Optimism Is Depressing

'The Secret' and the prosperity gospel teach that what you think is what you get. But that message is unhelpful and untrue.

Long before "The Secret" had readers talking about how we attract good or bad things to ourselves according to how we think, I was a young convert to Christianity who believed that the message of Jesus was, well, that we attract good or bad things to ourselves according to how we think.


It was 1994, I was a new Christian, I was tender of heart, and I was impressionable. At the Pentecostal university I attended, not everyone embraced what is known as "the prosperity gospel," but somehow I was drawn to people for whom prosperity teaching—the idea that God wants us healthy and wealthy—was part and parcel of the life of faith.


So, I carefully considered the counsel of a fellow student who told me that if I had faith, I'd never have another cold. I prayed alongside a fellow student who "claimed in faith" that God would provide him with a new Toyota 4x4. Passages like Mark 11:23-24, where Jesus says that anyone who has enough faith can cause a mountain to leap into the sea, began to haunt me as standard-bearers for whether I had faith at all. 



And then I lost my faith. I'll not blame prosperity teaching alone for my years of pained spiritual searching. But it was a lie that was hard to shake. To this day, when I have a bad day or a great need, somewhere in my mind is a voice accusing me of not having enough faith.


That is the legacy of the prosperity gospel. It's a perversion of Christianity that encourages empty optimism and false faith. I hope it fizzles out before the end of my lifetime, but indications are that it will only grow.


The prosperity gospel goes by various names (Word-Faith,

Word of Faith

, and more) and many forms, from Joel Osteen's squishy "Just smile and receive happiness" approach to

Creflo Dollar's
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