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Chris Lehmann delivers a well-informed take-down of Joel Osteen whose erudition hardly softens its wickedness. Even the sub-head is blunt: “Joel Osteen’s God really wants you to dress well, stand up straight, and get a convenient parking space.” The piece opens:
“Joel Osteen wants you to stand up straight. “Even many good, godly people have gotten into a bad habit of slumping and looking down,” Osteen writes in his best-selling self-improvement tract Become a Better You. “[Y]ou need to put your shoulders back, hold your head up high, and communicate strength, determination, and confidence.” After all, “We know we’re representing Almighty God. Let’s learn to walk tall.”
But the harshest stuff comes at the end.
Indeed, if you bracket all the scary, irresponsible health-and-wealth cheerleading that jolts through Become a Better You, this exurban image of God the indulgent dad is among the more troubling features of the gospel according to Osteen. For it turns out that the divine hand turns up everywhere, at least in Joel Osteen’s life. God upgrades his reservations to first class on a long international flight; God spares his car in a water-planing wipeout on the Houston interstate; God allows Osteen and his wife/co-pastor, Victoria, to flip a property “for twice as much as we paid for it” in a once-sketchy Houston neighborhood; God swings a critical vote on the Houston zoning board to permit Lakewood to move to its mammoth Compaq Center digs—and God even saw fit 35 years earlier to ensure the engineer who designed the ramps leading to the Compaq Center provided easy parking access for Lakewood. This is a long, long way down the road from the inscrutable, infant-damning theology of this country’s Calvinist forebears—it is, rather, a just-in-time economy’s vision of salvation, an eerily collapsible spiritual narcissism that downgrades the divine image into the job description for a lifestyle concierge. Lakewood and Osteen seem to keep God so preoccupied it’s a wonder He can ever find the time to stock his fridge or whip out His wallet.