Poor Richard and God's Profits



Sarah Posner, author of God's Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, follows the machinations of the "Word of Faith" theologians -- James Hagee, Kenneth Copeland, et al. -- whose over-the-top fundraising techniques and other questionable practices have drawn scrutiny from Congress. An excerpt from the book can be found here (showing that "Word of Faith preachers often give lip service to their church's community service projects yet worship at the altar of hyperindividualism and unregulated capitalism" -- sound familiar?).

Unlike Ted Haggard, gay sex scandals from some insiders have not been able to bring these guys down. Why? Health and wealth theology is just too deeply interwwined with the American religious fabric. Every evangelical generation throws its heroes up the pop charts.

While listening to Posner being interviewed on the radio, I was, conveniently for thinking about blog entries, reading Jill Lepore's latest essay in the New Yorker: "The Creed: What Poor Richard cost Benjamin Franklin." Franklin's irrepressibly punning and scatological humor fed right into the health and wealth gospel of future generations. Americans missed the joke and took the moral. Lepore writes:

Franklin finished his little essay ["The Way to Wealth"} at sea, on July 7, 1757. When he reached England, he sent it back on the first westbound vessel. It was published as the Preface to “Poor Richard Improved, 1758,” although it was soon reprinted, in at least a hundred and forty-five editions and six languages even before the eighteenth century was over, usually with the title “The Way to Wealth.” “It long ago passed from literature into the general human speech,” Carl Van Doren wrote in 1938, in an extraordinarily elegant biography of Franklin. This year marks the two-hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary of “The Way to Wealth,” among the most famous pieces of American writing ever, and one of the most willfully misunderstood. A lay sermon about how industry begets riches (No Gains, without Pains), “The Way to Wealth” has been taken for Benjamin Franklin’s—and even America’s—creed, and there’s a line or two of truth in that, but not a whole page. “The Way to Wealth” is also a parody, stitched and bound between the covers of a sham.

How's this for a TBN Special: A Frankin re-enactor delivering Franklin's iconic, and ironic, morals to an audience just divested of wallets.

He could start with: Serving God is Doing good to Man, but Praying is thought an easier Service, and therefore more generally chosen.

Or: He that lives upon Hope, dies farting (or "fasting," depending on whether you think it was a printer's error -- either one will do).


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