Joel Osteen may not be a household name, but he’s a familiar face among the inspirational books at your local Target. Literally – his books, with titles such as “Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential” and “Next Level Thinking: 10 Powerful Thoughts for a Successful and Abundant Life,” feature his big smile on the front cover. He’s one of those preachers about whom it’s best to say that he identifies as Christian, because the message that he preaches, given the name Prosperity Gospel, doesn’t look all too much like actual Christian doctrine. Instead, he tells his audience, in his 56,000-seat converted-stadium Lakewood Church, and in his books, that they are made for greatness if only they “Name and Claim” the material prosperity that is the destiny of all who have enough faith.
It’s the sort of belief that’s routinely mocked by the satire site The Babylon Bee, with such articles as “Report: Imprisoned Chinese Christians Maintaining Faith By Secretly Reading Smuggled, Tattered Copy Of ‘Your Best Life Now’“, “Joel Osteen Targets Millennials With New Book: ‘You Can Even!’“, and the Snopes fact-checked classic “Joel Osteen Sails Luxury Yacht Through Flooded Houston To Pass Out Copies Of ‘Your Best Life Now’,” which “reports” that:
Osteen had his on-call yacht captain steer the large vessel through the flooded streets of the city, pulling up to survivors stranded on their roofs and on the roof of their cars as the prosperity gospel preacher smiled, waved, and threw out signed editions of the bestselling positive thinking book.
“Believe and declare you are coming into a shift!” Osteen yelled through a bullhorn, according to reports. “God wants His best for you! Enlarge your vision, develop a healthy self image, and choose to be happy!”
“When you think positive, excellent thoughts, you will be propelled toward greatness!” he called out to one family floating on a raft on a freeway-turned-river, whose earthly possessions had been entirely destroyed the previous day.
And when I listen to Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker, in his speeches and interviews, I hear a lot of Prosperity Gospel hucksterism. Oh, sure, he doesn’t want us to send him “seed money,” but he wants us to believe — to believe that all that ails the state of Illinois is negative thinking, and what’s needed to fix the state is to name and claim our future prosperity by believing that the state is doing well and destined for more business investment.
In an interview at the Economic Club of Chicago back in November, he said,
We spent years where the leader of the state and allies were spending hundreds of millions of dollars to tell all of us how bad the state is. . . . The narrative we need to change is that we can’t solve these problems. . . . The reality is these are hard . . . . we need to focus on . . . pensions, property taxes, balancing the budget, paying down our bill backlog, and growing jobs in the state. . . . But the narrative about Illinois is we are a state on the rise.That we’ve had our challenges, that’s for sure. That we were going in the wrong direction, but we are turning the ship in the right direction, and we are powering ourselves forward.”
(This is my transcription paired with an additional citation from Wirepoints.)
And in his State of the State speech earlier this week, Pritzker said,
Those who would shout doom and gloom might be loud – using social media bots and paid hacks to advance their false notions – but they are not many. You see, we’re wresting the public conversation in Illinois back from people concerned with one thing and one thing only — predicting total disaster, spending hundreds of millions of dollars promoting it, and then doing everything in their power to make it happen.
I’m here to tell the carnival barkers, the doomsayers, the paid professional critics – the State of our State is growing stronger each day.
Is Illinois’ economic well-being and financial state improving? It’s still second from the bottom in “taxpayer burden” according to the watchdog group Truth in Accounting. Chicago is likewise second-worst among the 75 largest cities. Among the 10 largest cities, Chicago is worst in terms of total debt (city, county, and state) taxpayers face — and I presume that if they’d had the resources for a more extensive analysis, Chicago would still be at the bottom. Watchdog group Wirepoints compiled a long list of unpleasant narratives, including a worst-in-the-nation credit rating, one notch above junk, falling home prices, and rankings of news outlets such as U.S. News and World Report (worst state in the nation for fiscal stability), Kiplinger (least tax-friendly), and WalletHub (highest tax burden).
Who are the hucksters and carnival barkers? It’s Pritzker himself who fits the bill, promising voters that a graduated income tax would mean forgoing shared sacrifice in favor of a tax cut for nearly everyone and would save the day not only by filling budget holes but by generating extra cash for property tax reductions, and believing that sufficient levels of optimism will lead corporations to eagerly locate new offices and factories in the state.
And as for me — well, if you can tell me how to turn my frustration at pension debt into the business of being a paid hack, I’m all ears.