Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Moral of Oral

I don’t claim to be an authority on the life and times of Oral Roberts. Over the years I’ve seen some things, read some things. Based on that, these are my provisional impressions of his life and legacy:

1.It’s often the case that those who have far less envy those who have far more. This can motivate a person to become a social climber. To get all the goodies he felt deprived of in his younger years.

2.Apropos(1), if you lived through the Great Depression, like Roberts did, that could exacerbate a sense of financial insecurity. And that would be another incentive to become a social climber.

That may or may not be what made Roberts tick. But that’s one of the explanations which springs to mind.

3.He was a pioneer televangelist. TV is a tremendous fundraising tool. Nothing compares with TV for reaching potential donors, and hitting them up for contributions.

I’m not necessarily saying that was Roberts’ only or primary motive. I’m just saying that if you want to raise lots of loot for your “ministry,” that’s where to go.

4.His folk Pentecostal theology is also characteristic of someone with his socioeconomic background. However, the “seed-faith” angle is tailor made to rake in the cash. Indeed, it reminds me of an old sales pitch: "As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs."

5.As a faith-healer, it’s quite possible that Roberts was just your garden-variety charlatan. However, I’d note in passing that Kurt Koch apparently thought Roberts was a genuine healer. However, Koch suggests that Roberts acquired that ability when he was healed of TB by an Indian shaman or witch-doctor. Cf. Occult Bondage & Deliverance, p54.

I don’t know enough to have a firm opinion one way or the other. But I think it’s worth mentioning.

In this connection, one of his daughters died in a plane crash while one of his sons committed suicide. That could be purely coincidental. On the other hand, it would also be consistent with somebody who acquired occultic abilities of one sort or another. The ability is a curse. It empowers you, but like a devil’s pact, there’s a hidden surcharge.

6.He was a better husband than father.

7.Was he sincere, or was he just another conman? Actually, the question of sincerity is potentially misleading. We’re apt to assume that someone sincere is honest. Not a deceiver.

However, deception and self-deception frequently go hand-in-hand. A conman has ways to rationalize his behavior. And not just to others. But to himself.

8.There’s something especially egregious about men and women who come from humble backgrounds, then enrich themselves by ripping off the very folks they grew up around.

From what I can see, Roberts was better at doing well than doing good. It’s hard to think of him without recalling a German priest who used to hawk indulgences to finance lavish building projects in the name of God.


  1. I only remember Oral Roberts from the whole "God told me I would die if we didn't get enough contributions to build my cancer center" episode. Sounds like good, old-fashioned lying to me.

  2. meanwhile his cancer center and other monuments lie in shambles.

  3. I have often wondered why faith "healings" mostly occur on stages and not in hospitals.