Published on The Nation, by Barbara Ehrenreich, August 12, 2008.
… Schuller faced a different biohazard on his first class flight in ‘97–cheese. When the flight attendant gave him a fruit and cheese plate for dessert, Schuller insisted that the cheese be removed. The flight attendant refused, explaining, reasonably enough, that all the fruit had been plated with cheese and could be contaminated, from a cheese-allergy- sufferer’s point of view. But the pastor was simply on a low-fat diet and did not want to see the cheese on his plate, so he got out of his seat and accosted the flight attendant, shaking him violently by the shoulders. Schuller ended up paying an $1,100 fine and undergoing six months of police supervision.
In the theology of Christian positive thinking, “everything happens for a reason.” The Osteens may conclude that the divine intention was to prod them into to emulating Joyce Meyers and Creflo Dollar by investing in a private jet. But there’s another possible message from on high: that this brand of Christianity fosters a distinctly un-Christian narcissism.
Consider the ways the Lord works in the life of the Osteens, as recounted in Joel’s book, Your Best Life Now, which has sold 4 million copies and is graced by a back cover photo of the smiling couple. Acting through Victoria, who kept “speaking words of faith and victory” on the subject, Joel was led to build the family “an elegant home.” On other occasions, God intervened to save Joel from a speeding ticket and to get him not only a good parking spot but “the premier spot in that parking lot.” Why God did not swoop down with a sponge and clean up the offending stain on the armrest remains a mystery, because Osteen’s deity is less the Master of the Universe than an obliging factotum.
Plenty of Christians have already made the point that the positive thinking of Christianity Lite is demeaning to God, and I leave them to pursue this critique. More important, from a secular point of view, it’s dismissive of other humans, and not only flight attendants. If a person is speeding, shouldn’t he get a ticket to deter him from endangering others? And if Osteen gets the premier parking spot, what about all the other people consigned to the remote fringes of the lot? Christianity, at best, is about a sacrificial love for others, not about getting to the head of the line.
If the Osteens’ brand of religion is what flight attendant Sharon Brown lost faith in as a result of being manhandled by on that plane to Vail, then the suit should be dropped, because Victoria Osteen has already done her enough of a favor. (full text).