MegaMess. An event that features much of what’s wrong about evangelical Christianity continues today in Dallas. MegaFest will attract 50,000 to hear T.D. Jakes and Joel Osteen, among others. The event kicked off with Jakes doing an interview with Oprah Winfrey for her “Oprah’s Lifeclass” program. MegaFest speakers are relentlessly upbeat and civilized, so criticizing them makes you seem like a crank. The T.D. Jakes/Oprah Winfrey session, for example, promised to “tackle the issue of emotional and spiritual healing for the millions of children who are growing up in fatherless households.” But, to continue the football metaphor, they don’t truly “tackle” these issues, they simply discuss them, and too often propose solutions that make matters worse. That is, the solutions offered are what sociologist Christian Smith has called “moralistic, therapeutic deism.” And anytime Oprah’s involved, the faux solution usually includes a dose of big-government intervention. They are not rooted in biblical Christianity.
More Miley. It’s hard to know whether to weigh in on the VMA/Miley Cyrus freak show with a voice of sanity, or to stay away, hoping it will collapse under its own weight. One thing I can say is that ratings for the show were up this year, though they were still down from the VMA’s peak in 2011. It appears the reason for the ratings was the rumored reunion of N’Sync, and not Miley’s outrageous behavior. Miley and her handlers merely exploited the audience. Given the ratings, and the likely prevalence of children watching the show, I ask whether the program should retain its TV-14 rating, or should have a more restrictive TV-MA rating and a later start time. Of course, it’s likely that such distinctions no longer matter, since so many people now watch such shows online, and there’s often no one at home or at the Federal Communications Commission to enforce such restrictions anyway.
Too much religion? A new study by a journal called Social Psychological and Personality Science says too much religion can harm the economy. The study, by researchers at the University of Southampton in England and Humboldt University in Berlin, said religious people reported “better psychological adjustment” when their income was lower. The report said religious people look to sources other than money for happiness, and that impulse dulls their drive to accumulate wealth. I actually see some wisdom in a few of the researchers’ findings. The Bible does indeed teach that money can’t buy happiness. But it’s a huge and unsupportable leap from that idea to the notion that religious belief harms the economy. For one thing, not all religions are equal. The study throws 11 religions into the same pot, producing a result that inevitably erases the positive impact of some religions and the negative impacts of others. The study also ignores the role of Christianity in establishing the rule of law on which all economic systems rest. Christianity also teaches both personal responsibility and charity. An antidote to the misguided professors at Southampton and Humboldt is Baylor University’s Rodney Stark, especially his book: The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success.
Are you happy? One problem with surveys such as the one above is that they measure factors irrelevant to the outcome, and ignore factors vital to the outcome. The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) says such faux research is driving government policy. “Central planners have latched onto a new approach for pushing paternalistic policies—the happiness index,” according to CEI’s Blake Taylor and Iain Murray. They’ve issued their own report that takes a close look at some of the problems with using happiness indices for political purposes. “The idea is that if governments attach significant value to this happiness research and data, they could formulate policies that would attempt to maximize aggregate happiness,” Taylor and Murray wrote. “The first step toward this central planning approach to happiness would be to supplement or replace traditional economic performance measures, such as Gross Domestic Product with one that focuses on subjective well being.” Taylor and Murray are particularly critical of “arbitrary indices to devise international happiness rankings” such as “the New Economics Foundation’s Happy Planet Index and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Better Life Index.” They say these indices are used to make conclusions about which nations perform better according to their standards of well being. They conclude that such “happiness” studies will replace individual liberty with what they call “paternalistic policies” that provide us with what should make us happy rather than with what actually does.