Joel Osteen: a Very Likable Huckster


Praise Jesus!

Given the choice between a salesman and a misanthrope, my money’s on the hater.  They are always more likely to tell you the truth because they simply don’t give a shit if you like the answer or not.  Unless they’re trying to kill or rape you.  How can anyone dislike Joel Osteen?  I find it nearly impossible myself.  He’s sincere.  He cries real tears.  His stories elicit real emotion that anyone can connect with.  He’s surprisingly self-reflective, and even corrects himself:

Harvest season is NOT every year.  Sometimes it’s not for MANY years.  Some seasons are for planting, some for tilling, some for weeding… I don’t even know what that means…

The crowd laughs right along with his own revelation that he’s never been a farmer.  It makes him all the more human and accessible.  When individual prayer time comes, he sends out “prayer teams” to manage the crowds who need that extra bit God’s love.  The Reverend doesn’t get far into the rows before the crowds dam his movement.  He is flanked by two well-heeled security guards donning their earpieces and wrist microphones–easily mistaken for the President’s secret service.  And it’s a good thing.  His parishioners mob his presence as if Jesus himself spoke through Reverend Osteen.


I try to count the ancillary personnel necessary to coordinate an operation of this size and complexity.  Between the production crew for the 3 or 4 bands, 6 or 7 singers, 4 speakers, about 30 ushers, at least 10 floor security personnel, the television production people, parking attendants, about 14 Houston policemen, and an unknown number of behind-the-scenes coordinators, there must be about 130-180 heads and hands to pull off this operation.  And I must admit: it is FLAWLESS.  The band is already rocking the stadium (the former Compaq Center, home of the Houston Rockets), as the flock assembles for morning prayer?  No, this is more than “prayer” by any traditional standard.  This is a rocking, multimedia message of victory and inspiration.  It is an emotional massage, letting everyone know that they are already forgiven already, and that they are not just full of God’s love, they are God’s love.

If the purpose of this operation is to endow its members with a feeling of empowerment, then mission accomplished.  This is Christianity Lite.  Not much bad news to be gotten out of any of this, except that we all have troubles.  And even that bad news is basted with a thick coating of “The Righteous Will Overcome ALL Struggles.  Not 85%.  Not 92.7%.  ALL of our troubles.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.”  The crowd goes wild.  They say, “everyone suffers, but the righteous suffer less.”  Is that true?  I have a hard time with that one…but then, I am the faithless.

Freedom to Supplicate before God

The songs reinforce the words, so it’s clear that there is but a narrow band of talking points that come through this medium.  However, there is a noticeable difference between the sung words and the unsung monologues.  The monologues are rife with positivity and hope and stories of how small gestures have lasting and meaningful impacts on peoples’ lives that we may never have guessed.  Moving.  Powerful.  Really.  And then the band rocks another one, this time it’s a black woman who might be a professional stage performer.  Her voice penetrates like an uninvited houseguest who becomes the life of the party.  The music endows us all with yet more inspiration, as if my inspiration bladder could hold any more.  I need to squeeze some off about now to make room for my jealousy and cynicism.

My poetry teacher once remarked that we can’t write song lyrics because we can’t rely on music to carry the words.  They must stand alone.  Thus the distinction becomes clear.  Let’s walk through some typical lyrics and see what thing is not like the other:

Oh LORD lift me higher/Oh LORD lift me higher/ I’m free to sing/ I’m free to dance/ Through your only son/ I have become/ Free to sing/ Free to dance.

so far, so good…

Oh LORD lift our heads up/ The Son is Risen on my life/ Only through Him/ Give us a new life/ The way to light/ The way to Life/ Only through Him/ Jesus, Hallelujah, Hallelujah/ The righteous will overcome/ Mercy in his name/ The righteous will overcome/ Jesus smite my obstacles/ With loving grace/ I live under thy command/ Forever, Hallelujah, Hallelujah/ Forever, Hallelujah, Hallelujah/ I give my blood/ I give my life/ I rest all hope on thee, Forever/ I am FREE in THEE, FOREVER.

Ok, so I don’t remember exactly what they sang, but it’s true to the spirit if not the word.  The point is that the music underscores the pecking order.  We are free to suck the LORD’s dick, forever.  We are free to sing and dance, as long as it’s in Jesus’ name, amen.  These aren’t shackles, they’re really heavy prayer beads.  The heavier they are, the more you love Jesus.

The monologues preach the “victory” aspect, as in “Jesus wants you to be successful.”  I don’t remember reading that in any of the red letters.  Also, what’s this about giving blood for Jesus or God?  I’m pretty sure that’s a reference to forming a holy army to fight the Muslims and the atheists, and eventually silence any voice that isn’t “on board with the LORD.”  That’s a bit of an overstatement, but the truth is, this is a ready-made army.

Jesus, My Lover

Ok, so one other song lyric stood out amongst the melange of sensory overload:

Jesus, my keeper/ my savior/ my owner/ my righteous guide/ my maker/ my LOVER/ my only/ my way to life/ Oh Jesus.

Oh Jesus, indeed!  Wasn’t there a Southpark episode based on Cartman making it big as a Christian singer by taking old R&B love songs and replacing “baby” with “Jesus”?  This one came a little too close to that for comfort.  I couldn’t help but think of Jesus getting down and pounding some groupie tail–with his Northern European whitefish ass bobbing up and down on 15-year-old-wannabe-Marys.  Is that wrong of me?  Well maybe they shouldn’t have made a song about it and put it up on the fucking JUMBOTRON screen complete with lyrics.

The Whole Package

So I’ve taken some liberty with my interpretation of events here.  But not much.  Interpretation is open to interpretation, and I, for one, have not the guilt of Christianity filtering my experiences nor the memories of such.  I guess the church is like some loser your sister marries: you don’t like the guy because he’s a chronic gambler-alcoholic who can’t hold down a job, but in the end, you don’t live with him, your sister does.  And she loves him.  So, we learn to live with the guy.  And he isn’t all bad.  I mean, he does have good stories.

Joel Osteen is definitely a likable guy.  Hell, he looks like he’s always about to cry, especially when his stories come to a head.  But it’s the business model I can’t seem to get over.  It’s a dishonest kind of psychotherapy in that they aren’t getting you over your problems, they’re just referring you to a higher authority that’s supposed to make sure your story comes out roses in the end.  Please make your checks payable to Osteen Ministries, LLC.


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