Religious scholar Reza Aslan blasted proponents of the so-called "prosperity gospel" last month, claiming the materialistic Christian movement ran directly counter to the teachings of Jesus.
Aslan was speaking at the 2014 Indian Summer Festival in Vancouver about his book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.
During a question and answer session, the University of California at Riverside professor was asked about the portrayal of Jesus in movies.
"I love all fictional presentations of Jesus. I think they are fantastic, whether it is the Last Temptation of Christ or The Passion -- both of which are fiction. But -- sorry about that, did I break that to you? -- but again for me what is fascinating about those is it is just a representation of what I have been talking about all along, which is the incredible malleability of the Christ story, the way that it can become whatever you want it to become."
Aslan said his favorite representation of Jesus was from the 1970 rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar, and then pivoted to the issue of the prosperity gospel.
"The fastest growing Protestant movement in North America is this movement that is referred to as the prosperity gospel," he said. "This is the gospel preached by people like Joel Osteen and T.D. Jakes -- and when I say people, I mean charlatans. The argument of the prosperity gospel, if I can put it flippantly, is that Jesus wants you to drive a Bentley. That is basically what the argument is. That what Jesus wants for you is material prosperity, and that if you literally give, you will literally be given tenfold. That's not a metaphor, as it is in most churches. It is literal. You give me $10 and Jesus will give you $100."
"This is as profoundly an unscriptural interpretation of Jesus that exists," Aslan remarked. "I mean, if there is one thing that is just so clear cut and just not open to interpretation at all of any kind when it comes to Jesus's message, it is his condemnation of wealth."
"And yet, not only does this version of Christianity exist, as I say, it is honestly the fastest growing version of Protestant evangelical Christianity in North America. That's because Jesus can be whatever you want him to be, and the Christian message can be whatever you want it to be."
Earlier in his speech, Aslan said that Jesus advocated an "absolute reversal of the social order, in which those on the top and those on the bottom will switch places," citing Luke 6:20-26.
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