Prosperity Gospel as Upper

The headline in the Christian Post (CP): “Prosperity gospel boosts mood, encourages financial risk, weak on theology, study finds.” A psychology experiment suggests that hearing a sermon from prosperity preachers leads to “heightened optimistic bias,” “high arousal positive affect,” and greater financial risk-taking. There was no comparison with cocaine, speed, or even alcohol.

The authors’ description of the prosperity gospel:

“The central doctrine of the prosperity gospel is that God wants a person to be blessed. It says that material blessings are part of God’s will, and to benefit from these blessings, a person must (a) demonstrate positive thought or speech on a regular basis and (b) donate a certain amount of money to the church ministry.”

Basically, the pitch is that if you give “seed” money to the preacher, God will provide a financial “harvest” of many times that seed. While the article says this originated in the 1950’s, the notion of seed faith came from Saint Paul, the patriarch of Christian scammers. Many of CP’s readers believe in this doctrine.

The researchers asked both Christians and atheists listen to a pitch by a prosperity preacher, then answer some questions. The results: “we found that the prosperity gospel resulted in a boost of high-arousal positive affect, even for the group of atheists.” It also increased optimism and willingness to take financial risks. (There is no discussion of the magnitude of the effects in Christians vs. atheists.)

The authors of the study conclude that “mood-boosting effects, rather than the religious content, seem to be more directly responsible for the growth of the prosperity gospel movement.” This does not follow. If you think God has your back and will make you win, you will be more optimistic and more willing to take a chance. The “mood-boosting” could be a consequence of the religious content.

I wouldn’t make too much of the results of atheists. My guess is they showed a smaller effect. Furthermore, other surveys find that a surprisingly large number of self-identified atheists believe in supernatural entities, even if they are not Jesus or the Judeo-Christian God.

The reporter tried to get prosperity preachers to comment on this study: “The Christian Post has reached out to representatives of Osteen, Jakes and Dollar for a response to the study, and will update the article should any be received.” Not surprisingly, there was no response.

My take is that a successful prosperity preacher is both a good motivational speaker and a good con man. Evangelicals and followers of the prosperity gospel tend to be credulous, and are relatively easy marks. Regarding the so-called atheists, the study provides insufficient data both about their responses and their beliefs. In any case, listening to a good prosperity preacher might give you a cheap high. I’m sure you can find some on YouTube. It might help to dull your mind first.


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