The Prosperity Gospel is a Bad Investment

As reader Scott points out, the picture says it all.

The New York Times article discusses how Kenneth and Gloria Copeland (and other prosperity gospel preachers) are encouraging followers to give them money in order to get more money back from God.

“God knows where the money is, and he knows how to get the money to you,” preached Mrs. Copeland, dressed in a crisp pants ensemble like those worn by C.E.O.’s.

Even in an economic downturn, preachers in the “prosperity gospel” movement are drawing sizable, adoring audiences. Their message — that if you have sufficient faith in God and the Bible and donate generously, God will multiply your offerings a hundredfold — is reassuring to many in hard times.

Why is this so disturbing?

The Copelands appear to be using the donations for themselves (they’re under investigation for this, anyway).

Some of the people giving the money don’t have much to begin with, and they erroneously believe they’ll be rewarded for their gifts.

Some of the people don’t understand basic logical fallacies. If they give money to the Copelands, and then something good happens, that doesn’t mean the first thing caused the second.

For the people who are getting duped, there’s not much you can say to convince them otherwise:

Mrs. Biellier said some friends and relatives would say the preacher just wanted their money. She explained that the Copelands did not need the money for themselves; it is for their ministry. And besides, even “trashy people like Hugh Hefner” have private airplanes.

“I remember Copeland had to once fly halfway around the world to talk to one person,” she said. “Because we’re partners with Kenneth Copeland, for every soul that gets saved, we get credit for that in heaven.”

You have to wonder how this is legal… how can these people advertise a product which they may not be able to deliver?

No doubt a portion of the money goes to “good” causes, and that’s what the followers like to see, but I doubt any of them bother to look at an expense report or the ministry’s budget.

What can be done to convince these followers they are being swindled?

You have to wonder why this type of con works so well in a religious environment.

What is it about Christians that makes them more susceptible to the Copelands and their ilk?

Are the Copelands sincere about what they’re saying or are they knowingly taking money by telling lies?

I would love to know why the Christians profiled in the article and who support these ministries in general don’t ask the same questions we do, why they take it on “faith” that 100% of the money is being used properly, and why they keep giving even when it’s painfully obvious they’re getting nothing in return.

(Thanks to Scott for the link!)

  • http://logofveritas.blogspot.com Veritas

    Damn, I’m in the wrong line of work.

  • s. pimpernel

    Freedom of religion is a license to steal.
    You can promise heaven and nobody can prove you wrong. Nothing misleading about it.

  • mikespeir

    I agree, Veritas. And we godless, immoral atheists are the perfect ones to set up a scam like this….

    Which, hmm, makes me wonder about the Copelands.

  • http://www.examiner.com/x-8922-Portland-Skepticism-Examiner Charlie

    Veritas,

    Nah. You probably have a conscience and some integrity. It wouldn’t work for you.

  • pete

    This is how the Coplands make there money. There product is faith, which we all know cannot be touched or felt ect. People are desperate, and desperate people do desperate things. Like get suckerd by con artest like the Copelands. Personally, I don’t feel bad about xians, giving away there last penny. As P.T.Barnum once said, “A fool and his money are soon parted”. And they wonder why we laugh at fundies:).

  • http://atimetorend.wordpress.com atimetorend

    “Some of the people giving the money don’t have much to begin with, and they erroneously believe they’ll be rewarded for their gifts.”

    Sounds a bit like state lotto programs, long odds of winning, except that the beneficiaries are more worthy than the Copelands.

  • Retro

    My girlfriend and I say we should just start preaching all the time. Our antenna receives more christian channels than standard network television, and are amazed at the churches that we get to see on our screen (Joel Osteen). Sometimes I wish I wasn’t a moral atheist.

  • medussa

    atimetorend, not only that, but with the lotto, SOMEONE will actually get to reap the benefits, while the Copelands are selling a product I truly believe to be non-existent: heavenly credits.

    I don’t think the folks currently falling for this can really be saved from parting with their money, unless good friends or family members step in. The only thing that can really prevent this kind of hoax is teaching reasoning skills to the next generation, and also discouraging the cultural fascination with dedicating your entire life and mind to a cause, be it religious worship, gay bashing, patriotism, or anti-choice.
    My current theory is that it’s a symptom of wanting the world to black and white, good vs evil, us vs them, and refusing to acknowledge the many shades of grey.

  • The Other Tom

    And besides, even “trashy people like Hugh Hefner” have private airplanes.

    I think Hefner is far classier than the Copelands. He’s intelligent, articulate, generally well liked by people who know him personally, and is very honest and up-front about what he’s selling.

    Some of the people giving the money don’t have much to begin with, and they erroneously believe they’ll be rewarded for their gifts.

    Some of the people don’t understand basic logical fallacies. If they give money to the Copelands, and then something good happens, that doesn’t mean the first thing caused the second.

    Think of it as evolution in action.

  • David D.G.
    Some of the people giving the money don’t have much to begin with, and they erroneously believe they’ll be rewarded for their gifts.

    Some of the people don’t understand basic logical fallacies. If they give money to the Copelands, and then something good happens, that doesn’t mean the first thing caused the second.

    Think of it as evolution in action.

    No, it’s not “evolution in action”; it is fraud, and anti-fraud laws exist for good reason.

    ~David D.G.

  • http://www.areopagus.us Derick

    As a Christian, I agree that the prosperity Gospel is bad news. Yet, I do not think it is just Christians who are ignorant enough to hold to the prosperity gospel junk. There seems to be a universality of stupidity that exists for the likes of such people.

    In the Christian realm, there is an organization who keeps strong accountability measures on ministries, the group is the “Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.” They keep ministries accountable for their statements, how they spend, and how they allocate resources.

  • Unbeliever

    Ummmm… first thought to cross my mind… if it’s true that “if you have sufficient faith in God and the Bible and donate generously, God will multiply your offerings a hundredfold”…

    Why don’t the Copelands simply donate to a worthy cause, cash in, donate again…? Why do they need anyone to donate to THEM? They have a God-powered money printing press! Right?

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    Even in an economic downturn…

    “Even” in an economic downturn? “Even”?!? Get it right, Times. How about “especially”? An economic downturn is exactly when scams like this flourish the most. It’s when people are desperate that they’re more likely to turn to “get rich quick” schemes… which is exactly what the prosperity gospel is.

  • http://rubyleigh.blogspot.com Ruby Leigh

    They don’t ask questions because:

    They are motivated by fear.

    Asking questions is difficult.

  • ayer

    From a Christian perspective, these people have totally bought into the greed of the “American Dream” ideology, the same greed that produced the housing bubble and the resultant crash in the first place. The Copelands have just put a patina of bad theology around it.

  • Talley

    What can be done to convince these followers they are being swindled?

    Tell them the Copelands aren’t true Christians.

  • Matilda1

    This turns my stomach. And I’m a LOBBYIST!

  • flatlander100

    Every now and then, channel surfing, I stumble across another of these prosperity preachers [not the Copelands] — oily looking guy with a goatee. He deals with those who have sent him money — “sowed seeds of faith” — and have not gotten it back tenfold this way: he tells them their seed-offering did not represent sufficient faith that god would reward them. Their caution [i.e. the limited amount they sent] meant their faith was not sufficiently strong. Send more.

    And the damn fools do, apparently.

  • SN

    It’s sad to see so many people swindled by these people, and they should be called to account for their actions, but it’s also unfair to group all Christians in with the people who donate to these scams or the people who run them. You can’t call what they’re selling the Gospel, and you’d be hard pressed to define them as legitimate Christians. Scams have been always been going on, the Copelands and scam artists like them have just found a way to use religious phrases to direct their scams towards a certain populace.

  • http://superstitionfree.blogspot.com/ Robert Madewell

    Dern that ol’ conscience. If I didn’t have a conscience, I could be rolling in the dough. Sometimes I wish I wasn’t so ethical.

    On second thought, I’m happy and don’t want for much. I don’t want to be like the Copelands at all. They just swindle the desparate and lie to them. That’s not people I want to emulate.

  • http://brielle.sosdg.org Brielle

    I once had a boss that told me my worst quality was that I had a conscience, that it was okay to hurt your customers, as long as it helped you meet your bottom line.

    It’s amazing how easy it is to use the mythical figure ‘god’ to fool the most gulliable.

    Business and god… your key to success!

  • TheDeadEye

    No doubt a portion of the money goes to “good” causes

    What portion of donated monies goes to “good” causes in a typical church? If we define good causes as anything that directly helps people (not going to maintaining church property/paying salaries), I’d wager it’s close to 5% or less.

  • http://www.cstdbill.com/ Bill

    I once had a Sunday job at a Pittsburgh radio station. One of my duties was to play a tape from Reverend Ike. The Rev’s message was the same as the Copelands’; and it wasn’t even the least bit subtle. He even had testimonials! I remember one woman telling about how she gave her money to Rev. Ike and prayed real hard, “…and you know what I found in my driveway the next morning? A Cadillac!” (I promise I’m not making that up.)

    Even though I needed the money, I just couldn’t do it more than three weeks. It made me feel dirty.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    I’ve been thinking about launching a website for the faithful to “pay for prayers” by other Christians. Christians wanting to do the praying would sign up (for free of course). Others would submit their prayer requests (and pay for the service). I would pocket the money paid. It would be on the up-and-up because I would offer exactly what was advertised. True Christians praying for other Christian’s prayer requests. I would just get the money. :) I would even put a disclaimer on the website that there is no scientific evidence that 3rd party prayer works for anything that can be objectively verified. I would treat it as a simple business and pay taxes on the income.

    If enough people launched websites like this, it would probably be the end of the prosperity gospel movement.

  • Richard Wade

    pete,
    Just to be precise:

    The axiom “A fool and his money are soon parted” is attributed to Thomas Tusser, an English poet and farmer of the sixteenth century.

    P.T. Barnum is famous (or infamous) for saying “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

    But the meanings are very similar, and your point is well taken. It may be sad for compassionate people to watch fools and suckers waste their hard-earned money, but there’s not a lot we can do about it, except to say “There, but for reason, go I.” They are buying their fleeting feel-good fantasy, and only they can decide if it is worth the cost.

    Religion is at its core a scam. It creates an unnecessary service, and then promotes a market for that service. The basic purpose is to make shamans fat. Whether they are promising eternal bliss and escape from eternal torment, or just material prosperity on Earth is just a difference in the details of the same scam.

    I’m still astonished at the ability of some people to be sooooo gullible and still be able to tie their own shoes, but my futile outrage is wearing me down. I’m now starting to just shake my head and shrug my shoulders.

    Perhaps the infinite nature of THE GREAT STUPIDITY will forever remain a mystery that cannot be explained by science or philosophy.

  • Richard P

    What can be done to convince these followers they are being swindled?

    But that is the beauty of the Evangelism world.

    Coplands sell results through faith and since we all know god answers all prayers with.. YES, NO Or MAYBE. These folks are not being swindled at all. If something good happen, then Praise the lord, if nothing, then god gave a great resounding no and it is not his fault. or Maybe later and, then when something good does happen, well we can praise the lord all over again.

    It is a marvelous invention this faith thing. Just Pray, you do not have to take any action nor be responsibility for the outcome.
    This is a huge reason for religion to begin with. To give up being responsible for life and all it offers, or demands as the case maybe.
    This is also why self pity is so prevalent in our society. With the domination of religious thinking it seems to drive us to believing we are not responsible or in control of our lives (because it is all in gods hands). Therefore not responsible for the bad things that happen. Leaving us with the only viable alternative… thinking poor me.. why does this always happen to me….Oh and of course I need to show more faith so next time I will send a bigger faith donation.

    This is one of the many reasons all religions are the most destructive and dangerous force known to man.

  • moe

    I had a super weird moment just now.

    First I read this article, then I read this from my lifehack blog feed

    Weird timing. I lol’ed at the weirdness of it. :)

  • medussa

    @Derick:
    How is it that this organization fails so spectacularly? I have never heard of them, not that that is any indication of its efficacy or even existence. But the amount of financial filibustering in the religious world is staggering, and I have never heard of them being held accountable by anyone but the tax people, in other words, when they have run foul of the IRS.
    What power does the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability hold? Is oversight voluntary? What punitive measures are exacted?

  • Richard P

    Jeff Says:
    I’ve been thinking about launching a website for the faithful to “pay for prayers” by other Christians.

    I am working on the site now.. wanna be partners???
    Damn, how will I live with my self…..rofl

  • Dan W

    “God knows where the money is, and he knows how to get the money to you…” No, you know a good way to swindle people out of their money, Mrs. Copeland. Ugh.

    Maybe I should start a religion, so I can trick gullible idiots out of their money too! Oh wait, somebody’s already done that… darn.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    I am working on the site now.. wanna be partners???

    My vision is for many of these sites to spring up for the following purposes:

    1. to illustrate how ridiculous the religious are with their beliefs about prayer.

    2. To voluntarily pay taxes on the profits to start a legal precedent that will start to challenge the whole “prosperity gospel” movement.

    I would suggest we work on the sites independently. Later on, we could possibly borrow ideas from each other or merge them if there was a good reason.

  • http://cranialhyperossification.blogspot.com GDad

    “Because we’re partners with Kenneth Copeland, for every soul that gets saved, we get credit for that in heaven.”

    God has a ledger. How is this different from Anubis weighing people’s hearts?

  • http://lunchboxsw.wordpress.com Aaron

    This is the “Bible version” of playing the lottery. The Copelands and those who preach the ‘prosperity “gospel”‘ are doing nothing more than brainwashing people who have very little to give them more money and occasionally throwing in an irrelevant Bible verse that out of context sounds like it supports their claims.

    But then again they probably do believe in “biblical prosperity” because they are “preaching the gospel” and seeing the cash roll in!

    How foolish! It is people like the Copelands, and just go ahead and stick them in the box with Ken Ham and his AiG fanatics, who are giving Christianity the imbecilic impression that it has in our country.

  • Ordinary Girl

    How is this any different than tithing. Many people give to their churches to support the ministry even when they’re having hard times with the belief that they’re following the will of God.

    Is it much of a stretch to believe that being God’s children, God wants them to be blessed and through tithing or giving money to ministries they’ll be rewarded? From there it may get a little crazier, but it still fits in with a core belief of Christianity.

    My parents followed prosperity ministers throughout my childhood and they still do. They’ve given money to most big name prosperity ministers. It’s a little like the lottery or even a get rich scheme. It’s the American Dream to have some crazy scheme pay off. Somehow they’ll get rich one day.

    @medussa I think the only punitive measure is to kick the organization out. It’s simply an endorsement after checking the financial records of the organization.

    PTL was endorsed by the EFCA. And although they were in jeopardy of losing their membership, they were renewed for several years. I don’t think their probationary status was ever disclosed until after the financial scandal broke. Then the EFCA cut all ties with them. But the people who trusted the endorsement and gave money had no recourse. Some later sued, but they only received pennies on the dollar. Many believers refused the settlement because they thought it was taking money back from God.

    The EFCA was founded by Billy Graham Ministries after a scandal (I believe an undocumented account with a large balance was found) to keep the government from having greater oversight into their non-profit organizations.

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