The religious roots of Trump’s magical thinking on coronavirus

As the novel coronavirus has spread across the globe, President Trump has repeated one phrase like a mantra: It will go away.

Since February Trump has said the virus will “go away” at least 15 times, most recently on May 15.
It’s going to disappear one day,” he said on February 27. “It’s like a miracle.”

Invoking a miracle is an understandable response during a pandemic, but to some, the President’s insistence that the coronavirus will simply vanish sounds dangerously like magical thinking — the popular but baffling idea that we can mold the world to our liking, reality be damned.
The coronavirus, despite Trump’s predictions, has not disappeared. It has spread rapidly, killing more than 90,000 Americans.
In that light, Trump’s response to the pandemic, his fulsome self-praise and downplaying of mass death seems contrary to reality. But long ago, his biographers say, Trump learned how to craft his own version of reality, a lesson he learned in an unlikely place: a church.
It’s called the “power of positive thinking,” and Trump heard it from the master himself: the Rev. Norman Vincent Peale, a Manhattan pastor who became a self-help juggernaut, the Joel Osteen of the 1950s.
He thought I was his greatest student of all time,” Trump has said.
Undoubtedly, the power of positive thinking has taken Trump a long way — through multiple business failures to the most powerful office in the world.
Trump has repeatedly credited Peale — who died in 1993 — and positive thinking with helping him through rough patches.
Norman Vincent Peale wrote the bestselling 1952 self-help book, "The Power of Positive Thinking." It sold millions of copies.

“I refused to be sucked into negative thinking on any level, even when the indications weren’t great,” Trump said of the early 1990s, when his casinos were tanking and he owed creditors billions of dollars.
But during a global public health crisis there can be a negative side to positive thinking.
“Trump pretending that this pandemic will just go away is not just an unacceptable fantasy,” said Christopher Lane, author of “Surge of Piety: Norman Vincent Peale and the Remaking of American Religious Life.”
It is in the realm of dangerous delusion.”

Trump says Peale has made him feel better about himself

Though they were professed Presbyterians, it’s more accurate to call Trump’s family Peale-ites.
On Sundays, Trump’s businessman father drove the family from Queens to Peale’s pulpit at Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan.
The centuries-old edifice was, and remains, the closest thing Trump has to a family church. Funerals for both of his parents were held there, and Peale presided over Trump’s marriage to Ivana at Marble Collegiate in 1977. Two of his siblings were also married in the sanctuary.
The draw, Trump’s biographers say, was Peale, who elevated businessmen like the Trumps to saint-like status as crusaders of American capitalism.
Known as “God’s Salesman,” Peale wrote many self-help books, including “The Power of Positive Thinking,” that sold millions of copies.
From left to right, Donald Trump, Ivana Trump, Ruth Peale and Dr. Norman V. Peale at Peale's 90th birthday party in 1988.

Peale drew throngs of followers, but also sharp criticism from Christians who accused him of cherry-picking Bible verses and peddling simplistic solutions.
But the young Donald Trump was hooked.
“He would instill a very positive feeling about God that also made me feel positive about myself,” Trump writes in “Great Again,” one of his books. “I would literally leave that church feeling like I could listen to another three sermons.”
Peale peppered his sermons with pop psychology. Sin and guilt were jettisoned in favor of “spirit-lifters,” “energy-producing thoughts” and “7 simple steps” to happy living.
Attitudes are more important than facts,” Peale preached, a virtual prophecy of our post-truth age.
“Formulate and stamp indelibly on your mind a mental picture of yourself as succeeding,” Peale writes in “The Power of Positive Thinking.”
“Hold this picture tenaciously. Never permit it to fade.”

Peale has also influenced Trump’s spiritual advisers

To this day, Trump surrounds himself with Peale-like figures, particularly prosperity gospel preachers.
One of his closest spiritual confidantes, Florida pastor Paula White, leads the White House’s faith-based office and is a spiritual descendent of Peale’s positive thinking — with a Pentecostal twist.
White, a televangelist, belongs to the Word of Faith movement, which teaches that God bestows health and wealth on true believers.
In a Rose Garden ceremony for the National Day of Prayer earlier this month, White quoted from the Bible’s Book of Job: “If you decree and declare a thing, it will be established.”
I declare no more delays to the deliverance of Covid-19,” White continued. “No more delays to healing and a vaccination.”
Paula White, a televangelist and religious adviser to President Trump.

The Book of Job, a parable of human suffering and powerlessness, may be a strange book for a preacher to cite while “declaring” an end to the pandemic. If it were so easy, Job’s story would involve fewer boils and tortures.
But in a way, White perfectly captures the problem with positive thinking: It tries to twist every situation into a “victory,” even when reality demonstrates otherwise.
“Positive thinking can help people focus on goals and affirm one’s merits,” said Lane, author of the book on Peale. “But it does need a reality check, and to be based in fact.”
Sometimes, the reality is that you’ve failed and need to change course. But to Peale, that wasn’t an option. Even self-doubt was a sin, he taught, an affront to God.
He had a huge problem with failure,” Lane said. “He would berate people for even talking about it.”

Peale’s teachings can explain why Trump won’t accept criticism

You can hear echoes of Peale’s no-fail philosophy in Trump’s angry response to reporters’ questions about his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, said Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio.
“Nothing is an exchange of ideas or discussion of facts,” D’Antonio said. “Everything is a life or death struggle for the definition of reality. For him, being wrong feels like being obliterated.”
President Donald Trump answers questions with members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force on April 3, 2020 in Washington.

And that’s one reason why the President refuses to accept any criticism or admit to any failure. To do so would puncture his bubble of positivity, not to mention his self-image.
So, despite his administration’s early missteps in preparing for and responding to the coronavirus, Trump won’t acknowledge any errors.
Instead, he has misled the public, claiming in February that the situation was “under control” when it was not; promising a vaccine is coming “very soon,” which it is not; and falsely insisting that “anyone can get tested,” when they could not and many still cannot.
Still, when asked in mid-March to grade his administration’s response, Trump gave himself a perfect score.
“I’d rate it a 10,” he said. “I think we’ve done a great job.”
Trump’s self-appraisal might not match reality. But Peale would be proud.

Chris Lehmann, “The Money Cult”

Joel Osteen invited Trump to be his first guest on his Serius XM radio show.

.. the need to appease any angry market God.

39:09 min Is there any connection to manifest destiny (chosenness) and military. Dallas Theological Seminary uses a lot of triumphalism

43:41 Even that snatch from the Apostle Paul about true believers being more than concquerers, he is urging believers on to martyrdom, not capitalist triumph.

Televangelists: God Says We Need Another Private Jet!

There’s an insane phenomenon called “prosperity gospel” where preachers tell their audiences to send them tons of money so they can live lives of luxury/private jets. Cenk Uygur, host of the The Young Turks, breaks it down. Tell us what you think in the comment section below. “If you’ve ever wondered why some Christian preachers must hopscotch the globe in fancy private jets, it’s in part so that they don’t have to get on commercial planes with the “demon” common folk. Preachers from the so-called “prosperity gospel” movement, Kenneth Copeland and Jesse Duplantis, tried to explain their controversial need for their followers to give up their hard-earned dollars so they can fly in luxury in an interview posted Wednesday. Copeland then pointed out he could “scratch my flying itch” by riding around in his single-engine, open-cockpit plane. “But we’re in soul business here,” he said. “We got a dying world around us. We got a dying nation around us. And we can’t even get there on an airline.””*

The False Promise Of The Prosperity Gospel: Why I Called Out Joel Osteen And Joyce Meyer

I have been preaching for 20 years. Yesterday I did something that I have never done before in a sermon. I publicly called out false teachers and named them by name. I said:

If you listen to Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer, if you take what they teach seriously, it will not be good for you. It will be detrimental to your long-term growth as a follower of Jesus.

(You can watch my sermon here.)

I used to think that their error was so blatantly obvious that they could just be ignored. I was wrong. They are massively growing in popularity in the evangelical world and are seen as credible and helpful. Before I’m inundated with questioning emails I want to share why I distrust these two and think you should as well. So, don’t shoot me — at least not yet.

When I was a kid I could tell the difference between neighborhood kids who wanted to be my friend from the neighborhood kids who were my friends so that they could play with my toys. Joel and Joyce are the latter. They both teach a twisted form of Christianity that teaches obedience, giving and faith as a way to get things from God. They are both products of what is known as the Prosperity Gospel and The Word of Faith Movement, or the Seed Faith Movement.

John Piper does a great job of defining what the Prosperity Gospel is and why it is so sinister. Please take a few minutes to watch this before moving on to the critiques of Joyce Meyer and Joel Osteen:

Joyce Meyer

When I first heard her tell her story I was deeply moved and impressed. She is an amazing example of overcoming hurts and abuse. She will forever have my admiration and respect in that regard. Furthermore, she gives spectacular advice. If my wife or if one of my daughters went to her in a moment of crisis, I believe they would return with magnificently helpful advice. If they went to her for teaching, they would return with deadly heresy.

False Doctrine

1. She teaches that Jesus literally stopped being the Son of God on the Cross (listen here):

“He could have helped himself up until the point where he said I commend my spirit into your hands, at that point he couldn’t do nothing for himself anymore. He had become sin, he was no longer the Son of God. He was sin.”

2. She teaches that Jesus went to Hell and became the first-born again man (listen here):

.. Joel Osteen

Like Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen has some really great things to say. He is encouraging and the man is certainly happy. This should not be held against him.

The man is confused on theology. He has much of the same doctrinal misunderstandings as does Joyce Meyer. They come from the same tradition. His doctrine is difficult to discern for many because he won’t talk about doctrine. He won’t talk about theology. He quickly back pedals when asked hard questions, as seen here in an interview with Larry King.

In fairness, Joel published a letter of apology after this interview.

While I commend him for his humility and courage to publicly declare that he was wrong, this is just one of too many instances. He frequently misunderstands important matters of faith and doctrine when being interviewed. He repeatedly gets the Gospel wrong. And he does so when talking to millions.

If we take Joel at his word, our only conclusion is that he is either incapable or unwilling to understand and explain how the Gospel intersects with all of life.

We recently hosted Hank Hanegraaff (The Bible Answerman) at SMCC. He has some very helpful insights (here and here) into Joel Osteen’s confused views of faith, doctrine and Scripture:

Joel Osteen and Prosperity Gospel

The Prosperity Gospel is much like all other religions in that it uses faith, it uses doing good things to leverage material blessings from God. Essentially, use God to get things from God.

“If you are believing for your child to find God, go help somebody else’s child to develop a relationship with God. If you’re struggling financially, go out and help somebody who has less than you have … f you want to reap financial blessings, you must sow financial seeds in the lives of others … If you want to see healing and restoration come to your life, go out and help somebody else get well” From Your Best Life Now, pp. 224, 250-51

This is not the Gospel. This is a false Gospel. Joel teaches that we open ourselves to God to get more from God. He teaches that we use our words to speak into existence a better reality. This straight from the Word of Faith Movement. This is not what is taught throughout the New Testament. Consider what the Apostle Paul wrote. And remember that he wrote this while in prison.

Philippians 4:10-13 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Conclusion

When I was in seminary, Heather and I were poor. There were seasons in which I worked 70+ hours a week while taking a full-time Master’s load. There were times that I had to sleep every other day so that I could get all my work done. This was an extended period of exhausting financial stress.

During this time, I remember reading something from Joel Osteen. He and his wife claimed by faith a new house that they wanted. Joel was unsure, but his wife Victoria was confident. And she lovingly chastised him for his lack of faith. Sometime later, they purchased that house. Still in seminary, my wife and I were walking through our dream neighborhood and that was playing through my mind. As I walked through the neighborhood, looking at all the homes, I wanted so badly for what Joel is teaching to be true. I don’t know if you can understand how desperately I wanted it to be true.

I wanted relief and I wanted more. But I knew that it wasn’t true. I knew that my exhaustion and desperation made me emotionally vulnerable to this false Gospel. I’m educated and well read. I’ve haven’t just read the Bible, I’ve translated large chunks of it from the original Hebrew and Greek. I think I understand it. I think I have a relatively significant level of discernment. But for a moment, I was emotionally vulnerable to this false doctrine.

What about the millions of others who are desperate, searching, hoping and vulnerable without the discernment? We owe it to them to not tolerate a false gospel any longer.

If you made it to the end of this blog post, congratulations. This is a thick and heavy subject. Even though I’ve written much, this only begins to scratch the surface of the repugnant nature of the Prosperity Gospel.