Kanye West, Joel Osteen, and the Prosperity Gospel

Kanye_West_-_Jesus_Is_KingWith Kanye West’s recent appearance at Joel Osteen’s megachurch, I think it’s important to recall these words from last Sunday’s readings:

“See that you not be deceived,
for many will come in my name, saying,
‘I am he,’ and ‘The time has come.’
Do not follow them!” (Luke 21:8)

To see Kanye West of all people speak about Jesus Christ and release a critically-acclaimed album called Jesus is King is truly a sight to behold. I sincerely pray that he may grow closer to Jesus Christ and come to know His grace and mercy like never before in his life. God can and does do great work through people like Kanye, and if people are led to a deeper knowledge of Jesus because of Kanye, then wonderful!

That said, we need to be careful. We need to be careful because Joel Osteen, and now perhaps Kanye, preach a form of the Gospel that is dangerous. Yes, Sacred Scripture, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, shows that those who follow Jesus Christ will be prosperous beyond their wildest dreams. This prosperity, however, should not be expected in Earthly terms. Rather, this will be heavenly prosperity. Our reward will be great in heaven. Life on Earth, however, will be, well, life. Up, down, rich, poor, and everywhere in between is simply a part of this thing we do here on Earth.

But Father! What about those people who DO have Earthly prosperity when they follow Christ! Surely that’s proof, right?!

Wrong – there is nothing bad with Earthly prosperity, but it should be seen as a blessing, not some sort of confirmation of God’s favor. God is not a gumball machine where you stick in a coin and get something in return. Our Lord is a judge: a judge of justice and a judge of mercy. He does not approach us on our terms or because of anything we do – He approaches us because He loves us and wants to lift us up to Him so that we might have eternal life. Let’s take a look at what Bishop Barron has to say about the prosperity Gospel:

Finally, I think these words from Jonathan Walton of the West Forest Divinity School shine a bit more light on the situation:

“Kanye West and Joel Osteen are a match made in market-driven heaven. Both have baptized their commercial notoriety and their financial gains in Jesus’ name. The communion table has become a merch table.”

Many will come in His name indeed… But there is only one King.

Pax.

Bill Nye and the Loss of the Liberal Arts

Bill NyeThis past week, Bishop Robert Barron published a critique on a recent video posted by Bill Nye, known to us millennials as The Science Guy. In the video, Nye answers a question from a philosophy student (full disclosure: I have a degree in philosophy) who asks whether or not philosophy is still relevant. Nye answers in the negative, and while he provides one or two salient points (such as the fact a career in philosophy is not exactly lucrative, but most people going into it know that anyway), for the most part, he misses the point entirely; it’s quite clear that he is outside his field of expertise. While I think that Bishop Barron does take some of Nye’s examples too seriously, I whole-heartedly agree with the Bishop’s main point: Nye fails to realize that in order to truly flourish as a society, we need philosophy, and the other liberal arts, to teach us about beauty, truth, and the intrinsic value of the human person. As Bishop Barron points out:

Father BarronThe physical sciences can reveal the chemical composition of ink and paper, but they cannot, even in principle, tell us anything about the meaning of Moby Dick or The Wasteland. Biology might inform us regarding the process by which nerves stimulate muscles in order to produce human action, but it could never tell us anything about whether a human act is morally right or wrong. Optics might disclose how light and color are processed by the eye, but it cannot possibly tell us what makes the Sistine Chapel Ceiling beautiful. Speculative astrophysics might tell us truths about the unfolding of the universe from the singularity of the Big Bang, but it cannot say a word about why there is something rather than nothing or how contingent being relates to non-contingent being. How desperately sad if questions regarding truth, morality, beauty, and existence qua existence are dismissed as irrational or pre-scientific.

Science is, indeed, a critical and necessary part of our lives. Without science, we would still be in an age that equated astronomy with astrology and chemistry with alchemy. We cannot, however, throw out philosophy and the other liberal arts. As Bishop Barron points out later in the article, without these disciplines, we wouldn’t “know anything about how to live a decent life, how to differentiate between the sublime and the mundane, how to recognize God.” I have great respect for Bill Nye. He taught me a lot about investigative science when I was a kid, and now as CEOt of the Planetary Society, he has done a lot of good work to increase awareness of the need for planetary exploration. That said, he certainly does not understand philosophy or the value of the liberal arts.

While our lives would be dark and perhaps even more dangerous without science, so too would they be dreary, boring, and meaningless without philosophy, without literature, without a study of the human person in all its glory and brokenness, without a recognition of the good, true, and beautiful.

Science, specifically astronomy, pointed me in the direction of faith, but it could only go so far. In the end, it was these other disciplines, and most of all Divine Grace, that carried me the rest of the way. I suppose Bill Nye would see that as trite and perhaps a bit deluded. That’s OK.

Come to think of it, Grace carried me the entire way from the beginning, because it was probably by His grace that the first book I ever checked out from the library was a book on the solar system, initially piquing my interest in the larger universe. Then, years later, He would draw me closer to Him through the recognition of that same beauty I could see through the telescope was created by Goodness itself, with His Son by my side the whole time, waiting for me to open my heart to the promptings of the Spirit so that I might come to faith and trust in Him.

Pax.

You can see the original video here. 

Find more from Bishop Barron and his Word on Fire Ministries here.

Advent 2015 Resources

The Annunciation, by Murillo [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Annunciation, by Murillo [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Let’s be honest: Christmas often overshadows Advent, especially in our increasingly secular society that tends to focus on the gifts rather than on the true meaning of Christmas (Archbishop Sheen will explain it all to you here). This year, however, try something different: try making Advent a priority in your house, taking advantage of this crucial piece of the Christian journey as we seek to grow closer to Jesus Christ.. I have put together some resources that I have tried in the past and found both encouraging and thought-provoking.

No matter what you do, however, don’t let Advent pass you by! Be intentional, prepare for the coming of Jesus at Christmas in a new and profound way this year by focusing on the season of Advent.

Bishop Robert Barron’s Daily Advent Reflections – Available in both English and Spanish, I have found these reflections a good way to start the day, often reading them as I drink a cup of tea before I get ready in the morning. On each Sunday, they are a bit longer, and sometimes include a video. Bishop Barron’s introduction is below.

Best Advent Ever – From Matthew Kelly and Dynamic Catholic, this is another great series on focusing on the meaning of Advent and how it can be truly meaningful and life-changing. Click through to see the introduction video.

An of Advent from Jimmy Akin and the National Catholic Register – Straight and to the point, this is a good thorough FAQ of sorts for Advent.

Reflections on Advent, related devotions, as well as other resources, from EWTN – There is a lot of great info on this site, but it can be a bit difficult to navigate at first. If you are looking for the weekly reflection, they are at the very top of the page.

Resources from the USCCB – this site includes reflections and prayers on the meaning of Advent, a guide for how to set up an Advent Wreath, and even an electronic Advent Calendar

Historic and Symbolic Meaning of Advent from the Catholic Encyclopedia – Pretty self-explanatory. It’s an encyclopedia article on Advent.

For my own part, I will be posting weekly reflections as well, in addition to any other helpful items or articles I might find over the next few weeks.

Make this year’s Advent purposeful. Know that my prayers are with you all; please keep me in your prayers too!

UPDATE (11/27/15 14:58): A friend of mine just sent me a really cool “Names of Jesus” Advent chain activity. There are 25 names, so you can start on December 1st with your kids. An excellent way to learn about Jesus and enter into the season of Advent!