In her book Making Virtuous Daughter and Wives: An Introduction to Women’s Brata Rituals in Bengali Folk Religion, June McDaniel cites the work of one of her (American) students who in a test looked at various sub-types of Hinduism and decided on which one she preferred:
The best type was folk religion. People in folk religion cared about being healthy, rich, getting a good husband and having children, having lots of food, and good weather. She said that the church that she attended was just like that – everybody wanted health and wealth and an attractive boyfriend or husband, and prayed for passing tests and getting jobs and winning lawsuits, just like in India. She said that the Christianity she knew was very much like Hindu folk religion.
The kind of Christianity this student was referring to was undoubtedly one of the variants of a kind of American Christianity particularly associated with mega-churches which goes by names such as the ‘Health and Wealth Gospel’, ‘Word of Faith’, and ‘prosperity theology’. The basic underlying philosophy of the health and wealth message can be summed up in the following quotes from two of its leading lights, Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer:
I preach that anybody can improve their lives. I think God wants us to be prosperous. I think he wants us to be happy. To me, you need to have money to pay your bills. I think God wants us to send our kids to college. I think he wants us to be a blessing to other people.
Who would want to get in on something where you’re miserable, poor, broke and ugly and you just have to muddle through until you get to heaven? I believe God wants to give us nice things.
Unsurprisingly, many Christians, ranging from fundamentalists through to liberals, pour scorn on this message, considering it an apostate deviation from the true faith. In a typical article, Jason Byassee, a United Methodist Church pastor, offers the following sneering commentary on Osteen’s best-selling book Your Best Life Now:
Osteen’s book abounds with examples of trivial everyday concerns. Can’t get a green light? Pray with faith, and that light will change. Can’t find a parking place? Claim God’s victory, and see divine favor as someone pulls out and leaves you a space in the front row. Worried that you haven’t found the perfect date, someone like Osteen’s wife (who is, by the way, praying for us as we read her husband’s book, as Osteen promises in an epilogue)? You’ve guessed the answer by now: pray, stay positive, and God will build up the remarkable list of coincidences to have you meet that special person.
Interestingly, the emphasis on these ‘trivial everyday concerns’ is one of the indicators that the health and wealth gospel is actually a form of folk religion, for this is precisely the realm in which folk religion and folk magic operates. While the advocates of grand salvation narratives and abstract theological concepts are bound to be unimpressed, for the average person (American or otherwise), the events in their daily lives are in fact the most important areas in which spiritual assistance is needed and sought. The fact that health and wealth Christianity is in fact a form of folk Christianity becomes even clearer when the method of receiving blessings is examined.
Osteen and others preach a message of divine favour in which the speaking of positive expressions brings the message in those expressions to fruition. This method, known as ‘positive confession’, is said to be part of a contract with God, in which God promises that if a believer lays claim to something with words of faith, then God will respond favourably. Osteen writes:
It’s time to use our words to declare good things! Speak blessings over your life and your family. Throughout the day, say things such as, ‘I have the favor of God. I am strong and healthy. I’m well able to do what I need to do.’
That is what faith is all about. The world says you need to see it to believe it, but God says you must believe and then you’ll see it. You must speak it by faith.
Make a list of your goals, your dreams, the areas where you want to see change. Confirm your desires by Scripture, and then every day before you leave the house, speak those blessings aloud. Something supernatural happens when you speak those words aloud.
Here we see a religion based almost entirely around the concerns of everyday life which offers a method of meeting our everyday needs through the speaking of power words that have a supernatural effect. Here, then, we are actually arguably seeing another variant of folk religion; a folk Christianity which certainly has historical precedent but which cannot be truly identified with orthodox Christian belief as it has been known over the centuries.
 June McDaniel (2003) Making Virtuous Daughter and Wives: An Introduction to Women’s Brata Rituals in Bengali Folk Religion (Albany: State University of New York Press), p.xi.
 Quoted in David Van Biema and Jeff Chu (2006) ‘Does God Want You To Be Rich?‘, Time Magazine, September 10.
 Jason Byassee (2005) ‘The Health and Wealth Gospel‘, The Christian Century, July 12.
 Joel Osteen, ‘It’s Time to Use Our Words to Declare Good Things‘.