Snake Oil Peddlers
The Old Wild West movies would sometimes feature a Medicine Show. The Medicine Man was your consummate salesman. Proclaiming loudly from his soapbox the miraculous virtues of his latest cure-all elixir. Amongst the gathering townsfolk he often employed the services of a man (a shill) to swear to the efficacy of his Snake Oil product. These Medicine Shows existed. Ointments and potions claiming to contain snake oil were very popular. Of course, when tested, they were found to contain ingredients offering limited medicinal value. The heavily inflated prices seemed to have the affect intended—assuring the customer that if it costs more, it must do more. Charles Dickens had it right when he had his character, Mrs Mann, in Oliver Twist, say of the medicine she was obliged to keep on hand for the orphans (Duffy’s Elixir), “’It’s gin. I’ll not deceive you, Mr. B. It’s gin.” Dicken’s here suggesting that alcohol was the active ingredient used in many of these ‘feel-good cure-alls.’
The expression, “Snake Oil,” or “Snake Oil Peddler” is still used in reference to any worthless concoctions sold as a medicine. It has been extended to implicate a wide range of goods, services, and ideas as fraudulent, to one degree or another. Tragically, religion has not escaped such accusations. Worse still, is that some of those accusations are true. Religion has its fair share of hucksters peddling worthless ‘faith’ concoctions. Surely, I was not the only one to conclude that Norman Vincent Peale’s book, ‘The Power of Positive Thinking’ contained aspects of Eastern mysticism wrapped in a Christian cloak? Remember, that was an extremely influential book from a very famous ‘evangelical’ preacher.
Yes, I concede that how one spends their time and money on Christian resources is their business. However, it is in the best interest of us all that we clearly point out what is Biblical and what is not. Especially when ideas are put into public spaces and sold as spiritually beneficial. Let’s get real, the Prosperity Preachers of our day are charlatans—Jesus never preached like that, not even once! Faith healers, (some of them sincere in their convictions), have become the butt of many a joke claiming that they are always conspicuous by their absence during a pandemic. Also, the endless number of books, magazines, audiobooks, Podcasts, TV presentations, sermons, seminars, websites, etc…that sell ‘feel-good’ Christianised pop-psychology is staggering, to say the least.
I appreciate that there is an overabundance of negative material out there but trying to cure a plague of sin with psychobabble, is like trying to treat a deadly virus with a placebo. God offers us an eternal storehouse of wisdom for life under His watchful care—“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:12-13). If you want to keep the Christianised Snake Oil Peddler from your spiritual door, the best way is to stay spiritually healthy. Jesus is still the Great Physician – call on Him.