The amazing popularity of mega-pastor Joel Osteen of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, has for some time now been giving more traditional, conservative Christians a kind of mega-headache.
Mr. Osteen is not one to strictly conform to the evangelical playbook. As with most mainstream Christian denominations, the theological center of this playbook asserts unequivocally that the only way to salvation is through Jesus Christ: knowledge of, acceptance of, and commitment to Christ is the only way to redeem one's existence and thereby qualify for a life of eternal bliss in heaven.
Mr. Osteen, however, has let it slip—on more than one occasion—that only God can judge the heart of another human being, and that it is not his place to condemn, or disqualify from salvation, others just because they may be Jewish, Muslim or Atheist. This does not sit well with the powers that be among mainstream evangelicals, most of whom are given to judging others at the drop of a hat. Some have even referred to his sermons as "heretical."
What does the popularity of Mr. Osteen's message say about religious faith and its standing in the world? Could it be that popularizing a watered down of version of Christian dogma is but a first step on the long road toward a pantheistic or deistic worldview where God is little more than a metaphor? Dogmatic Christians suggest precisely such an eventuality if those like Joel Osteen aren't called out for their blasphemy and appropriately marginalized. On this point, it seems we atheists are in agreement with the Christian dogmatists. We would assert, however, that this is something humanity should strive for—not wish away.
It's also possible Mr. Osteen is taking a page right out of the religious playbook of Barack Obama, who I believe is in fact a closet atheist. Acting as a virtual double agent, the president persistently panders to religious interests for no other reason than to placate and mislead them, all the while surreptitiously working against their interests behind their backs. Employing these deceptive tactics, the president is managing to slowly empty the world's immense ocean of religiosity one small teaspoon at a time.
The question is does Joel Osteen possess this kind of duplicity. Or is he, in the end, just a little wishy washy about God? One can only wonder.
3 years ago