The Prosperity Gospel Phenomenon.

There have always been con men; carnival barkers imploring you to take a chance on a game you cannot win; snake oil salesmen asking you to purchase products that don’t work; and, in the modern day, hedge fund managers and bankers selling worthless stocks.

Maybe the most despicable of all are the mega-church charlatans demanding large donations to save your soul. These are people who prey on the poor, the weak, the feeble and the gullible…who promise to guarantee you a place in heaven if only you contribute a little more money to their cause. All the while, they encourage you to pray for prosperity. You think you’re praying for your own riches. But, you need only look at the net worth of these “men of God” to see who’s really prospering.

For example, John Hagee’s net worth is estimated at $5 million, Joel Osteen’s net worth is estimated at $40 million as is Chris Oyakhilome’s. Benny Hinn is estimated to be worth $42 million; E.A. Adeboye $50 million; T.D. Jackes and David Oyedepo are estimated to be worth $150 million each; and Edir Macedo’s net worth is estimated at a whopping $1 billion. But these numbers aren’t as revealing as the appeals of Creflo Dollar for his “flock” to donate $6 million so that he can have a new private jet.

It’s clear that these evangelists aren’t praying for their followers. They are preying on their followers.

None of this is really new. People like Jimmy Bakker, Ted Haggard, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell have been living lavish lives off the backs of others for generations. What is new is the unbridled greed unabashedly displayed by people like Osteen. And, if they’re ever confronted by the public for their lifestyles, they simply say that God gave it to them and, if you’ll only pray hard enough, you can live this way, too.

Riiiiight! Just pray. Better yet, become another slimy pastor and you, too, can become a multi-millionaire.

It is true that you have a better chance of becoming wealthy if you identify as a Christian. After all, Christians hold 55 percent of the world’s wealth, despite representing just 30 percent of the world’s population. But then you have that little issue of Christ’s views of the wealthy. Does not the Bible quote him as saying, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven?”

How then do you pray for money? If you succeed in becoming rich, does that not condemn you to eternal damnation?

And though Christ implored his followers to “… go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret,” how can you justify large churches and cathedrals? Yet somewhere around a quarter of the property in the US is owned by churches…much of it tax-exempt.

Moreover, if your goal is eternal salvation, is there really any need to belong to a religion at all? Studies have shown that there is no real correlation between religion and morality. In fact, there may be an inverse relationship. Using the notion that the ends justify the means, Christians, Muslims, Jews and others are willing to kill non-believers and those from competing religions in the name of God.

Seriously? Your loving God wants you to kill those who do not believe as you do…even though the first of the 10 Commandments that define your religion is “Thou shall not kill?” It’s no wonder that a recent poll by the Pew Research Center found that the number of Americans who describe themselves as a member of a religion is declining.