The featured preacher on the second day of the retreat was a diminutive fellow, probably in his early to mid 30’s and who, according to his self-introduction, was also an active player in the preaching circuit. He was also, as he claimed, a radio host and a book author. In fact, he told his listeners, copies of his latest work were on sale outside the hall and that they, members of the audience, were bidden to buy them, adding in jest, on the pain of death. He admitted he accepted the invitation to preach in the said retreat aware as he was of the prospect of huge receipts from his book. From start to finish, that would be the constant refrain of his preaching. Each time he tried to make a point or cracked a joke, he would refer his listeners to his book in case they wanted more. The audience loved him and was practically at his finger tips for the most part of the session. They would laugh at the slightest suggestion, shrilled when he sang and reacted instantly to any remark he mouthed. It was indeed a highly successful marketing pitch, garbed in the tone and language of a spiritual retreat. During the break, the listeners stepped out of the hall edified, “touched” as they described themselves, and went back to the session later clutching a copy of the book bought from the sales preacher.
Later that day, another preacher came in, a healing preacher according to the description found in the programme. In his homily, the preacher narrated his journey from being an average pastor to becoming a much sought-after healing minister for over a decade now. He had travelled to different places said he and has delivered countless people from various illnesses through his miraculous touch. He would remind his audience every now and then that it was not he but the Lord who heals. The actual healing session took place after the mass has ended. It began with the healing preacher giving out basic instructions on what was about to happen: where to fall in line, how to keep oneself disposed, what to expect when one is “slain” by the Spirit. Towards the end of his introductory remark, the preacher mentioned his “special request.” He announced that a group of volunteers would walk around the hall with empty baskets in hand and members of the audience were encouraged to manifest their generosity by filling up those baskets with their “love offering”. Proceeds from those offerings, said the priest, will go to a special project he was undertaking. The audience was kind enough to understand and to oblige. When the baskets gained weight, praying began and soon, people started to make a queue to receive the minister’s extended hand.
Both preachers appeared at the same spiritual retreat, on the same day and for the same reason of spreading of the Word. They certainly did not charge anyone for what they did but that doesn’t mean they didn’t earn a profit out of it. If even the thought of fusion between God and mammon in the former times was considered sacrilegious, the two preachers showed how conveniently it can be done these days. It is not just a case of money changers and peddlers swarming at the temple gates as reported by the Gospels; what we have here is prayer itself converted into a commodity, something that can yield profit or traded, a good that can tempt anyone to be a vendor, a buyer or a thief.
Karl Marx once called religion the opium of the people. He was talking about the hallucinating effect of religion and its capacity to alienate people from the real state of affairs. If he were alive now, he would probably be surprised to find out that even the religion he had in mind then has been displaced by capital. Capital is the new religion of the people. It is the Golden Calf mounted at the center of most modern institutions for worship and adoration. One wonders what kind of devotional purpose can explain the relation between the expression “In God We Trust” and the way we look at money represented by the mighty US dollars where that expression is found.
By capital we mean not just physical money; it also includes the acquisitive drive that it inspires, the illusion that more is better as well as the misbelief that everything can be commodified. It is not religion but capital that speaks when one hears a Catholic devotee glorifying his favorite patron saint for a material reward which he has received or has yet to receive. Even acts of piety has assumed some form of a trade, a kind of exchange deal: I’ll give you a prayer, give me my raise. It is the same with the examples cited above: the preacher gives a talk because he can sell his book; the priest heals the sick but only after the baskets are filled with love offerings.
Religion is a huge magnet for money and the people behind religious organizations registered at the Securities and Exchange Commission know this. They won’t say it is not trading God for money. Another fellow ages ago argued the same way. Apparently, he only realized the bad deed he made when the subject of the deal hung lifeless on the cross.