In Bad Religion Ross Douthat discusses the effects of the prosperity gospel on American Christianity, and makes some really interesting points. He says that we have the stereotype of the prosperity gospel being the wealthy pastor with his Lexus and mansions duping poor underclass Christians into believing they can become wealthy if they give him money. But he says the truth, when you look at their churches, is more the wealthy pastor with his Lexus and mansions salving the guilty consciences of greedy, upwardly mobile upper middle class Christians, telling them that their lives of acquisitiveness is a legitimate pursuit of the Christian. He also names Larry Burkett as well- not that he is a “prosperity gospel” preacher by any means, but that he makes the pursuit of wealth a legitimate goal for the Christian, while the traditional Christian view has always been that while God may bless us with wealth, which is to be used for His purposes, living a life with the pursuit of wealth as the goal is not a legitimate life for the believer.
Douthat also makes a connection between the prosperity gospel and the economic meltdown. He says it is a huge oversimplification to say the one caused the other, but that it is interesting how the demographic sectors of our country that suffered the most from the mortgage crisis (black, Hispanic, sunbelt, exurbs) are those areas most likely to believe the prosperity gospel. He notes how when you read Joel Osteen’s book, God’s blessings very often come in the form of real estate. Many of Osteen’s anecdotes are about God blessing people with big houses. He cited a Wall Street Journal article about banks’ outreach efforts to churches, telling pastors they would pay referral fees to the church for every new mortgage sold. Certainly I could see how a belief in the prosperity gospel would make one less likely to look skeptically at a “too good to be true” loan on a house- you would believe that it seems so good because God has worked a miracle in your life, rather than thinking that it seems to good to be true because it is too good to be true.