I love podcasts. I only started listening to podcasts a few months ago, but I was immediately hooked. You mean I can listen to fascinating content while I wash dishes, weed the garden, or run errands? Sign me up! Last week, I binged the podcast The Dream, which is all about multi-level marketing. It’s fascinating. And horrifying. I definitely recommend a listen. This post was prompted by a combination of this show and a headline on the Friendly Atheist: Jim Bakker Is Still Selling a Gel That He Claims Kills “Every Venereal Disease.”
Yes, he’s selling an anti-STD gel! I want to know more about that too! Why would Christians even need an anti-STD gel? I have questions! But I want to focus on something larger that I noticed when I saw this post.
The Dream podcast host Jane Marie talks a lot about the relationship between religion and multi-level marketing. Many MLMs are explicitly religious, from Thirty-One, Mary Kay, and Amway. Jane explains that many of these companies appeal to women who believe they are called to stay at home with their children, but are attracted to the promise of being able to make money on the side (most MLM consultants ultimately lose money, as Jane reports).
But now I’m wondering if there’s another, far deeper connection, something Jane only scratched the surface of in her post. After all, many televangelists effectively function almost identically to MLMs. There are people like Bakker, who is constantly selling things like gross food mixes to sustain people through the end times. (I’m pretty sure Christians are supposed to be raptured at the start of the tribulation, in Baker’s eschatology—only the unsaved will be stuck on earth during the tribulation—but hey, theology and consistency take the back seat when there is money to be made.)
There are also people like Todd Coontz, a televangelist who long urged viewers to send him donations as a “seed” that God will eventually reward a thousand fold. And we’re not talking about small sums, a five here or a twenty there. Depending on the broadcast, Coontz recommended sending “seeds” of either $273 or $333. And Coontz is not alone—there are scads of other televangelists just like him, using false promises to bilk their viewers for money.
And it works. It works far better than it ever should. While multi-level marketing companies often make most of their money off of their consultants—i.e., consultants buying starter kits or inventory—televangelists rely directly on the power of persuasion to convince people that sending in large donations will bring good things back to them, or they massively up-sell and up-charge on products that probably won’t work. Both industries rely on a lot of false promises.
This would be a really fascinating dissertation topic. In fact, I bet people have already written pieces on these connections. What is it that makes these televangelists tick? How do they think what they’re doing is okay? What is it that makes people send televangelists money? Is this process abetted by a failure of a social safety net or an absence of effective local community support? Or something else entirely? Why do people think pastors trying to sell them something makes sense in the first place? Is it because of the marriage between evangelical Christianity and “free enterprise”?
I have far more questions about this than answers.
There’s one answer I can get you, though. Just what is up with Jim Bakker’s mysterious anti-STD gel? I took a quick look, and it’s even weirder—and scarier—than I’d thought. You can watch the clip here. Bakker’s exact words were:
“… You know, the amazing thing is it’s safe for babies. But it’s… it’s the most amazing product. It’s proven to kill every venereal disease there is. And that’s been proven and tested.”
What is this product? It comes in different forms: Silver Gel, Silver Solution, Silver Lozenges. I initially assumed this was just its name, and that it was a formula of some sort—but no.
It’s actually silver. You know, like the silver in your jewelry.
Silver is one of the most beautiful metals that exists. Man has worked for thousands of years to purify and perfect it. Silver is classified as a precious metal, and as such has been highly sought after. “Precious” is a good, descriptive definition of what silver really is.So many people talk about it daily, but so few actually know what it can do. We may have barely begun to scratch the surface in the knowledge of what this beautiful and amazing metal can do to help reduce suffering and possibly save mankind. Silver has natural, God-given actions unlike any other metal or element that exists. There are many other elements that have value, but none has been blessed with the medicine chest of medicinal effects that silver has.
For example, silver has the ability to help with three of the main parts of the body’s healing process.
First, silver is a natural and very effective antimicrobial. In other words, it can kill a broad spectrum of pathogens like; problem bacteria, yeasts, fungus, many parasites, and it can even kill or neutralize deadly virus.
Secondly, silver can help reduce inflammation, and as such can help reduce pain.
Third, silver is a natural healing agent, helping the body to create new clean healthy tissue, with reduced scaring. Silver is indeed Nature’s Natural Healer.
Oh, but there’s more! “By resonating at just the right frequency, Silver disrupts foreign elements without disturbing the body’s natural environment.” Yep. Really. How is this to be applied, exactly? I’m glad you asked. “Silver Solution Gel provides soothing action for the skin and can be applied as needed.” And there’s more good news: “This four-ounce tube is perfect for toting in your purse or stowing in your desk drawer, glove box or medicine cabinet.”
You can take it in liquid form too: “Silver Solution Liquid can be taken up to three times daily according to directions. Each 16 oz. bottle contains 96 adult doses.” Yes, we’re literally talking about drinking silver. Like, the metal. There are also lozenges—in other words, in addition to smearing it on your skin and drinking it, you can take silver in pill form.
The FDA banned silver for medicinal uses back in the 1990s. Your body does not need silver, and silver toxicity is a thing. If enough silver builds up in your body, it can damage the kidney and liver. People can die—and have died. Why can Bakker sell it, if the FDA has banned it? Because Bakker’s product is classified as a dietary supplement, not a medicine, and the FDA does not regulate dietary supplements. At all.
Most statements on the dangers of silver use the term “colloidal silver.” On his website, Bakker says his product is made with “nano-silver,” which he claims is a new formula different from colloidal silver. It’s not. They’re the same damn thing. My bet? I’d suggest that supplement promoters like Bakker had a powerful incentive to get away from the negative search results that come up for “colloidal silver.” Inventing a brand new name did the trick.
It is true, by the way, that silver particles have antibacterial effects in test tubes. There is no evidence, however, that it continues to have such properties inside the body, where there are lots of other things going on—and then there’s the issue of potential silver toxicity. Silver does have applications, but not as something you ingest:
A number of studies have investigated the use of silver-containing dressings on skin ulcers and wounds. Many of these have found that the silver particles exerted antibacterial properties that aid the treatment of diabetic ulcers, skin grafts, bed sores, necrotizing fasciitis, and other serious skin injuries.
Silver has a role in dressings for wounds, and in water filters. It just doesn’t have a role inside your body. And if you end up with too much fo it in your body, things could get very, very bad.
Of course, there are a million other supplements that are marketed in just this way—as magical cure-alls that will solve all your problems, but actually do nothing at all. Many of these supplements are marketed the way Bakker markets his, or through multi-level marketing companies that recruit consultants to sell their product, repeating their dubious claims.
What links all of this together, the multi-level marketing and the televangelists, the products and persuasion? Perhaps it’s the promises. Or rather, the false promises. Promises of healing, promises of riches, promises of being able to earn an income while staying at home with your kids. Just try this product—or send in your money—and you’ll have it all.
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