For-profit faith

By James A. Haught | 9 March 2023
Freethought Now

(Credit: YouTube / screengrab)

Among sleazy occupations, is anything worse than big-money evangelists with their private jets, garish diamonds, piled-up hairdos and $5,000 suits?

A book on such characters is PreachersNSneakers: Authenticity in an Age of For-Profit Faith and (Wannabe) Celebrities. It exposes TV pastors “who get rich off of preaching about Jesus.”

It’s written by Ben Kirby, a born-again Christian who watched gospel television and noticed that many leaders flaunted outlandishly expensive clothes and shoes designed for the superwealthy. He posted his findings on Instagram and drew 200,000 viewers. He then turned this into a book.

A Washington Post article says: “In 2019, Kirby posted a picture of Pastor John Gray wearing the coveted Nike Air Yeezy 2 Red Octobers, selling at the time on the resale market for more than $5,600.”

Astounding. What kind of narcissist pays $5,600 for a pair of shoes?

The Post adds: “Kirby has showcased Seattle pastor Judah Smith’s $3,600 Gucci jacket, Dallas pastor T.D. Jakes’s $1,250 Louboutin fanny pack and Miami pastor Guillermo Maldonado’s $2,541 Ricci crocodile belt. And he considers Paula White, President Donald Trump’s most trusted pastoral adviser who is often photographed in designer items, a PreachersNSneakers ‘content goldmine,’ posting a photo of her wearing $785 Stella McCartney sneakers.”

A piece in the London Guardian states: “Pastor, author and religious personality John Gray appears in a recent post … sporting a Gucci sweater that cost more than $1,100. In another photo, Pastor Steven Furtick sports a pair of thousand-dollar Saint Laurent boots.”

More than a century ago, sociologist Thorstein Veblen coined the term “conspicuous consumption” for the flagrantly rich who paid glaring sums to show off their wealth. It became a popular label of contempt.

When preachers do it, there’s a double reason for contempt — because evangelist money comes from gullible believers who are sold a fantasy of make-believe. The megachurch message says an invisible god will reward worshipers (donors) in an invisible heaven after death — and burn others in hell. Intelligent, educated, modern people know this is a fairy tale. Religion isn’t true. Its purveyors commit a form of fraud.

I ask again: What’s more sleazy than a sharpie wearing $5,600 sneakers paid for with money from naïve believers?

Reprinted with permission from the author.

James A. HaughtJames A. Haught is editor emeritus of West Virginia’s The Charleston Gazette-Mail and a senior editor of the Free Inquiry magazine. He is also the author of numerous books and articles; his most recent book is Religion is Dying: Soaring Secularism in America and the West (Gustav Broukal Press, 2010). Haught has won 21 national newswriting awards and thirty of his columns have been distributed by national syndicates. He is in Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in the World, Contemporary Authors, and 2000 Outstanding Intellectuals of the 21st Century.

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