Prosperity Gospel leaves me in Despair

I watched Zoku Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei episode 11 not long ago. The final segment of the episode shows Sensei and the girls attending Tanabata festivities. Sometimes held in July and sometimes in August (depending on locale), Tanabata marks the occasion when Altair and Vega come closest together in the night sky. In Japanese, these stars are known as Hikoboshi and Orihime This festival has all the elements needed to send one into despair. Why? Because so many of the wishes diligently hung on the bamboo are simply unrealistic.

Zetsubou Sensei checks out some wishes

In fact, wishing all on its own has laid our stalwart teacher low. And perhaps rightfully so. The example of the university application that Kafka ‘thoughtfully’ hangs (after stealing them from the mailbox). Of course if you merely wish for something like attending a good school without actually posting the applications, it is a worthless and empty gesture, but as Kaere notes, sending in applications so late into the summer is also an empty gesture. The idea that wishing alone can have life altering effects …especially effects that might be realized after we die in this life reminds Sensei of religion.

It’s a fair critique, especially for those of us responding from a Christian perspective. The phase “pie in the sky” seems applicable here; it is drawn from a pro-labor song that rejects the seemingly pious interventions of Christian groups that preached of a better life later on but, at best, did little to improve the situation for folks on the ground. At their worst these groups would further impoverish those with whom they worked demanding offerings that the people could little afford. The premise behind this theology is that suffering in this earthly life is unavoidable and thus must simply be endured. All energy must instead be turned toward the next life and to the good situation that can be attained there through faith and/or good works. This theology was used in the American South to try and convince slaves to bear the situation meekly, and it is out of the experience of those slaves’ descendants that the theological repudiation would arise: Liberation Theology.

Liberation Theology responds that God has been revealed throughout human history as siding with the poor and the oppressed in powerful shows of status quo-busting justice. The call of those who would identify with such a God is to oppose the powers of injustice and oppression. The true realm of religion, these theologians say, is this world and this life. There are others of course who have a here and now, but without the emphasis on justice or liberation. The preachers of the Prosperity Gospel say that all the wishes you make can give you comfort and affluence in this life because God wants you to be rich; if only you were righteous enough to warrant such gifts. Both “pie in the sky” and the Prosperity Gospel theologies underemphasize humanity’s ability to work hard toward a better reality placing people instead as weak and needy recipients (an idea that can truly leave one in despair). Theologies like Liberation Theology point towards that better reality and challenges us all to act justly and kindly so that rather than wishing we are acting…without waiting for the next life.

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