Proof religion causes brain damage: Jim Bakker is back.

Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s fall from grace happened well before I started blogging and it seemed at the time that we wouldn’t being hearing much from them again. Tammy Faye, divorced from Jim during his stint in prison, managed to pop up here and there over the years, but she never reached the heights she had during the golden years of the PTL. When Bakker got out of prison a lot of folks, including myself, figured he’d just slide off into a life of obscurity. Surely no one would ever trust the man again after the sex scandals and money embezzlement he was convicted and sent to prison over.

Which just goes to show that you should never underestimate the ability of True Believers™ to allow their blind faith in something, in this case Jim Bakker, to overrule their sense of rationality. Jim Bakker is back and doing quite well thanks in no small part to the very people he once swindled:

Howard, who also works as a Wal-Mart greeter, is a chipper woman with a quick smile and bright blue eyes. She has been a fan of Bakker’s since his glory days with the Praise The Lord ministry. And she, like many people here, lost money when the PTL collapsed. She and her husband each paid $1,000 for “lifetime partnerships” granting them limited free lodging at Heritage USA. Bakker spent almost five years in prison for diverting millions of dollars in partner fees for his personal use and promising more free lodging than the PTL ever could have provided.

But Howard dismisses Bakker’s conviction as “a miscarriage of justice.” And when a court settlement granted each of the 165,000 lifetime partners a check for a paltry $6.54, she and hundreds of others signed those checks over to Bakker in a show of support.

“There’s a lot of love left for Jim Bakker,” Howard says between greetings. “There is.”

That’s some serious stupid there. For some reason it seems to afflict the women more than the men:

Beyond the front door, a woman samples the pink Spikenard Magdalena hand cream being sold to support the ministry. Rubbing her hands, she remarks how excited she is to be here. But her husband is cautious.

“We invested our money with them and lost everything,” he grumbles.

“Oh, don’t say that!” she says.

“Well, we did.”

“I don’t feel that we lost anything,” she responds, walking ahead to find a table.

“Norma is head over heels on this thing,” her husband whispers as he follows behind. “I tell her, ‘Tread easy.’”

A few tables away, Rex Lorence acknowledges that he was slower than his wife, Wanda, to warm to Bakker.

“I still have some resentment for his past actions,” Lorence, 75, says. “But I’ve pretty much forgiven him.”

Which isn’t so much to suggest that women are dumber than men so much so that perhaps Bakker has some hidden sex appeal… or something. For his part Bakker claims to have renounced the “prosperity gospel” he once preached (though there are still plenty of others who are promoting it) and has had a change of heart. His new wife, Lori whom he married in 1998, appears to be a mini-me version of Tammy Faye though toned down somewhat and she fills the same role Tammy did in the ministry. Bakker makes a point during the premier broadcast in his new church that he doesn’t own any of his new ministries’ assets, they’re registered in his mother-in-law’s name, the implication being that he has no stake in the venture, but the fact that he still owes the IRS $6.1 million dollars probably has a lot to do with that decision.

As it turns out the man most responsible for Bakker’s return is a business man by the name of Jerry Crawford:

Crawford is a large man who cuts a gentleman cowboy figure, favoring cowboy boots, blue jeans, a blazer with leather shoulders and a Cadillac Escalade pickup. He says he is foremost a businessman. He brushes off any suggestion he is being suckered by Bakker. In fact, he says, he is using Bakker by making him Morningside’s main attraction.

Crawford estimates he has invested $25 million in the project. The development has its own sewer and water treatment plants. The main building, with the domed sky, is 200,000 square feet of mixed retail and housing. It holds 115 condos, going for $80,000 to $350,000. About 40 condos already have sold, Crawford says. He also is building single-family homes and small apartment buildings nearby; many are near completion. He hopes to have 2,000 families living here one day.

Crawford says the parallels between Morningside and Heritage USA are no accident. “It was modeled a whole lot on that. That model worked.”

Indeed it did for several years and it made Bakker into a very rich man who fell due to his own hubris. It’ll be interesting to see if history will be repeating itself. If it does you can be sure that at least some of his flock will stick with him through it all again because they have faith in him.

6 thoughts on “Proof religion causes brain damage: Jim Bakker is back.

  1. Somehow in my mind this dovetails with two essays I read today: John Allen Paulos’ God and girls in Thailand and Greta Christina’s Defensiveness….  Both speak of religion in terms of longing, of a need that does not define itself and calls from just beyond clear cognition, difficult to define in rigid terms.

    A friend in college, a seminary student, used to say; “People have their defenses because they need them” and along comes Jim Bakker, bringing in the sheaves after crashing and burning in the clearest possible terms.  On some level his followers need to believe him.  You can bet that Ted Haggard’s followers will be lining up to support him when he makes his publicized reentry into the ministry as well.  To overlook those kind of transgressions, they must need him badly.

    Religion fills a need.  Not a need that everyone has in the same measure; peoples’ need for sex or sugar or alcohol varies too and those who have less need are inclined to judge those who have more.  Sometimes the worst of all are the reformed; those who were addicted and shook off the addiction.

    It is easy to lead ourselves astray calling religious people stupid on that basis alone.  All of us are made stupid by our needs and longings.  Rationality is a constant battle not just with our lower nature but our dumber nature as well.  The cognitively parsimonious part of us that seizes on the quick fix and the simple answer. 

    Obviously I’m still trying to figure this out.  I do understand the need to believe, spent 20+ years of my life struggling to believe against my better judgment and there was nothing easy about the escape.  For others it seemed to come naturally.

  2. The herd instinct for survival. If it’s different, kill it. If it’s similar, embrace it, NO MATTER WHAT. “My God’s better than your God!” How many of us find excuses for our friends’ or families’ behavior instead of denouncing it and distancing ourselves? Humans are social animals and for most of us our social history involves some sort of religion. It is very difficult to excommunicate ourselves from our family history, right or wrong. And, yes, we do get defensive when it is attacked, whether or not WE believe it. So, to be effective in communicating and helping others to see the errors of their ways, we need to learn how to not point out those errors in a way that makes the others defensive. Those two articles DOF linked are very good examples of this behavior. Let’s try a more positive approach to improving others behavior. Form a community of “True Unbelievers” and socialize others into this group as we would want to be socialized ourselves. Hey, it’s worth a try!  wink

  3. Once again, H.L. Mencken said it:

    “No one in this world, so far as I know—and I have researched the records for years, and employed agents to help me—has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.”

  4. As someone who has never had the slightest understanding of the “need to believe”, I must agree wholeheartedly with SEB’s sentiment about Bakker’s “true” fans. But I also am sickly thrilled by his return. In the early days of cable, when I was but a young’un, channel-surfing exposed me to PTL and I was hooked. It seemed like some strange fantasy-land of religious gibberish and I decided that evangelism was the greatest, most PT Barnum-like way to separate fools from their money. I remember clearly watching the daily construction of Heritage and the money raising extravaganzas. I was dismayed by the Bakker’s fall, and the coming of the Crouch’s. But since the Crouch’s turned out to be quite the wondrous show of arrogance, lies and blatant greed, featuring an even more outlandish cast of characters, all was well with me. Though they do lack that down-home goofy charm that the Bakker’s always had. So in the disgusting morass of lies and greed that is evangelism, it warms my heart to have the charming and kinda silly Jim Bakker fleecing the flock once again!

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