My wife pointed out at article on MSNBC yesterday that stated Robert H. Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral is filing for bankruptcy. Internet reaction has been predictably hostile, clawing at the craven, money-driven industry of television ministry. There is no question that many television ministries quickly grow corrupt under the lure of immense wealth. The average American citizen is glad to part with some money if it can buy favor with the man upstairs. When a minister is able to construct such edifices as the Crystal Cathedral with the good-will offerings of the faithful, well, s/he’s an entrepreneur, the kind of people God likes, according to the Tea Party. Schuller was famous for his positive thinking and insistence that God will do great things for you. When recession hits, however, not even God remains solvent.
According to the article, various corporate sponsors of the Cathedral are having difficulty holding up their end of the contract. Positive thinking extends only as far as the goodwill of the banks. Is there any question who the real god is here? Americans love the non-biblical concept that God helps those who help themselves. Making more money than a humble clergy-person ought to make may improve the sense of optimism, but it loses touch with where the average citizen lives. It is easy to be optimistic when you have a heavenly bankroll on your side.
Over the weekend my family looked at slides from our years in Europe. The great cathedrals, even if in ruins, convey a sense of stoic strength, genuine commitment. Built with the hard-won resources, if not the actual physical labor of the local populace, these cathedrals were made of stone. I recall standing in the nave of Salisbury Cathedral while the tour guide pointed out that the very stone pillars supporting its huge steeple were bowed under the weight of all that stone above. Some day it may collapse under its own pressure, but it will have always survived longer than the Crystal Cathedral. Religion, if I may use a metaphor, is more authentic when it deals with stone rather than glass. The religion that struggles with the intractable realities of daily life will inevitably last longer than the feel-good, glass-plated, Tea Party serving “religion” of feel-good Christianity. It is too bad about the Crystal Cathedral, but maybe the entrepreneurs should be asking serious questions right now about which god they truly serve.