Saturday, May 28, 2005

Triumph of Reaganomics: free-market theology

When Jeff Sharlet read Jonathan Mahler's story on megachurches, he got a little nervous that he'd been scooped. He needn't have worried. His article in the May Harper's is out. You can, and should, read it here.

Mahler focused on a church in Arizona; Sharlet went to the Mecca of the evangelical Christian movement, Colorado Springs. He follows the faithful as they migrated to this place:

The story they found in Colorado is about newness: new houses, new roads, new stores. And about oldness, imagined: what is thought to be the traditional way of life, families as they were before the culture wars, after the World Wars, which is to say, during the brief, Cold War moment when America was a nation of single-breadwinner nuclear families.

Colorado Springs is the home base of James Dobson's "Focus on the Family," but what these folks found is a little different. They found Pastor Ted Haggard, who talks to the White House weekly. From his "New Life" church, Haggard preaches a "free-market theology."

New Lifers, Pastor Ted writes with evident pride, “like the benefits, risks, and maybe above all, the excitement of a free-market society.” They like the stimulation of a new brand. “Have you ever switched your toothpaste brand, just for the fun of it?” Pastor Ted asks. Admit it, he insists. All the way home, you felt a “secret little thrill,” as excited questions ran through your mind: “Will it make my teeth whiter? My breath fresher?” This is the sensation Ted wants pastors to bring to the Christian experience. He believes it is time “to harness the forces of free-market capitalism in our ministry.” Once a pastor does that, his flock can start organizing itself according to each member’s abilities and tastes.

Sharlet admits to being a kind of Judas to his subjects. "And I won't be shy about calling Ted Haggard, James Dodson, and all the other power preachers Judases. They're writers of a kind as well, telling stories about the nation, and they inevitably betray their subjects despite their best intentions."

UPDATE: A response in the form of a persuasive litany.

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