Alden Graves: Inheriting the wind
You have to wonder if Joel Osteen, the charismatic leader of one of those football stadium-sized megachurches is familiar with this particular passage in the Bible. With an estimated worth in the neighborhood of $60 million, he also might want to take a look at a passage from Matthew that outlines the difficulties that a rich person might encounter as far as entering the Kingdom of God is concerned. A fat checkbook, it seems, isn't necessarily a passport.
Mr. Osteen's gargantuan Lakewood Church is located in Houston. With a capacity to house nearly 17,000, it is where the faithful come every week to recharge their spiritual batteries by listening to Mr. Osteen deliver smug pontifications with his trademark sparkly teeth and extravagant hand gestures.
A church capable of sheltering so many people would be an ideal location for providing shelter from one of the worst storms in Texas history. It would seem only natural that the person at the head of that church wouldn't hesitate to open its doors when the first warnings were broadcast.
Evidently, Mr. Osteen was worried about getting mud on his pews. Instead, he now has to deal with the fact that most people recognize the mud on his soul. It's going to be a lot harder for this flashy flim-flam man to convince the flock that he is on the side of the angels.
I don't understand people like Osteen. Or, perhaps more to the point, I don't understand how people can be taken in by his brand of sanctimonious, self-serving palaver. Whether or not you place any value whatsoever in the strictures of religion, he diminishes the ideal of faith. Who could deny that a person like Mother Teresa more closely exemplifies the values embodied by Christ than a flamboyant huckster, living the Gospel of Greed and raking in millions from his terminally gullible congregation? He is able to live like a pampered movie star in a $10 million home while some of them struggle to make their next mortgage payment.
Osteen's initial response to the impending catastrophe was conveyed, as is the habit of another consummate phony, by tweeting superficial platitudes like "God's got this." What the hell does that mean to someone standing on the roof of his house with his family hoping help gets to them in time?
When public outrage began to creep up the plush carpeting towards Osteen's inner sanctum, the church issued a statement that, alas, Lakewood, too, was flooded. That was a lie. There was some water in the parking lot, but the interior of the building remained dry.
On Aug. 29, while most of the city of Houston was submerged, Mr. Osteen finally opened the doors at Lakewood to the bedraggled, weary, and displaced victims of the storm. His reason for the delay: The city hadn't asked him to open the church. In other words, Osteen needed someone to ask him to do what any person with an ounce of common decency would have done before the first raindrop hit the ground.
But Mr. Osteen wasn't the only hypocrite that Hurricane Harvey exposed. There probably isn't a state in the union so fixated upon its own glorious independence than Texas. When Hurricane Sandy devastated parts of the Northeast in 2013, Senator Ted Cruz voted against a $50 billion recovery bill, claiming that it contained "too much pork" to suit his ultra-conservative taste. So Cruz was perfectly willing to let tens of thousands of people struggle without any help from the federal government because his delicate fiscal sensibilities were offended.
Not surprisingly, Sen. Cruz doesn't have any problems with federal aid to his own state (and thus his own future) that is estimated to be as much as $200 billion.
Harvey wasn't the only big wind that Texans was forced to endure, although I guess they probably didn't see it that way. Deep red Texas went for Donald Trump in a big way last November. Using a rationale that was bizarre even for him, the president later said that he exploited the imminent peril the storm posed to thousands of lives to bolster his ratings when he announced a pardon for the disgraced Arizona sheriff, Joe Arpaio, one of the more odious characters in recent American history.
There is probably no state in America that has embraced the denial of climate change more vociferously than Texas. The underpinnings of the state's booming economy are largely supported by the maintenance of a dependence on fossil fuels in a country that is beginning to violently experience the ecological cost of doing that.
Although the Lone Star State's revulsion of anything that smacks of outside interference by the big bad government in Washington is as vast as its prairies, Mr. Trump assured the stricken residents of flood-ravaged areas that he was behind them 100 percent. Given this president's abbreviated attention span and his abysmal track record for keeping promises, I hope the victims of Hurricane Harvey don't succumb to another bout of denial.
As for Mr. Osteen, if his hypocrisy doesn't preclude a belief in a Day of Judgment, its inevitability must be a terrifying prospect to him.
— Alden Graves is a regular Banner columnist.
The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Bennington Banner.
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