Monday, May 7, 2012

The Televangelist's Con

I was channel flipping last night when I came across a televangelist by the name of Mike Murdock. At first I thought he was just preaching some gimmicky message about "the five wisdom keys," but after a couple of minutes I realized that he was peddling his personal brand of prosperity theology. What you give to God, Murdock said, he will return to you a hundredfold.

He repeatedly referred to this as "planting a seed," and used his own life as an alleged example. He'd had only a few thousand dollars to his name and given most of it away, when suddenly strangers approached him with expensive gifts: a rare vintage car, a $10,000 check, a luxury van. His premise doesn't even make mathematical sense: if everyone receives dramatically more than they give, where's it all coming from? Is God stealing it from the non-givers or something? It's all nothing more than a religious Ponzi scheme, one invented wholesale simply to jump-start the first layer of the investment pyramid.

Then came the actual requests for cash: Murdock urged viewers to get up from the sofa and plant their $1,000 seed. You sometimes hear about the questionable practices televangelists employ, but it's a bit surreal to watch one of them gaze right into the eyes of the home audience to ever-so-fervently bilk them out of their hard-earned money. Interestingly, I never heard any specific information about where the money would go. Both in his TV sales pitch and on his horribly garish website, he says only that it goes toward "spreading the gospel." Sounds awfully fishy—and sure enough, it turns out that he spends most of the donations on himself. Less than one percent goes to charity.

Murdock specifically makes people in financial trouble the targets of his exploitation. He promises that your debt will vanish, that you'll make your mortgage payment, if only you plant your seed. He's intent on wringing every last coin out of them:
"Maybe you've got money in a closet somewhere, in a coin collection, in stocks and bonds. I don't know where you're going to get it, but you know."
One last bit of abuse that really made my jaw drop was his promise of "household salvation." He said that after one woman had promised to write him a check, the Holy Spirit had come to him and said:
"Tell her that because she's planted a seed to spread the gospel, every member of her family will be saved."
All those who planted the seed, Murdock said, could receive this wonderful blessing as a "fourth harvest" in the next 90 days. The words "insane" and "despicable" come to mind, but don't even begin to describe what this man is doing. When someone says, 'Give me money and your loved ones will receive eternal reward,' they've arguably splintered off from Christianity and started their own personal cult.

At first I considered the possibility that Murdock could actually believe what he was saying. But the more I read about his history, the more obvious it was that he's motivated by pure greed. He's taken full advantage of an environment that eschews skepticism and critical thinking in favor of miraculous stories and emotional appeals. My guess is that as soon as he steps off that stage, he's laughing all the way to the bank.


  1. How ironic that the main complaint that spurred the Protestant movement (Catholics taking money for salvation a.k.a. indulgences) is now being perpetrated by protestants.

    Revoluting, also.

    1. Very true. Where there's a vacuum in terms of exploitation, some enterprising charlatan is sure to come along and fill it.

  2. I'm convinced there's a kind of hole in human psychology, probably an indirect result of us having to band together as a species to survive. Charlatans and preachers (but I repeat myself) and politicians exploit it. We like to ally ourselves with power, and we know at an intuitive level that "knowledge is power." If someone speaks to us with an air of authority, a voice of conviction, our instinctual urge is to believe he knows what he's talking about. So we gravitate toward him. And if he's saying something we especially want to hear, the rational modules of our brains may never kick in, slam on the brakes, and scream, "Now, just hold on a minute!" People like Murdoch are counting on it and have carefully crafted their message into what a lot of people want to hear.

  3. Thank you for your brilliant post. It confirms I wasn't hallucinating. I flipped onto Mike Murdoch's show recently and was hypnotized for like two hours. No attempt whatsoever to disguise his pernicious greed. Rather he rubbed his hands together and bragged about his black Jaguar, and his obscenely expensive watch. He offered no other information about where the money would go. He hadn't even worked up a convincing scripture vocabulary, but just belabored the disgusting seed metaphor. I looked hard at the assistant, Brother Whatever, for clues. Is he in on it, or what? Wouldn't he falter and at least give us a wink? Nope. And no sign of knowing anything in the eyes of the phone workers--a gaggle of old blond white women who would have seemed poignant to me if they had any brains or substance left, if there were anything real about them at all. Where is the system of justice I was brought up to believe in? Why is this maggot even allowed on TV? Why hasn't somebody taken him for a very long walk in the woods?

    1. I've seen him. He is a despicable, predatory human being.