Monday, December 21, 2009

why didn't he just heal himself?

It would be remiss of me, particularly after my ill-concealed glee over Jerry Falwell's demise a while back, to fail to mention the death of another American evangelical big cheese this week: Oral Roberts.

Less given to inflammatory media outbursts than Falwell, Roberts' main concern was pretty simple: money. Lots and lots and lots of lovely money. Not for him the orthodox view of Jesus' teachings as promoting a life of poverty and simplicity, rich man/eye of camel and all that stuff, oh no. Tucked away in the New Testament among all the lengthy tracts urging you to give away all your money and shuffle about in sackcloth and sandals hugging lepers is this little nugget in the Third Epistle of John:
Beloved, I pray that in all things thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.
- which apparently makes the rapacious pursuit of wealth not only OK, but pretty much officially sanctioned by the big man. The most famous example of this is undoubtedly when Roberts went on TV in January 1987 to tearfully tell his followers that they had three months to donate $8 million, or God would "call him home". Needless to say they coughed up, and - miraculously - he survived.

The picture in the right is from this gallery of faith-healing pics from 1962; you can see the P.T. Barnum showbiz element pretty clearly. Once TV got in on the act in the 1970s and 1980s they cleaned their whole schtick up, brought it indoors, made it look a bit more churchy, got rid of the sawdust and the goats, that sort of thing.

What isn't clear from any of the obituaries that I've read is how he came by his extraordinary name. What I can tell you is that his full name was Granville Oral Roberts, so that, in a very real sense, "Oral was his middle name". I can't find any further information on where the name came from, or what possessed him to use it in public life in preference to Granville. Maybe I'll give his brother Anal a call later and see what he thinks. I know, it's a cheap laugh, but still funny. As is this Daily Kos headline: Jesus Prepares To Receive Oral.

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