Fake empathy.

Most US Presidents, following a national disaster like Harvey, have spent time with survivors — comforting and talking to them, serving them food, and sharing hugs and even tears.

Donald Trump not only took several days to visit the people of Houston after Harvey left it devastated, when he arrived there, he spent more time bragging about the size of the crowds (as if he was at one of his rallies instead of at shelters where he had a captive audience) and what a “huge storm” Harvey had been.  He talked more about how Texas could handle things because it was so strong than he did actually offering words of support and comfort to its people.    Most outrageous of all, he told the survivors — people who had lost everything and were staying in crowded shelters — that they seemed “happy.”

Sure, he provided some good “optics” — picking up and kissing babies and pretending to serve food to the survivors — but his words to the people who were his captive audience were hollow, inappropriate to the occasion, and extremely awkward.   He also didn’t miss an opportunity to diss the media and Hillary Clinton.

The mainstream media gave him a pass, fawning all over him for having at least tried to act presidential, when they should have been calling him out on his inappropriate, callous, and outrageous words of “support” to these devastated people.

This morning he decided to put an end to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), an Obama-era program that ensured that young people who were brought over from other countries as children — a program that required its recipients to either be working or attending school.   By ending DACA, he doomed these productive, intelligent young people to deportation back to the countries their parents brought them from (with a six month delay).   That would mean that these kids and young adults, the vast majority of who are high achievers and are benefiting our economy,  would lose everything.   They would be stranded in foreign lands they couldn’t remember, in some cases knowing absolutely no one.  For a party that calls itself “pro-family,” his heartless and cruel decision will tear families apart and destroy lives.

Trump also had a history of failing to acknowledge Americans who have died in tragic accidents, most recently the 12 sailors who died in an accident on a Coast Guard ship.   Not one word was ever mentioned about those sailors, but this was far from the first incident in which Trump — unlike past presidents — just didn’t seem to care.

Watching Trump, I believe he not only has no empathy, he also has no conscience.  That to me indicates a sociopathic, not merely narcissistic, personality.    He actually seems to delight in causing pain and suffering.  I do think he is in fact sadistic, and enjoys pushing policies that will traumatize and hurt people.

When he talked about Harvey, he seemed almost gleeful over how “big” and “powerful” the storm was.   He seemed almost proud of it and acted like the Houston survivors should be proud of it too, as if it were some national monument or sports record.  I think he could relate to the storm.  He can relate to anything that’s powerful and destructive and destroys lives, because destruction and chaos is the only thing he understands.

Now he’s traumatizing the entire country by playing chicken with an equally unhinged narcissistic sociopath using nuclear weapons.   Nuclear war is a real possibility.    We are in grave danger of annihilation.   But it’s just a game to these two — and we are pawns in their game.  We are expendable because we aren’t people; we are merely objects to be played or discarded at whim.   Trump’s ego is much more important than human life, and he is willing to kill us all to save his ego.

A friend told me her young daughter comes home everyday crying because she’s so afraid of nuclear war.   She’s just 12, and can’t sleep.  She can’t concentrate at school and is withdrawn and depressed.   My friend told me she has had to send her daughter to a therapist to try to address this trauma.   But this girl isn’t alone.  Many people are being traumatized by this president’s actions and threats, but he will never care.  Nor will he stop his destructive and dangerous behavior.

Going back to Harvey,  Joel Osteen, the multimillionaire Prosperity Gospel preacher who holds his church services in a huge stadium, refused to open the stadium to flood survivors until he was finally shamed into it.    He held a service to pray for the survivors– and passed around a collection plate for donations to the cause — even though the people at the service were the survivors themselves! Who does that?

Trump’s evangelical “spiritual advisers” offered only “thoughts and prayers” to the flood survivors– not any real tangible help such as money, food, clothing, or time spent comforting families. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with praying for people, but when “thoughts and prayers” are used as a substitution for any real help, they are as meaningless as a Hallmark card.

I’ve noticed this is something narcissists will do in lieu of offering any real help.  They will condescendingly say, “I will pray for you,” or promise you they will send their “thoughts and prayers.”   Another thing they will do is offer you phony and hollow platitudes, slogans, and sayings in place of actually offering you a listening ear, compassionate advice, or any real empathy. There’s a huge emotional disconnect — they can’t relate to you with any depth or as a person with real feelings.  Instead, they try to mollify you with a few canned words printed on a card or a meme — and then put a guilt trip on you if you aren’t grateful for their lame and shallow efforts at “comfort.”

They also victim-shame.   They airily tell you your life would be better if you just acted more happy, smiled more, or acted more positive.   Now sure, there’s a place for positive thinking, and I agree that positive people tend to draw in more positive things in life (I have seen this work for myself).  However, there is a limit to this.   There are times such an attitude is just plain callous and insensitive, a way of dismissing the very real needs of people who have suffered misfortune through no fault of their own.   Narcissists absolve themselves of any responsibility or having to offer any real help by insidiously blaming the victim by telling them “if only you were more happy/positive/smiled more, etc. ”

During his sermon for Harvey survivors, Osteen told the people — most who had just lost everything they owned — not to play the victim.   I’m sorry, but how are people who have just lost everything they owned playing the victim?   They are victims, and as such, they should be showered with real compassion, not condescending platitudes about positive thinking.   They should also not be expected to donate to their own cause (especially when Osteen himself owns a 15 million dollar home and is one of the wealthiest men in the country) and most of these people had no access to cash or their bank accounts.

I think this conscienceless, heartless administration has been especially hard emotionally on people who have suffered abuse at the hands of people like them and also on people who are empaths and very sensitive to their spiritual darkness.

 

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Where I stand on “positive thinking.”

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Positive thinking taken to extremes is deluded thinking.

I’ve seen several blog posts about the problem of forced positive thinking lately, and since this is an issue that has concerned me for a long time, I thought I’d add my own take on it.

In recent years, there’s been an increased societal pressure toward “positive thinking.” I think two factors have led to this trend–the New Age philosophy that we can “be as gods ourselves,” and the continued glorification of the Reaganistic optimism of the 1980s. The signs are everywhere, in self-help and pop psychology books, in countless popular slogans and memes that appear on bumper stickers and coffee mugs, on motivational posters, on calendars, on the political campaign trail, and all over social media such as Facebook. The forced positive thinking brigade has even infiltrated churches. Motivational speakers like Tony Robbins and preachers of the “Prosperity Gospel” like Joel Osteen have gotten rich by telling us that if we only think positive thoughts, our entire lives will change for the better. They tell us if we let go of negative thought patterns, we can become happy, successful, healthy, and wealthy.

This is all fine and good, and personally I see nothing wrong with positive thinking for its own sake. Even if the outer trappings of your life rival those of someone living in a Third World nation, it’s certainly better for you if you can scare up a little optimism and hopefulness, and it’s definitely bad for you to dwell in hopelessness, depression and negativity. At the very least, seeing the glass as always half-full will make you more accepting of your sorry lot and therefore happier. That said, it’s incredibly difficult to see the glass as half full when there is barely a drop in your glass. That would be deluded, not positive, thinking.

For all its advantages to our psychological well-being, there’s a dark side to the positive thinking movement too, which goes hand in hand with the current societal glorification of narcissism and the nasty belief that selfishness and lack of compassion are virtues. While telling people that thinking positive thoughts is not a bad thing itself (because there is truth to the idea that negativity tends to draw in negative things–I have seen this dynamic for myself), the positive thinking movement has been taken to disturbing extremes. It’s led to victim-blaming and an overall lack of empathy for the less fortunate. The poor are blamed for their own poverty, regardless of the circumstances that might have led to it or keep them trapped there. They are told they are “not positive enough” or “made bad choices.” Even worse, some churches of the “prosperity gospel” ilk tell them they must have some moral failing or God would be rewarding them with material blessings. They are made to feel shame and guilt for their sorry financial condition. The chronically ill and disabled are likewise blamed for “not taking care of themselves” or “choosing bad habits.” It’s easy enough for someone who has never had to struggle with poverty or serious illness to thumb their noses at those who have and tell them it’s all their own fault.

broken_society

Is this the way Jesus would have acted? No, of course it isn’t. In fact, most of Jesus’ followers and disciples were the most financially and physically vulnerable members of his society. Jesus himself was humble carpenter and certainly not rich. He didn’t condemn these unfortunates or shame them for failing to be positive enough, or making the “wrong choices.” In fact, he seemed to love these vulnerable people most of all. Whatever happened to the “social gospel” of the late 19th and early 20th century? Oh, that’s right–it became “communism.” Somewhere along the way, compassion for the less fortunate and the culture of charity got twisted into “weakness” and “enabling.” The enormous popularity of Ayn Rand, who believed the greatest human evil was altruism, is disturbing, especially since her philosophy of “objectivism” has infected the minds of powerful politicians of a certain political persuasion, including many “Christians.”

While I don’t subscribe to some Christian fundamentalists’ idea that Satan is behind all this worship of greed and self-love and the denigration and victim-blaming of the less fortunate, I do think it’s a very destructive turn in the way our culture thinks, and it’s psychopathic in nature. Lately I’ve been seeing more blog articles criticizing this trend, and that seems like a good sign that at least a few people (usually victims of narcissistic abuse themselves) are finally realizing our society has become woefully empathy-deprived. Hopefully their message can break out of the blogosphere it’s currently confined to and begin to touch the hearts of The Powers That Be who are not yet completely brainwashed by the Cult of John Galt.

It’s absolutely fine (and desirable) to be a positive thinker, because positive thinking does tend to have its rewards, but blaming the misfortunes of others on their negative thinking or worse, their moral failings is just a form of societal gaslighting and is utterly evil itself. It’s also rife with hypocrisy– the Positive Thinking Powers That Be denigrate the emotions of guilt and shame for themselves, but they make sure those who haven’t been blessed the way they have feel plenty of guilt and shame for not having been “enough.” They never stop to think how impossible it is for someone who is struggling every day just to have enough to eat or with severe pain or illness to think in a positive way. It’s much easier for the already privileged and healthy to be able to say “life is good” and mean it. The well heeled Positive Thinking bots never stop to think of this–or they just don’t care, which is most likely the case, because those who haven’t been “blessed” with wealth or good health MUST have done something wrong to deserve it.

Any society that is empathy-starved is eventually going to self destruct.

For further reading, check out this article from The New York Times and also this one about empathy being a choice.

Joel Osteen worships himself.

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I found this intriguing article at Salon.com about the famous megachurch leader, Joel Osteen, a proponent of the peculiarly American “prosperity gospel,” a belief that God will reward you with material wealth if you are a True Believer. The article is a bit old, but is still relevant and I never saw it before, so, well, it gets added to the Museum of Narcissism.

If Mr. Osteen makes people feel better about themselves, fine, but Mr. Osteen is like a heroin addict getting his fix of narcissistic supply from his many followers, who worship him as if he were God himself. Frighteningly, Big Religion is full of such people who really only care about their own glorification.
What would God think?

Here is the article (written by Chris Lehmann at Salon.com):

If history is told by the winners, then Joel Osteen — the relentlessly upbeat spiritual caretaker of the national attitude — is history’s designated chaplain. In a marathon Sunday faith rally in the heart of the nation’s capital, Osteen, who presides over America’s largest megachurch congregation, the nondenominational Lakewood Church in Houston, exhorted the tens of thousands of believers amassed in Nationals Stadium to “live in victory,” to seize their “destiny moments,” and to fulfill God’s plan for their personal, financial and emotional success.

The Washington rally — billed as “America’s Night of Hope” — had gone a bit afoul of its own victory plan, however. It had originally been scheduled the night before, but as a persistent afternoon drizzle gave way to some spirited cloudbursts, the event’s organizers rescheduled it for the following afternoon. As I approached the centerfield box office outside Nationals Park on Saturday, the marquee overhead bore what had to be the glummest rainout announcement of the young 2012 baseball season: “Night of Hope postponed until 4 p.m. Sunday.” And since the Osteen message involves a lot of merchandising, the imposing tables hawking T-shirts and other commemorative swag seemed suddenly off-kilter. One prominent Night of Hope T-shirt was emblazoned with the inspirational divine message “I can do all things” — all things, that is, but summon the faithful to stand out in the rain.

But the Osteens were not about to let the intervention of the elements become any sort of setback. As the megachurch pastor — turned out in a blue suit and a beatific grin, looking for all the world like a fitter Tim Allen, fresh out of rehab — took his spot at the second-base perimeter of the infield, before the bank of TV cameras set up on the pitchers mound, he called out, “Isn’t it great to be here? It’s another great day the Lord has made!” He paused to note that, yes, “we had some rain last night,” but that the event’s reshuffled schedule could well mean that some people who couldn’t have made the evening version of the prayer gathering might well have turned up serendipitously today. In any event, Osteen declared his certitude that “God put the right people here right now.”

That confident assertion of — and indeed, identification with — the divine will is one of the calling cards of the Osteen faith. Amid all the spirited self-affirmations and folksy homilies that stud an Osteen sermon, it’s easy to miss the oddly deterministic invocations of divine prerogative summoned up by the preacher, who belongs to the “Word Faith” tradition of Pentecostal belief. Osteen’s serene depictions of God’s eternally uptending designs for the fates of individual believers are a sort of inverted Calvinism. Where the Puritan forebears of today’s Protestant scene beheld a terrible, impersonal Creator whose rigid system of eternal reward and punishment dispatched many an infant and solemn believer to the pit of damnation, Osteen’s God is an intensely personal presence, guiding believers out of pitfalls into inevitable glory and joy — not so much a raging Patriarch as a genial cruise director. “God’s dream for our own life is so much bigger than our own,” went one frequent refrain at the D.C. rally. “Let’s not put any limits on God.” Osteen characterized the Deity as a “running-over” and “abundant” God. “Have you ever been to a fast-food restaurant, and they ask you if you want to supersize this? Well, God is a supersizing God,” who is determined, Osteen assured the crowd, to “supersize your joy.”

It stands to reason, in this arrangement of cosmic fate, that the stubborn human weakness for anxious introspection and downbeat self-doubt is something of an affront to the author of being. “When you are criticizing yourself,” Osteen announced, “you are criticizing God’s creation. The next time you think something negative, turn that around, and say, ‘I am God’s masterpiece.’”

The talismanic faith in positive utterance is another key article of belief in the Word Faith tradition. Some Word Faith devotees are devout believers in faith-healing, and one of the key episodes Osteen cites in his own account of his faith journey is the miraculous recovery of his mother from an apparently terminal case of liver cancer in 1981. Faced with the prospect of losing his mother, the young Osteen — then a communications student at Oral Roberts University with no ministerial ambitions — turned to prayer, saying to God, as he now recounts, “I know you can do what doctors can’t do, what medical science can’t do.” Sure enough, Osteen’s mother, Dodie, went on to be cancer-free, and took to the podium on Sunday after her son’s testimonial. She reprised the story of how she fought off the specter of death by seeking out the “most healing” passages of scripture, which she assembled into a digest she still consults regularly: “Like American Express, I don’t leave home without it,” she said. Then she issued a disclaimer for her listeners contending with severe illness: “I don’t advise you not to seek treatment — get treatment any way you can.” Such cautions sounded a bit rushed and legalistic next to her own account of her recovery: When she and her preacher-husband both sensed the end was near, she recalled, “We lay on our faces … He said, ‘I need you, the church needs you, the children need you … And now, almost 31 years later, I won the battle and so will you!” God, after all, “delights in answering the prayers of his children,” and “loves everybody the same, but he can do for you what he did for me.”

The Word Faith image of the wonder-working, healing God is discomfiting to ponder, and not just because he might tempt desperately sick believers to go rogue beyond the dictates of medical science. The constant recitation of God’s transcendent goodness and the deference paid to his ironclad ability to lift believers magically out of suffering and woe both subtly downgrade the divine presence into a glorified lifestyle concierge. This God has no real way of accounting for the age-old paradoxes of theology, such as the tolerance of personal and historic evil, or the deeper ironies and unintended consequences of the believing life. Even less does the Osteen family’s success gospel encompass a sustained social ethic — even though the D.C. event featured an appeal on behalf of the World Vision ministries to adopt a needy child in the developing world. The believer’s chief task is to ratify the preexisting divine script of success in his or her individual life — and then to bear testimony to that joyous transformation in a community of like-minded success believers.

It’s a curiously childlike vision of faith — a point driven home in a homily offered up by Joel’s wife, Victoria, who serves as a kind of co-pastor of the separate domestic sphere at the couple’s revival meetings. When she finds herself assailed by cares, anxieties and negative thoughts, Victoria reported, “I visualize a bouquet of helium balloons in my hands, and I literally hold those balloons out and release them to the heavens … And as I release those balloons to Him, I say, ‘I may not have the power to change my circumstances, but God has that power to change our circumstances.’” In a later homily on the properties of unconditional love and forgiveness, Victoria delivered an extended gloss on what was apparently one of the few remotely traumatic moments in her suburban Texas upbringing — a time when, as a freshly licensed driver, she had taken out her dad’s car and negligently instructed a friend to roll down a passenger-side window that was malfunctioning, thereby breaking it once and for all. When she finally summoned the nerve to fess up to her dad, she found him to be disappointed but gloriously forgiving; he “didn’t judge my future from that one mistake” — and neither will the indulgent dad of the Osteen heavens. “You may not have been shown unconditional love in your life,” Victoria announced, “but God loves you unconditionally.” The problem, of course, is that even those of us who did survive unhappy childhoods are no longer 16 — and as a result, we need a God who can meet the challenges of the new responsibilities we’ve taken on as we’ve matured, not a figure of undifferentiated sentiment, handing our forgiveness and love like lottery tickets.

The other childlike quality of the Lakewood account of divine grace has to do with the past — which, together with negative thinking, represents the closest thing to evil in the Osteen’s scheme of salvation. The past is bad because it mires believers in remembered hurts and slights, and thereby obstructs God’s grander design for their lives. “When we hold on to the past, when we don’t go to God, that just puts more baggage in our suitcases,” Victoria exhorted, in a not-altogether-wieldy metaphor.

This spiritual hostility to the past was an all too frequent refrain in the event’s musical selections — a monotonous offering of anthemic, bombastic Christian rock, all composed without the benefit of a single minor chord or any discernible melody. “I’m moving forward,” went the lyrics to one of these intra-sermon studies in Journey-esque hymnody. “I’m not going back / I’m moving ahead / I’m here to declare to you that the past is over.” An American idol contestant named Danny Gokey also offered testimony about how the Osteens had helped him conquer his depression in the wake of the untimely passing of his wife. Gokey then performed a Christian rock number of his own, “My Best Days Are Ahead of Me,” which seemed to make short work of his once-debilitating grief: “I don’t get lost in the past or get stuck in some sad memories,” he sang, rather creepily; the song’s bridge announced that “Age isn’t nothing but a number,” and then resolved on a Successories-style upgrade of a well-known Army recruiting slogan: “If I keep getting better / I can be anything I want to be.”

There’s a term from the psychiatric clinics that neatly captures the outlook of someone possessed of grandiose fantasies about the imperial reach of the self, and a principled refusal to acknowledge anything poised to diminish such fantasies — such as the passage of time. That term is “narcissistic personality disorder,” and it does nothing to detract from the positive features of the Osteen gospel — the injunctions to persevere in the face of adversity, or the appeals for donations to World Vision — to note that this is a system of faith tailor-made to sustain narcissistic delusion. To grasp the overweening self-absorption of the Osteen faith, one need look no further than the frequent recourse Osteen makes to his own success story in sealing the case for God’s providential plan for the believer’s own life. Now, unlike other well-known evangelists, Osteen can’t lay much claim to a hardscrabble Horatio Alger-style life story. His 1920s forebear in Pentecostal media preaching, Aimee Semple McPherson, was a single-mother missionary before coming into fame and fortune as an evangelical celebrity in the Radio Age; Billy Graham was the son of a poor North Carolina dairy farmer. Osteen, by contrast, was a second-generation evangelical leader, who’d been working as a TV producer for his father John Osteen’s growing ministry before he succeeded to the elder Osteen’s pulpit after his father’s death. His personal biography tracks closer to fellow Pentecostal TV preacher Pat Robertson’s background: Robertson was the son of a U.S. senator before finding his own adult spiritual calling.

Nonetheless, Osteen repeatedly cites his own success presiding over the spiritual flock he inherited as the prime exhibit of God’s ready transposition of divine grace into worldly success. When he first acceded to the pulpit, he recalled from his riser above second base, he felt no special aptitude for ministering; he’d heard that Lakewood church leaders were raising doubts about his vocation, and the church needed to move into a bigger, upgraded new facility. “At one point,” Osteen preached, “it seemed like everything was coming against me. The enemy was fighting me not from where I was coming, but from where I was going … He didn’t want Lakewood to be in the Compaq Center” — the former home arena for the Houston Rockets, and now home to the Lakewood congregation of nearly 50,000 souls. The Compaq Center deal is a frequent touchstone in Osteen’s faith reminiscence; it occupies a good stretch of his blockbuster best-selling self-improvement tract, “Become a Better You,” which also finds evidence of divine favor in a home-flipping deal Joel and Victoria struck at the height of the housing bubble, as well as in such mundane votes of divine confidence as setting the pastor up with a premium parking space. Indeed, the steady parade of testimonials from the wider Osteen clan on the Night of Hope risers bespeaks a family-wide penchant for casting one’s commonplace personal biography as a sort of infomercial version of the Christian faith. (In addition to mother Dodie and wife Victoria, Osteen’s brother Paul, who runs a medical charity in Africa, took to the stage Sunday to relate a more responsible story of healing, in which due medical diligence properly preceded the broader appeal to faith; Joel’s two children, Alexandra and Jonathan, are respectively a vocalist and guitarist in the ministry’s Christian rock ensemble.)

Now, it may very well be that in a certain kind of conviction of grace, believers feel themselves suffused with the divine presence, and find their most quotidian activities reflect celestial favor; the 14th-century Saint Julian of Norwich recorded a vision in which she beheld the entirety of creation in an object no larger than a hazelnut, cupped in her hand. Perhaps, in this view of things, a converted sports arena or excellent parking spot is no great stretch when it comes to testifying on behalf of a God for whom all things are possible.

Still, the claustral feel of Osteen’s success gospel paradoxically works exactly the same effect that he warns believers to resist: It imposes limits on God, by largely confining his workings to the dominant American culture of success. If the Osteen-coached believer does not reap abundant and large reward in career, family life or creative pursuits, they are not necessarily going to curse their God, as Job’s comforters had counseled him to do amid his notorious personal setbacks. But neither are they going to make the key connections that earlier Protestant divines have preached, going back to Jonathan Edwards and John Calvin: that the divinity does not, in fact, have your own personal happiness occupying pride of place on his exhaustive to-do list. The universe is ultimately about a larger set of concerns, and faith concerns a much vaster striving toward justice than believers are wont to see in their personal affairs, their social conquests or their annual paychecks. This is why Edwards, for all of his better-known hell-and-brimstone sermons, urged onto believers a stoic “consent to being in general” — not a plan for individual life advancement.

This disjuncture between Protestantism’s more humbling counsel and the feel-good Word Faith gospel became most painfully evident during one of Osteen’s closing perorations. In chilling detail, he recounted the story of a young Tutsi Christian woman who’d hid out in the bathroom of her church pastor’s office at the height of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The machete-wielding Hutu killers who pursued her returned to the pastor’s office every day for 91 days, usually calling out for her by name. At one point, Osteen said, a Hutu militia man was poised to turn the knob on the door to the tiny bathroom where the woman was quartered alongside six other Tutsi believers — but at the last moment, he became distracted and walked away. Finally, when the genocide had been contained, the woman was free, and has been traveling with ministers ever since to testify to the amazing story of her survival. “Nearly 1 million Rwandans were killed in this genocide,” Osteen said as he wound up to the story’s larger moral. “It was very sad.”

Well, no. The Rwandan genocide was something far more than sad — it was a colossal failure of moral and political agency, going back to the German and Belgian colonial partition of the country that set up artificial power conflicts between the nation’s two main tribes. This horror also most certainly came about thanks to the wretched failures of the Clinton administration and other Western powers to arrest a well-documented string of massacres, even as senior U.N. officials such as Lt. Gen Romeo Dallaire, the leader of the agency’s Rwandan peacekeeping mission, implored them to.

For Osteen, of course, the story of this woman’s survival was a divine miracle. But if this one survivor was enjoying the loving favor of an omnipotent God, what are we to conclude that this same God thought of the more than 800,000 Rwandans murdered in the genocide? Was their faith wanting? Was God planning unparalleled new successes and joys for their surviving family members? Are these the people Osteen has in mind when he exhorts his listeners not to be victims, but victors?

It’s something of an obscenity even to frame such questions. Yet they are the inevitable outcome of a theology-free success gospel, pitched exclusively to tales of individual triumph. Osteen’s sermons all begin with a self-empowering chant from believers. “This is my Bible,” it goes in part; “I am what it says I am. I have what it says I have.” But there are legions of dead — now confined by definition, it’s true, in the hated past — who come bearing the testimony that the Bible is not actually about you.