Buried on the fourth page of Lori Montgomery's recent piece
in the Washington Post on Paul Ryan's alleged anti-poverty crusade is an incredibly disparaging quote from Bishop Shirley Holloway, a minor religious celebrity in D.C., who, after assuring us that "Paul wants people to dream again," omnisciently asserts that "you don't dream when you've got food stamps."
It's a bizarre sentiment that understandably provoked a snarky backlash
from liberal bloggers. But it's also an unusually honest expression of how religious conservatives and allies of Paul Ryan view the lower classes. For many on the broadly defined Christian Right, what ails the poor is that they are not "dreaming" as they should be. This may be due to circumstance, or personal failing, or some combination of both. But the message is clear: for the millions of luckless souls who find themselves in abject poverty, there is a simple, straightforward path to tangible and dramatic socioeconomic improvement. Luckily, it doesn't require increased social spending by government, or taxes on the rich, or anything like that (in fact, it might require reduced social spending and lower taxes on the rich). As it turns out, "dreaming" is all that's needed.
Shirley Holloway is far from the only religious leader who proposes intensified dreaming as the key mechanism by which one can escape poverty. But, without question, the leading exponent of this school of thought is one Joel Osteen
, celebrity pastor at Lakewood Church
, the largest church in the United States. Osteen has built an extremely lucrative personal empire on the foundational message that, if his extended flock will simply agree to dream bigger and think more positively, God will grace them with previously unimaginable levels of wealth and success. Each week, when millions of people around the world tune in to see the perpetually smiling Osteen deliver his sermon to a reliably packed arena, they hear some variation of the promise that everyone is this close to "realizing their full potential" and experiencing a vague but boundless bliss.