Almost all religions place a high priority on charity as a means to the end of a good quality of life in the hereafter. I am told that early Christians took this tenet so seriously they organized communes and forbade ownership of property, real or personal. The "good book" recites that the prophet used the metaphor of a camel passing trough the eye of a needle to represent the difficulty in going to Heaven if you act like you can take it with you. Yet here we have a movement in Christian evangelicism called, of all things, "the Prosperity Gospel." If you've heard just one broadcast of the Joel Osteen message to his megachurch, you've been exposed to it, some wags claiming Osteen invented it to explain his many millions in TV and publishing. One imagines a Jim Bakker on steroids, and if his following is not a cult I would not know one if it bit my arse. Whereas Bakker and Tammy Faye had air conditioned dog houses, Joel has private jets, offshore investments, and a cache of gold. If God really wants us to be wealthy, Joel will goeth to sit at His right hand. Hell, he may even move Jesus to #2.
But I'm betting Jesus isn't worried. We have a local megachurch whose reach is so broad it ensnared my dermatologist. Now, I am treated during skin surgical proceedures, to full audio from Osteen broadcasts, so I know what they're all about. Oh, the local mini-meg has outwardly altruistic congregants. They organize for collections for the poor and like projects more designed to promote social interaction among the group than do all that much for the destitute. The pastor apparently sleeps with a smile on his face, whether from robbing the local RCC of many "former Catholics" or from making bank deposits I do not know. He's big on proselytization, sending out large postcards in full color, saying things like, "Satan Doesn't Want You to Come to Mini-Megachurch," a slogan the arsehole actually put on a freeway billboard. He has used sex to sell his services, too. He'll stoop to anything to bring in the suckers and deprive them of their shekels. He's given away flat screen TV's and even an automobile or two. Did Joel ever resort that that?!
And even if you believe in Heaven and Hell you delude yourself if you buy the new gospel of greed. The Jesus of the N.T. would recoil in horror at what goes on today in his name. The megachurch pastors are taking advantage of their congregants' ignorance of the very book they twist out of all recognition. If you really want to emulate the prophet, don sack cloth and take a tip from the Buddhists: go door to door with a begging bowl. Tolstoy was so moved by the poor and starving in snowy Moscow, he went inside and took coins and jewelry and went about in the streets giving it away to all. There aren't many true Christians around anymore, and that is as sad as it is glad. Most of the ones left (like Bishop Spong) are deluded about God but aware of the greedy gospel's inimical resemblance to "true" Christianity. The cults themselves are going straight to Hell, the very existence of which gives me, like Pasolini, a nostalgia for religion.