsuit “is about intimidation, blackmail and extortion” isn’t Richard Roberts’ opinion. It’s God’s opinion. And we can be quite certain of that, because the person telling us so is God’s faithful and trustworthy spokesman, Richard Roberts.

Like Thomas Weeks, who blamed the charges that he viciously beat his wife in a hotel parking lot on the machinations of Satan, Roberts is seemingly counting on this proclamation to rally community support – notwithstanding his obvious personal interest in the outcome of the case, and his strong incentive to claim that God told him this whether he actually received any such communication or not. (I’m betting on “not”.) Roberts and Weeks are just the latest in a long line of religious leaders who sought to cynically invoke their faith for personal benefit, which in itself reinforces the atheist position that no belief, faith-based or not, should be held exempt from criticism.

Time and the courts will see how this lawsuit fares. (I wonder if God will end up telling Roberts to settle out of court. What’s the Almighty’s fee for legal advice, anyway?) But these accusations, if not yet proven, are certainly credible – both because of the abundant past evidence of corruption and hypocrisy among powerful religious authorities, and because they come with the type of highly specific detail that is usually supported by evidence. In particular, the claims of the non-profit ORU engaging in illegal partisan political activity is supported by what is apparently an e-mail sent out by school faculty urging students to volunteer for a school-backed candidate. And it does not help that Roberts’ first instinct is to claim that God is on his side and is telling him that he is being persecuted. Such self-serving “revelations” may reassure the terminally credulous, but for the rest of us, they make the outcome seem even more like a foregone conclusion.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    “…as well as being the inspiration for Christian fundamentalist children’s pajamas…” — Ebon

    My parents must’ve know I was Hell-bound; they always bought me fire-retardant nightclothes.

    “Roberts said God told him: “We live in a litigious society. Anyone can get mad and file a lawsuit against another person whether they have a legitimate case or not. This lawsuit… is about intimidation, blackmail and extortion.”

    On a serious note, of course the Robertses are going to claim extortion; remember, Oral Roberts claimed god was going to “call him home” if he didn’t come up with $11 million, if I remember correctly, in 1987. God-as-a-loan-shark is a far more apt comparison than these parasites really know, given that their own theology claims that he is trying to extort our worship by holding our souls hostage.

    Also, note god’s wording:”_WE_ live in a litigious . . . “, which is a clear implication that god lives in America. I bet even god stays out of the southside of Philly, if he knows what’s good for him.

  • javaman

    What! no hot boy gay sex involved! or crystal meth! or hookers! This time it’s Mrs.Roberts getting off with young college boys! details! details ! I need to hear more details!!!

  • http://grimrhapsody.wordpress.com Dawn Rhapsody

    Apparently the Armor of God consists of several items of clothing, as presented here. Personally, the Sandals of Peace appeal to me most.

    “I am the vine; you are the branches,” said Jesus. “If a man abides in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

    An adept comparison of the Armor of God to a strangler fig, courtesy of our comedic friend Jesus. Keep reading that page to discover how seeing Harry Potter at the movies will cost you your Breastplate of Righteousness.

    The way in which subscribers of faith are blinded to the blatant corruption and immorality of their own leaders continues to astound me, though I suppose taking refuge in your very own God Pod is a legitimate practice in the eyes of said believers.

  • KShep

    Man, this would be so sad if weren’t so damn predictable. Power corrupts, people—never forget it.

    Thump:

    Oral Roberts claimed god was going to “call him home” if he didn’t come up with $11 million

    For the record, it was $8.1 million. I remember it quite vividly—Ozzy Osbourne sent him a dollar. His announcement about his donation was hilarious—-something about not being able to live with himself if he didn’t do his part to keep Oral from dying.

  • James Bradbury

    I reckon those jim-jams ought to come with a disclaimer label.

    “WARNING: This garment does not protect the wearer from physical injury, opposing world views or well, anything outside your own fearful little head.”

    Otherwise we might see some parent suing god when their child strides into a gunfight and the armor of god doesn’t quite live up to its name.

  • http://cafephilos.blogspot.com/ Paul Sunstone

    I predict the Roberts will eventually announce that God, in his infinite wisdom, has forgiven Mrs. Roberts from lusting after underage males, but has not forgiven her critics.

  • chronomitch

    A good read, but when I saw the title of this piece, I expected something completely different – something more along the lines of what believers actually use for armor:

    “Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of reality… Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with hypocrisy, and having on the breastplate of self-righteousness; and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of deception; above all, taking the shield of irrationality…”

  • Alex J. Hammel

    I wonder if God will end up telling Roberts to settle out of court. What’s the Almighty’s fee for legal advice, anyway?

    “ROB, THIS IS GOD. I’M NOT A LAWYER BUT…”

    Also, note god’s wording:”_WE_ live in a litigious . . . “, which is a clear implication that god lives in America.

    Of course he does. We have it on the authority of David Bowie himself.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Thanks for the correction, Shep.

  • Damien

    The passage quoted above, which goes on in this tedious analogizing vein for some time, has probably been the greatest single inspiration for that belief (as well as being the inspiration for Christian fundamentalist children’s pajamas – seldom has Richard Dawkins’ point that religious brainwashing of the young is the mental equivalent of child abuse seemed so apt).

    So all religious people are child abusers…because a few of them stick a slogan on their kids’ clothing?

  • chronomitch

    So all religious people are child abusers…because a few of them stick a slogan on their kids’ clothing?

    No. It’s considered brainwashing because they indoctrinate their children by presenting easily disproved stories and world-views as truth. Due to their lack of reasoning skills and the social pressures around them, children cannot unsubscribe themselves from these beliefs and, instead, become quite dependent on them, no matter how ridiculous they are.

  • OMGF

    I think the argument about child abuse hinges more on the doctrine of scaring little kids into belief with tales of eternal torment and suffering.


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