Geldgeloof: Over ‘health and wealth’ en ‘word of faith’ in de Verenigde Staten
Es, M. van
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The Christian conviction known variously as ‘prosperity gospel’, ‘health and wealth’ or ‘word of faith’ refers to the belief that God wants believers to prosper financially. In this master's thesis I refer to the phenomenon with the neutral term ‘geldgeloof’, Dutch for ‘moneybelief’. It is regarded as a controversial subject, discussed by journalists, criticized by commentators and researched by academics. It originated in the United States of America during the twentieth century, and a significant portion of American Christians says to believe that God wants them to be rich. In this thesis I investigate what moneybelief is. Who are the ‘moneybelievers’ and what exactly do their believes entail? Who are the prominent preachers of moneybelief? Where did moneybelief originate historically, how did it develop, and what does its future hold? Amongst both journalists and academics, moneybelief is mentioned by a variety of names. Though many authors use these as synonyms for the same belief system, this turns out to be unwarranted as there appear to be different kinds of moneybeliefs. These variations can be categorised in two areas: First there is the attitude towards God; second is the method of becoming rich. The venerating attitude towards God entails that man attempts to live according to God's will, thereby expecting God to bless him or her with money. In contrast; the controlling attitude towards God is based on the assumption that there exist universal, spiritual laws that man can use to make God bless the believer with money. Whereas the venerating attitude treats Gods as an all-powerful authority; the controlling attitude treats Him as an executive force, bound to comply with the believers' commands. These two attitudes towards God correspond with two methods of becoming rich. The venerating attitude applies the method rich through donation, which operates on the assumption that believers can “sow” money by giving it to a pastor or church, and will be blessed with more money in return. The controlling attitude, on the other hand, mostly makes use of the method rich through spiritual laws. This method allows believers to claim money (as well as other kinds of blessings) by audibly speaking words from the Bible. Yet preachers with a controlling attitude towards God regularly make use of the donation-method as well, as this method is an effective means for churches and preachers to raise money from their audiences and congregations. The venerating-moneybelief is associated with the reverend Jim Bakker and the names ‘prosperity gospel’ and ‘health and wealth’. The controlling-moneybelief is associated with the reverend Fred Price and the name ‘word of faith’. Though the present-day moneybelief originated in twentieth century United States, its origins go back as far as the sixteenth century, when puritan colonists laid the foundations of American materialism. Puritan preachers such as Cotton Mather taught their congregation that they were fulfilling their God-given duty by making themselves useful to society by making money. As was theorized by the German sociologist Max Weber, the presence of a protestant work ethic in countries where Calvinism was dominant led to a capitalistic culture in which money was considered to be a good thing. It were the materialistic values of such a culture that gave birth to moneybelief. After the era of puritan dominance in the United States, it were preachers such as Russel Conwell who proclaimed moneybelief-ideas. Going further than their predecessors, this next generation taught that believers had a divine calling to become rich. The American culture of revivalism influenced moneybelief in a variety of ways. Like the revivalists, moneybelief-preachers delivered popular and accessible messages. The revivalists had no other choice than to ask their listeners for the money needed to fund their revivals and camp-meetings. This led to a culture in which religion and asking for money went hand in hand, furthered even more by the absence of state-subsidy for churches. During the age of the television-ministries, the need to raise money from audiences grew even stronger, as the expenses for producing television shows were high. The promises of moneybelief and its concepts of sowing and tithing made donating money appealing for believers. The defining characteristic of the controlling-moneybelief – method of using universal spiritual laws to obtain money, healing and other kinds of blessings – can be explained by tracing the historic roots of the word of faith-beliefs to a mixture of Christian and metaphysical ideas. It was the reverend E. W. Kenyon who tried to create a new kind of Christianity by adopting popular metaphysical ideas and blending them with Christian teachings. These metaphysical ideas were popular because of their supposed results with healings. Kenyon tried to compete with the popular metaphysical groups by offering an equally effective kind of Christianity. In later decades, word of faith-preachers such as Kenneth Hagin popularised the ideas and beliefs of Kenyon. The historic roots of the various characteristics of moneybelief appear to have one theme in common: The desire for a relevant, practical and useful kind of religion. Preachers such as Cotton Mather and Russell Conwell taught that the occupation is a way of serving God. Their religion was appealing to men, for it gave them a means to be religious by making money. Other historic phenomenon which are linked to moneybelief also show signs of a religiosity that is relevant and useful for the believer, such as the nineteenth century belief in the answered prayer, and the faith-healers and self-help literature of the twentieth century. E. W. Kenyon tried to make Christianity useful and relevant by introducing metaphysical practices. Each of these considered the promise of money to be an attractive goal to make religion attractive for. In each instance, the desire for religiosity that does not focus on inner spirituality or abstract doctrine but which, instead, offers practical and relevant is results is apparent. In a culture that is strongly materialistic, it is not surprising that that the desire for a practical and relevant religion would express itself in the financial promises of moneybelief. In the twenty-first century, moneybelief has both been able to withstand the economic crisis and has developed in new directions: It has settled amongst other Christian themes in the sermons of preachers, at times in a more nuanced role. The reverends Joel Osteen and Ed Young, both popular twenty-first century televangelists, preach moneybelief. But even more so, these two preachers regularly bring up various other kinds of subjects that play into the desire of a religiosity that is beneficial for the life of the believer. Even more so than the promises of moneybelief, there appears to be a growing presence of the desire for a practical, useful and relevant religiosity amongst Christian preachers, of which moneybelief itself is just a part. This relevant belief offers not just money, but various matters that may be beneficial to the life of the believer.