Coronaville, TX and LA.

      It’s probably a good hunch that the decision to cancel services at Lakewood Church in Houston was made by every secularist’s favorite bad-example preacher Joel Osteen, who, for when all is said and done, owns the place. 

      And his decision was the right thing to do: he closed the congregation as a public gathering in the church’s huge sanctuary Sunday, March 15, in  an effort to help in the mitigation of the spread of God’s latest pestilence, COVID-19. The show will be broadcast via the web, however, and one need not miss a minute  about taking steps toward Jesus, says the website.

 

COVID-19 is the office name given the current strain of several corona viruses—so named from the spiky protuberances covering the spherical body of the bug, and condensed from corona virus disease, 2019. There are four common strains, and others such as MERS-CoV (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, SARS-CoV (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) which caused epidemic-proportion sickness and death, and SARS-CoV-2 (the novel coronavirus that causes coronavirus disease COVID-19).—CDC

 

    Less than 250 miles to the east of Houston, Port Barre, Louisiana is the home of U.S. Representative Clay Higgins. In a difference that multiplies the mere 250 miles of space, the mental distance between Osteen’s and Higgins’ opinion on following the CDC’s and government recommendations limiting large gatherings, small groups, or exhibiting  any efforts to establish a social distancing routine, Mr. Higgins is from a different culture, and, mileage-wise, on a different planet; but still too close for comfort when it comes to their use of their Christian faith—both start and end with and end with Jesus. Higgins and Osteen are both big fans, but are smitten in different ways. 

    To some of his constituents, it didn’t come as a surprise that he would challenge the wisdom of the federal and state decisions on prohibiting gatherings, especially since it involved canceling church services.On this front, he speaks with a forked tongue, however, saying in a letter to Gov. Edwards he agrees with CDC recommendations, except for church group restrictions.  Blasphemy, constitutionally and religiously, he says, First Amendment religious freedom, freedom of assembly,  and so on. After serving in the Louisiana National Guard for six years, Higgins began a 15 year career in law enforcement with various municipalities in Acadiana, including Opelousas and Lafayette, where his reputation as a tough-on-crime crusader played out in reality as a verbally and physically abusive cop, who also saw no problem with using his title and badge to promote his own LLC. Affectionately dubbed “The Cajun John Wayne,” for Higgins and his devotees, rugged individualism and Jehovah’s Deuteronomic justice was the only way to return us to our once-great state of the Union.

   While Higgin’s strain of draconian religion may be laughed off as a localized anomaly empowered by provincialism and racism in a small area of the deep south, Osteen’s Prosperity Gospel is more insidious. This group seems to do most things to the “politically correct” standards that many secularists and progressive advocate, including getting involved in the occasional social justice issue. One notable slip-up was when they failed to open the doors of the voluminous megachurch to refugees from Hurricane Harvey. 

     Osteen, who inherited the church founded by his father in the back of a feed store, didn’t take long to figure out that the “more successful” his flock was, so too would be he. Encouraging wealth and comfort on the way to Jesus’ kingdom seemed a perfect fit for the petroleum centered economy of Houston and for so many of its thousands of employees making handsome salaries. A serious criticism of this cultivar of Christianity is the it is as empty and superficial as the promise and hope of material wealth itself, but in that way reflects the superstructure of an economy based on consumption and political organization that can’t help itself but to favor laws and regulations that presume an unlimited supply of natural resources, an indestructible atmosphere, and unlimited growth. The New Republic editor Chris Lehman posted a article this morning which shows a lame (but expensive) response the oligarchy has come up with to prevent an economy—two-thirds of which is based on consumer spending—from slipping into a recession: more bailouts for the fat cats. 

     Progressive secularists recognize that as the world economy moves from the industrial era to one based on information and service, we need to send the message that the lesson to be learned from this pandemic is that we are still woefully short on health solutions to a crisis of this magnitude, and that throwing money to an antiquated system of capital creation is a misplaced waste. A healthy and flourishing population is the goal, the potential of work in all areas of the healthcare service sector is an opportunity that has never been so obvious. But in the meantime, we can only do our part and follow the advice of the experts in epidemiology and infectious diseases—limit close contact with others and practice good hand hygiene. And—just for fun— watch how the pastors of different strains of religion use the emergency as their own special talking points.

Reporting for The Humanist Advocate

Marty Bankson, March 15, 2020.