So, Oral Roberts died.
While that’s the general sentiment throughout the skeptical web presence, it’s almost amusing to see the handful of responses that say, in essence, “Don’t say bad things about the dead man! It makes us look bad!”
Fuck them. He was an evil bigoted shit in life, and that doesn’t change because he’s in the ground. I’ll say the same when Robertson or Popoff finally kick the bucket, too. I always knew Roberts and his ilk were scam artists, even long before I discarded what little faith I had. Badly-coiffed ministers in thousand-dollar suits begging for money because a 900-foot Jesus threatened to kill them? How does anyone fall for that? I guess if you had an abiding faith that a minister wouldn’t lie, or that these people were doing good work, I could see it, but their pitch is just so absurd. I understand the idea behind a regular tithe to a church. I don’t agree with it, but I understand it. Even as a kid, though, I knew the preachers on TV were weasels of the highest order. I guess that’s part of the reason that the majority of their donations came from the sick or elderly; these groups are looking for that desperate cure, or the “personal” attention from the mailing list.
I read Randi’s The Faith Healers a while back. It pissed me off in a way that little does. Oral Roberts was a prime example of everything that can be wrong with religion; he spent decades bilking the poor, sick, and desperate; he provided “healings” that at best did little more than waste the time of those involved; he used mass media to extort the faithful; and he passed on the apparatus to continue the scam on to his family.
I was discussing with a friend how these low-lifes could engage people so deeply, and I realized that they’re using the same tricks as any carnival barker. They speak in loud, attention-grabbing cadences; they promise wonders; they demand just a little sacrifice, not even really enough to cover costs, because they especially want you to have access. The analogy was close, but not quite there. Then, it hit me; these guys are wrestling managers, with a god as the client.
Managers in wrestling serve a couple of purposes; most often, though, they are charismatic mouthpieces for workers that have no skill on the microphone. They are there to make the threats, the boasts, the taunts, and the warnings for the silent worker behind them. You can take a basic wrestling promo, swap out some words, and get a standard TV sermon.
Manager: “Let me tell you something about Mad Max Blackman – he’s not here to make you feel good. He’s here to fulfill a promise, a promise made at WrestleSlam. Despite those who have opposed him, despite all the doubters, he’s still here. In fact, he’s more powerful than he’s ever been, and ready to take on all comers! When he arrives in the ring, all will know his power! He will bring down the wrath, his enemies will fall before him, and he will raise the WTW belt in victory! There are those who fear his return to the ring, as well they should! Those who have fought him, those who have conspired against him, even those who just stood aside and let the attacks on Max happen; these are the ones who have reason to fear the Madman! Only his faithful friends and allies will be spared when Max returns to the ring. But I’m here to let those others know that Max is a forgiving man; there is time to avoid his wrath. All you folks need to do is renounce any claim to the title belt that is rightfully his, and recognize that you are nothing before him. Do that, and Max will spare you when he remakes World Television Wrestling in his image! It doesn’t matter how you talked about him before, it doesn’t matter if you cheated him out of victory in the ring, it doesn’t matter how you may have worked against him in the past; Max will forgive all if you stand aside now. Don’t wait, because you never know when your name will be the next on Max’s list, and by then, it’ll be too late…
Do I even have to go through and substitute the words? It’s the exact same patter. Hell if you picture a big sweaty guy in a suit shouting those kinds of phrases into a microphone, it could be either a preacher or a manager at any given moment.
I think it’s just further evidence that the con artists of the televangelist game know exactly what they’re doing (aside from the mounds of documents, videotapes, investigations, and other proof showing that they are frauds, I mean). They know that they’re selling to the crowd. They are hunting the dollar in the kitty, a million times over. The new generation doesn’t seem to be as good at it; they didn’t hone their craft at the tent revivals and healings. They didn’t have the same competition for mailing lists, marks, and TV time; they aren’t the innovators. As such, they’re just as sleazy, but not quite as actively evil. There will always be someone in the healing and donation racket; it’s an easy way to turn a profit. Despite that, though, I’ll be happier when all of the old guard dies off. Those that didn’t have to fight for it aren’t as good at it; the selection is less strenuous.
In the end, I agree with someone over at Pharyngula that quoted Twain in reference to Roberts’s death: “I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved.”