UNBOUND

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Show Notes - Episode 79

September 12, 2021

 

 

Main source: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Joel-Osteen

 

 

What kind of Margaret Atwood dystopia did I wake up to last week??

 

shit hit the fan

 

It would be irresponsible...

 

 

 

Why did it feel like Joel Osteen just appeared out of nowhere in the early '00s? Because he basically did. The name Lakewood church was already well-known in parts of Texas and in other parts of the country since his father was in the televangelism game by 1981, but it was a small name in comparison to a lot of others like Billy Sunday, Billy Graham, Peter Popoff and more. I recall seeing Lakewood church on TV in NY so they were making the rounds for sure.

 

But John Osteen wasn't all that well-known. He wasn't the only preacher on the Lakewood label (I mean, let's call it what it is, shall we?) and it would take about two more decades before his church and his son Joel's TV ministry would become the juggernaut of televangelism that it turned into.

 

This motherfucker has his own entry in encyclopedia brittanica and I'll be drawing a few comments from the information on his page going forward. I'm going to set up what really is a perfect storm that merged the world of televangelism with the world of self-help.

 

To be clear, John Osteen was a pastor first. He wasn't the definition of the televangelist grifter that we see today. In televangelist terms, he had far less sinister motives than others. He wanted to spread the gospel and looked at TV as a way of reaching more people with it. Sure he asked for money quite a bit, but he actually took that money to grow his ministry both on TV and in the local church and grow they did.

 

So, what went wrong? What created this monster we call Joel Osteen?

 

It sounds like, at least in purely evangelical terms, that Joel had a good mentor. His dad took the gospel seriously. He wasn't overly aggressive when it came to his TV ministry and he was generally frugal with the way the money got spent. That is to say that he seemed to have a cap on what he wanted to spend on specific things.

 

I can only imagine that Joel always had it in the back of his head that what his dad was doing was a cash cow that wasn't being adequately tapped. He didn't think like a minister, he thought like a marketer and, if he was paying attention to some of the key players at the time like Kenneth Copeland, Frederick K.C. Price, and others (and I'm sure he was) he probably spent the bulk of the 80s and 90s learning from some of the masters of the grift.

 

I'm sure he also saw a lot of the prayer requests that came through his ministry and probably paid attention to TV preachers like Gene Scott and Robert Tilton who routinely read people's actual prayer requests over the air.

 

One thing that seemed to be a running theme, even over the din of requests for things like personal healing, were requests that revolved around self-improvement. I need help losing weight. I'm in an abusive relationship. I need “direction” for my life...

 

...and then, in 1999, Lakewood reached a turning point.

 

In 1999, John Osteen died and Joel took over as head pastor at Lakewood. From the britannica article:

 

Under his leadership, Lakewood soon became [one of] the largest and fastest-growing congregation in the U.S. He rapidly expanded the church’s media presence by purchasing advertisements on billboards and in other venues, doubling the church’s budget for television airtime, negotiating with different networks for optimal time slots, and targeting the largest media markets.”

 

In other words, it was time to let the marketer out to play.

 

Expanded media presence

Expanded advertising budget

Advertised in more places

Fought to get airtime when he knew his target demo was likely to be watching

Began inserting into the biggest and most visible media markets

 

Within a few years his weekly television broadcast reached households in more than 100 countries and became the top-rated inspirational program on the air. His 2004 book, Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential, was a best seller.”

 

Now... what is missing from the title of that book?

 

No Jesus

No faith

No spirituality

It's conspicuously secular

It targets a specific demo outside the confines of word-faith heresy

 

And just in case there is any doubt of what Osteen's agenda was, and is, here are a few titles of books by Billy Graham:

 

Peace With God

How to Be Born Again

Angels: God's Secret Agents

 

And here are some books by Kenneth Copeland:

 

Pursuit of His Presence

Prayer: Your Foundation for Success

The Force of Faith

 

And here are some books by Benny Hinn

 

Prayer That Gets Results

Going Deeper with the Holy Spirit

He Touched Me

 

 

And here are some books by Joel Osteen

 

Become a Better You

Think Better, Live Better

It's Your Time

Starting Your Best Life Now

Break Out! 5 Keys to Go Beyond Your Barriers and Live an Extraordinary Life

 

This is actually rather brilliant marketing because even though all the other authors I mentioned have similar self-help kinds of themes in some of their books, when compared side by side, you know what the others are selling. Joel Osteen took prosperity doctrine and packaged it in a way that would appeal to the masses. His book titles don't mention God or faith directly at all. I scrolled though several pages on barnes and noble, saw every iteration of every one of his books and couldn't find one that just laid it out there.

 

And in his books, he potrays god as more of a life coach than a heavenly father, which makes sense. In our episode about the word faith movement, we talked about how word faith doctrine actually suggests that we can control god. If that's true we should also be able to fit god into any mold we want. Don't want him to be a father? Fine. Let's make him a mentor and a life coach. It's all good.

 

I have no idea if Joel Osteen ever tried out any other niches but by the time he achieved international status, he had already figured out that self help was a huge market. Some book stores even put his books in their self-help sections as opposed to spirituality and faith. That's both past and present tense. Barnes and Noble, for example, did at one time keep his books in both sections because they knew as well as I do that those books were meant to target a much larger audience than just evangelicals.

 

And Joel Osteen knew (and knows) that the vast majority of people who read his books are likely to be less devout but still believe in God. Just ask any Christian who only goes to church on Christmas how that works. There are tons of non-religious people out there who are more than willing to defer some of their problems, conflicts, and defects of character to a “higher power” and that is how Joel Osteen frames any and all messaging about god. He speaks of god n very AA terms. He's here to help. He wants you to live your best life and he's willing to help you do it... through me. And keeping up with all the people who need help is difficult and I need money to keep doing it. Lots and lots of money.

 

So he gets money from book sales, then he appeals for money as part of his TV ministry. He also saps insane amounts of nothing but tithe money before ever taking his marketing plan outside the walls of Lakewood. His great grandchildren could retire on those revenues alone but there really is no such thing as enough when it comes to money, especially once you have a little. And Joel saw the dollar signs way before he inherited that pulpit. The instant he did, he started testing out what he had learned and... surprise! It worked. For a while there it seemed like he was the only one I ever saw on TV. He bought up INSANE amounts of airtime. On the onscreen cable guide you could see his name somewhere pretty much 'round the clock. He was present. He spent a lot of money for that level of presence and made, and continues to make a shit ton more.

 

His messaging never changes. His delivery never changes. His body language never changes. His intonations and inflections never change and if I didn't know any better I'd swear he'd been surgically altered to ALWAYS wear that vacant, plastic, disassociated smile that he never, ever, EVER let's rest.

 

Every last one of those things are deliberate. Some preachers (on TV and otherwise) spend years analyzing how people respond to everything from their wardrobe, to the pacing of their sermons to how they move about on the platform. And some of them don't even see the need to hide it.

 

Eastman Curtis even told us that his wife was his most valuable asset in reading people and would give him cues as to when to slow down, when to speed up, when to walk away from the platform, you name it. She had a sign for nearly everything he did. And if you watch Joel Osteen carefully, you'll pick up on a bunch of patterns, some of which are used by hypnotists, mentalists, and illusionists to grab your attention and keep it where they want it. In other words, he's every bit the sideshow charlatan that all of them are. He's just figured out a way to tap into a slightly more secular, slightly smarter, and slightly higher income bracket than average. Because if people have more, they can give more and at that point you need fewer people to fund your new jet. And you get it faster. Kenneth Copeland and Creflo Dollar have no trouble amassing all the things they want but I just get the feeling that even if he is slightly less braggadocios about what he has, Osteen is doing every bit as well as any other Televangelist and probably better. Probably considerably better. Because he has learned how to take his messaging into places that the others have flat out not learned to tap.

 

Not that they need to. They all have their niches and unique audiences but when I think of secularization as a concept, it's an ironically toxic one when it comes to its integration into televangelism. Because in this instance, the higher power messaging is waiting just around the corner like a thug with a brick. And just when you thought it was safe to take this guy's advice, BAM! It's all about God and now you need ME to teach YOU how to make HIM give you what you want so send me money if you want to learn more.

 

There are others like him, too, like Nicholas Vujicic. He was the first one that came to mind. I even got lured in by his messaging. Powerful motivational speaker. Loved everything he was saying. Thought “yeah, I could really get behind this guy,” and BAM. There it was. The God brick. I dodged it, of course, but still...

 

For those who don't know, “Nicholas James Vujicic (/ˈvuːɪtʃɪtʃ/ VOO-itch-itch; born 4 December 1982) is an Australian American Christian evangelist and motivational speaker born with tetra-amelia syndrome, a rare disorder characterized by the absence of arms and legs.” Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nick_Vujicic#:~:text=Nicholas%20James%20Vujicic%20(%2F%CB%88v,absence%20of%20arms%20and%20legs.

 

And Osteen's plan worked. In just six years, here's what he managed to accomplish:

 

In 2005 Osteen conducted a 15-city U.S. tour, preaching to large crowds at virtually every stop. That year Lakewood opened a new 16,000-seat megachurch in Houston’s Compaq Center, a former basketball and hockey arena. Weekly attendance at Lakewood rose from 6,000 in 1999 to more than 50,000 by 2016. In addition, by 2018 the televised services attracted an estimated 10 million viewers weekly. During this time he published a number of books...”

 

They currently offer four English-language services and two Spanish-language services per week with an average weekly attendance of 52,800. Not a lot of growth in the last five years. Hrmm...

 

See? They're losing traction everywhere. Be encouraged. It's happening.

 

Still, Lakewood is currently the SECOND HIGHEST attended church in the United States, second only to Life Church in Edmond, OK with senior pastor Craig Groeschel whom I will not even pretend to be familiar with, oddly enough.

 

Now let's look at why this works so well. Let's zero in on the psychology of this brand of televangelism. It's not just for brain-addled evangelicals who are out of touch with reality. Some of them are VERY in touch with their realities. They worry. They worry about everything from their finances to their appearances to the quality of their relationships and much, much much more.

 

And this slant to televangelism is designed to lure these people – predominantly women – into the messaging. And why not? Women's magazines prey on female insecurities from the time they're pre-teens. Televangelists who tap this niche keep the messaging more gender neutral but women in particular get lured in by this kind of messaging. Why? Because here's a man (it's usually a man) pointing out those insecurities and offering solutions. Not just advice... solutions. And that masculine authority translates well to a masculine god.

 

After a while, the line between the televangelist and god becomes blurred and devotion to one becomes devotion to the other. And that, dear friends, is when the money comes rolling in. They establish trust, they hit the pain points, then deliver the solution. That nets a little thing called gratitude. And that gratitude turns into donations and those donations turn into 143 private flights to a ski resort.

 

And when you look at Joel Osteen, he has a visage about him that many people have noticed. It's clearly messianic in its appearance and I remain convinced that he spent decades perfecting it and sustaining it. Hours in the mirror spouting platitudes and keeping that jaw set just right...

 

But in technology terms, it's the code that matters. Joel is just an intricate UI. He makes the coding look good and makes it very user friendly. It's the makeup of the code that matters most and that brings us to a conversation about self help.

 

When I was finally in a place where I was ready to lose weight, I started researching all the popular programs. Weight Watchers, Nutri-System, Jenny Craig... you name it, I googled it. But one thing that I found true of all of them was that none of them had any game plan when it came to teaching me how to eat better. I could eat THEIR meals and lose weight but what about when I started cooing for myself again?

 

I was amazed that weight watchers offered things like ice cream pops and brownies. Excuse me, but isn't this how I got in trouble in the fist place? I saw nothing that was designed to really regulate things like carb intake. They reduced the sugar and fat and that was it. Reducing these things will make you lose weight... temporarily. But as soon as you start eating normally again...

 

In short, most, if not all, commercial weight loss plans are designed for failure. They want you dependent on them so you keep coming back when you gain the weight back. Well guess what... every form of self help is like that.

 

And Joel Osteen's messaging taps into every conceivable avenue of self-help: productivity, time management, finances, relationships... and the running theme through all of it is that you're not good enough. You need some kind of anchor that will keep your life on course in these areas. And whether it's televangelists or secular self-help gurus, the goal is the same: hook you, reel you in, and keep you dependent.

 

That might not have been entirely true when Dale Carnegie and Norman Vincent Peele were pioneering this niche, but the simple, actually helpful messaging in How to win friends... and The Power of Positive Thinking have become hopelessly weaponized over time. Now, it's not really about self improvement. It's about self-deprecation and how to find relief from it.

 

And, for the record, I blame Peele for most of the “Secret” hysteria and I do think it has played a big role in word-faith messaging. Law of Attraction plays heavily into everything they do and it's yet another example of how self-help crosses spiritual lines. The Secret has both religious and secular appeal and to me, it's a roided-up version of every other avenue of self help out there with the added delusion that you literally need nothing but a thought or the will to make things happen to actually make them happen. Very dangerous thinking.

 

Before factoring in what televangelists in this niche pull down (and Osteen isn't the only one – Creflo Dollar, for example, is a lot like him), 2016 statistics show that the self-help industry was good for nearly TEN BILLION DOLLARS in revenue that year.

 

The simple fact of the matter is that very few people out there are happy with the person they are and there's a reason for that... we're TOLD not to be. And that kind of brings the conversation full-circle because people like Joel Osteen are predators and they target people who are already conditioned to be dissatisfied with themselves, their lives, etc.

 

Why self-help and televangelism work so well together [ad lib]

 

At the end of the day, even the most secular of Joel Osteen's messaging comes back around to the Gospel. Part of that is the need for salvation.

 

Both spring from the premise that something is wrong with you

 

Both have books and other materials that are supposed to help you deal with whatever perceived problems you're facing

 

Both usually revolve around one central authority figure or “guru”

 

Both are designed to keep you dependent on the central figure

 

 

Things that actually lead to self-improvement

 

1. Acknowledging that there are things to like about ourselves

 

2. Acknowledging our strengths, talents, and abilities

 

3. Acknowledging our limits, shortcomings, and weaknesses

 

4. Taking a proactive role in our overall happiness

 

5. Taking a proactive role in our health and well-being (both physical and mental)

 

6. Making improvements for ourselves, not to gain anyone else's approval

 

7. Stop looking at ourselves in terms of good or bad, saved or unsaved, or anything in between. People are neither good nor bad. We rarely make decisions based on what is right. We are far more concerned with what's convenient at that moment. Want to improve that part of you? Start paying more attention to right and less to convenient. It's more difficult, but oh the character it helps build...

 

8. Limit your exposure to self-help anything

 

9. Limit time spent on social media

 

10. Understand that none of your perceived “flaws” are unique and that flaws aren't typically negatives. This applies to all areas of life, mind, and body.

 

11. Get into therapy if you need it. Take your meds if they're prescribed.

 

12. Make time for you. Make a space that's reserved just for you to experience things, think thoughts, or do stuff without having to think about other people for a while.

 

13. Stop comparing yourself to other people

 

14. Stop letting other people dictate what your body should look like

 

15. Learn something new. Take a class, take up a hobby, start studying something that you wish you'd applied yourself more to in school. Read some of those books your ELA teacher assigned that you never bothered to read (because who likes being TOLD to read anything?).

 

An active brain is a healthy brain. Use it. Exercise it. Feed it good thoughts. Teach it new things. Never look at learning as something with a beginning and end. You didn't stop learning when you stopped going to school. And I hope to keep learning right up to the very end.

 

16. Don't be obsessed with your bucket list, but do try to cross a few things off of it along the way.

 

17. Never, ever, EVER let someone else do your thinking for you. Not even the Spider. I have some good ideas and some good advice, but don't even take my words at face value. Make changes because they're wanted and necessary not because a podcaster said to. And by reasonable application, not because a self-help book or a charming televangelist (who looks like Martin Short playing Tim Allen most of the time) told you to. This is your life. You know you. No stranger will ever be able to give yourself better advice or steer you in better directions than you. That said, you have to be prepared to listen and to act. It isn't easy, but it'll get you just that much closer to getting and staying unbound.

 

CBB Notes

Section 1 – ep 79

 

The first thing I want to do is stress: This is what happens when theocracy wins. This is what happens when religion informs your politics, when you bring religion into secular spaces, which government should be.

 

https://apnews.com/article/abortion-technology-health-texas-us-supreme-court-85f0a113234774771bb6c2a7e51391cc

 

So let's get into it. Here's a quote from an very good AP news article about the new law in Texas, SB 8:

 

The nation’s highest court has allowed a Texas law banning most abortions to remain in effect, marking a turning point for abortion opponents who have been fighting to implement stronger restrictions for nearly a decade.

The Texas law, pegged a “fetal heartbeat bill,” bans abortions at the point of the “first detectable heartbeat,” which could happen around six weeks into pregnancy, although that timeframe isn’t specified in the measure. Medical experts say the heart doesn’t begin to form until the fetus it is at least nine weeks old, and they decry efforts to promote abortion bans by relying on medical inaccuracies.

Nonetheless, at least 13 other states with Republican-dominated legislatures have adopted similar bans, although courts have blocked them all from being implemented. Democrats call the new Texas law an unconstitutional assault on women’s health.

This so-called “heartbeat bill” (the heart doesn't develop until about 9 weeks; at 6 weeks the whole fetus is about the size of a pea) bans abortions after 6 weeks or what abortion opponents say is a “detectable heartbeat”. Since the vast majority of women don't even realize they are pregnant until well after that, it effectively bans abortion in the state of texas. Abortion clinics are already starting to shut down.

 

Even if you do know, the doctors generally consider you 4 weeks pregnant when you've missed your first period, which would give you two weeks to figure out where, how, and when to get your abortion. The woman in question would also have to pay for it.

 

https://apnews.com/article/texas-courts-78abf09bc505fd1b0a66502ff8202b79

 

And worse: “What makes the Texas law different is its unusual enforcement scheme. Rather than have officials responsible for enforcing the law, private citizens are authorized to sue abortion providers and anyone involved in facilitating abortions. Among other situations, that would include anyone who drives a woman to a clinic to get an abortion. Under the law, anyone who successfully sues another person would be entitled to at least $10,000.”

The litigant would also regain their court costs if they win. Their targets, however, get nothing, and also might be sued again in the future. This includes not only doctors but the driver who transported the woman to get her abortion, any health care workers who aided her, the hotel if the woman goes out of state that housed her.

 

Abortion rights advocates say it will force many women to travel out of state for abortions, if they can afford to do so and also navigate issues including childcare and taking time off work. The Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights, says if legal abortion care in Texas shuts down, the average one-way driving distance to an abortion clinic for Texans would increase from 12 miles to 248 miles.”

 

What does this mean for women, when 85% of all abortions would be banned? It depends on many things. One thing is for certain. Wealthy white men's mistresses, and rich white women? They can always get their abortion.

 

But poor women, especially single women, women who have been victims of rape or incest (no exception for that!)...well a lot of them are going to have to find other ways of getting the job done. For many women who work and have other children, finding a safe and legal abortion might mean going out of state, staying in a hotel room, finding child care and finding time off of work... and if you can't pay for all of that plus the abortion? The phrase “back alley abortion” is going to come back with a vengeance.

 

Also from the AP article:

 

Late into the night Tuesday before the ban took effect clinics in Texas were filled with patients, said Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of Whole Women’s Health, which has four abortion clinics in Texas.

Twenty-seven women were still in the waiting room after 10 p.m. at one clinic, leaving doctors crying and scrambling over whether they would see all of them in time, she said. The last abortion at one of her clinics finished at 11:56 p.m. in Fort Worth, where Hagstrom Miller said anti-abortion activists outside shined bright lights in the parking lot after dark looking for wrongdoing, and twice called police.

This morning I woke up feeling deep sadness. I’m worried. I’m numb,” she said.”