A few weeks ago a friend of mine posted a strident defense of the Hillsong Church on Facebook, and I decided that it would be a rich and productive experience to while away the rest of my day trading insults with a flock of fundamentalist Christian youth. What is the collective noun for young Evangelicals? A congregation? A hymen? Anyway, being the “petty keyboard warrior” that I am (their words – credit where it’s due) I was riled up by the exploitations of the hokey Hillsong hierarchy and thought I’d expand my thoughts here. This post might also help me burst into the antitheist blogging scene and get invited to all their radcore secular raves, where I’ll snort Bath Salts off the backs of Galapagos Finches with Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers. Actually, Hillsong’s actions are even more deplorable from a Christian sympathetic perspective, so this blog is not so much critical of Jesus as the leering money-lenders who spruik their scams in his temple.
If you’ve been living under a rock yet to be rolled away by angels, Hillsong is a pentecostal megachurch and Christian music Goliath established by Brian and Bobby Houston in the 1980s. Ever on the edge of popular culture, they successfully vote-stacked Australian Idol for their legion of clandestine crusaders, from tween heartthrob turned Triple J darling Matt Corby to the Terminator-like Guy Sebastian. Crimes against saccharine reality television aside, their finances are pretty dodgy. Leaked documents suggest that of the $55,000,000 in revenue that the church made last year, as little as seven mil ended up in charity. This is fairly typical. Between 2007 and 2010 donors gave $1.375 million to a Hillsong micro-financing scheme in remote Indigenous communities. Only $330,000 actually ended up in the hands of the people it was meant to help. Caesar, meanwhile, hasn’t been given squat – according to Australia’s antiquated exemption laws, no religious organisation (including the Church of Scientology) has to pay a cent in tax.
Much of this heavenly hoard comes from the sale of hit tunes like “Touching Heaven Changing Earth” and the fairly sinister stylings of Hillsong Jr.
Most of the rest, however, comes from tithe donations. Hillsong strongly encourages it’s congregations to give ten percent of their income to the church, based on a single quotation from the little-read Book of Malachi:
“Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” – Malachai 3:10, KJV
Perhaps you’re wondering what an incorporeal god is going to do with meat, but he’s hardly going to be a felafel munching veggo, is he? Like any true blue omnipotent deity God loves a barbie, and if he happens to invite the Hillsong executive staff and gives them a couple of presents while they’re there, who are we to argue? According to the church and it’s acolytes who I crossed swords with, tithes are investments, not expenses. If you “plant a seed” by forking out cash to the self-proclaimed representatives of Christ, it will come back to you manifold in the form a “financial blessing.” If this sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’ve heard it whilst drunkenly channel surfing at 4am on a Sunday morning. Televangelists like Benny Hinn love this idea, as it provides them with a steady stream of widow’s pennies with which to pay for yachts and rentboys.
Given that Jesus was an anti-materialistic ascetic who preached charity and berated the rich, the notion of “financial blessings” seems an odd one. Although it’s usually wrapped up in lofty rhetoric, the essence of the idea is using one’s faith as a means to make money. I’m not religious, but that seems pretty unseemly to me. Furthermore, if God dishes out cash to the good and the pious, the inescapable logical extension is that he withholds it from the wicked. The poor, ergo, deserve their suffering. This leaves us with a fucked-up neoliberal karma system that entrenches poverty and is remarkably similar to the very beliefs Christ railed against. Yet “Prosperity Theology“, a gruesome hybrid of the very worst aspects of Fundamentalist Christianity and Late Capitalism, remains incredibly popular in the States and is gaining traction here. The carpenter may have said that “Ye cannot serve God and Mammon.” (Matthew 6:24, KJV), but Brian Houston has no such qualms. The title of his book is “You Need More Money – Discovering God’s Miraculous Financial Plan For Your Life”
Prosperity Theology is the marketing bullshit of fraudulent pseudo-religious pyramid schemes that spit on the teachings of Jesus. Nevertheless, some honestly believe that chipping in for the Houston’s second beachfront property will somehow earn them supernatural favour. Giving ten percent of your wages to genuine philanthropic causes is an incredibly ethical act and one that we in the developed world should probably all undertake. Not, however, to this brood of shiny toothed vipers, who sell their self-help books from glittering pulpits while twenty million children die from preventable causes each year.
The final irony of all this is that when con artists like Houston and televangelists like Hinn are asking for donations in exchange for God’s blessing, they are literally selling Indulgences – the deplorably exploitative practice of the medieval Catholic Church that inspired Protestants to split in the first place. Christians, these charlatans don’t just leech off the vulnerable, they demean your deity by suggesting that he runs some shonky divine Cash Converters.
I’ll leave the last word to the Chaser: