Preface: I'm a huge fan of John Oliver. He's running an insightful and hilarious humor/journalism show on HBO. I've commented on his stuff a lot in P&CE.

Last night (August 16, 2015) his major story was on the topic of televangelists. Here's a link to the piece.

It was both funny and distressing, but certainly not the first expose of them.

The major focus of the story was on the lax attitude of the IRS toward such preachers and their churches.

That actually isn't what this thread is about. It's more of a jumping off point.

Televangelist money raising has its theological basis in the prosperity gospel. That in turn has a complex history relative to Protestantism, Catholicism, and so on. But that too is a jumping off point.

Televangelists also tend to practice faith healing, which I could turn into a major rant, but again a jumping off point.

These two ideas are based on the concept that performing a spiritual action (in this case donating money to a church) leads directly to a real world benefit for the person performing the spiritual action. Directly in this case means without human or other earthly intervention.

In the prosperity gospel the idea is that donation leads to God giving you more money than you donated (there are recurrent references to sowing seeds and casting bread upon the waters).

In faith healing, the idea is that having faith (and giving money as a show of faith) leads to being healed.

For me as an atheist, it's easy to separate the claims of people preaching like these ideas from reality. The reality is that these preachers are conning vulnerable people out of money and as an added consequence, getting the ill to not seek medical treatment which might well heal them.

The separation is easy for me because I do not see a direct continuity between spiritual thinking and physical reality. Giving to a preacher will not cause healing or prosperity.

I see an indirect continuity through human decision and action. A person may, out of spiritual understanding, act to change the world and the lives of others. So, donating time, effort, or money to an organization that goes out and does good for people can be a worthwhile spiritual act.

But my attitude is decidedly not universal. There are many people who do believe in a direct connection between spiritual action and earthly effect without a medium of human effort.

So, for those of you who do have this idea, how do you distinguish between claims of such connection? What to you makes such a claim plausible?