It’s sometimes cliché for Christians to warn about the dangers of idolizing wealth and money, but the negative impact it can have on our faith is more subtle than we often realize. Here are a few ways it covertly manipulates our spirituality:
1. We Use It To Measure Our Faith (and the Faith of Others):
In a culture obsessed with wealth, success, fame, and comfort, Christians often use wealth as a way to estimate their own spirituality. We assume God’s blessings translate into material possessions and riches, and we profusely thank God for jobs, promotions, paychecks, and brand new toys, but then cry out in panic when these same things disappear.
Commonly referred to as “the prosperity gospel,” individuals — and churches — are susceptible to the misguided belief that financial strength equates to spiritual maturity — it doesn’t.
Most would say they don’t believe in the prosperity gospel, yet there are still some worrisome signs within mainstream Christianity. For example, mission trips often go to third-world countries to do practical service projects and work, but the assumption is also that these places are also spiritually desolate — but why do we think that?
We assume that poverty stricken areas are less Christian than wealthy areas — they aren’t. Why do Bible colleges have inner-city ministry degree but not suburban-ministry degrees? Why don’t we send missionaries to Scandinavia and other ritzy European countries — some of the most secular places in the entire world — but continually focus on poor regions? Maybe it’s because we subconsciously continue to associate money with spirituality.
Jesus was quite clear that our allegiance was to be with the POOR, not the barons of Wall Street.
God's laws are immutable Gravity. Aging. Those sorts of things. We cannot change them. But we DO know that mere humans MADE UP the laws of the market economy and we don't have to follow its rules. We can choose to, but it’s a choice.
The rules that run our capitalistic system were invented by us. And we really do not have to play by those rules.
There’s an absurd character in The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry who reveals more about our capacity for self-delusion than we might want to admit. He’s called the King and when it comes to desire, he is as deluded about his own power as we are about ours. The King’s delusion is this: he believes that the movements of the sun, moon, and stars are the result of his commands. That’s right – the sun rises and sets because the King commands it to be so. Our delusion is nearly identical: we believe that we are the source of our desires, that they arise and fall at our command. Because of our shared delusions, we and the King are quite out of touch with reality. Remarkably, the cure for us is also the same – spending some quality time with the Little Prince.
Laying out a blueprint for the issues that are likely to define his papacy, Pope Francis on Tuesday issued a biting critique of capitalism, calling on world leaders to fight against poverty and for the rich to share their wealth, and urging the media to adjust its priorities.
“How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?” Francis asked in an 84-page “apostolic exhortation” that is widely seen as a road map for his papacy akin to a presidential State of the Union address.
“How can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving?” he asked. “Today, everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without possibilities, without any means of escape.”
AshleyMadison.com is an online dating site that boasts millions of users worldwide. While online dating has become commonplace in today’s wired society, AshleyMadison has added a shocking twist to what has become mundane. Rather than promising to join together singles of similar faiths and interests, AshleyMadison.com is an online site for married people seeking extramarital relations. Its tagline is simple: “Life is Short. Have an Affair.”
The majority of Americans view adultery as wrong, which, by extrapolation, means that most Americans can see the glaring immorality in AshleyMadison’s business model. There are, however, many more reasons beside adultery to be concerned with AshleyMadison’s creation and far-reaching success.
The founder and CEO of AshleyMadison.com, Noel Biderman, has been “happily married” for ten years to his wife, Amanda, and they have two children. Both he and his wife confess they would be “devastated” if the other used the website’s services. When asked how she felt when Biderman first presented his idea for the website to her, Amanda recalled feeling concerned, thinking the idea implied something unhealthy about Biderman. However, once Amanda realized that it was a “sound business, that there was an [underserved] market,” she was “totally behind” the website’s creation.
The Bidermans actually see the website as altruistic: they believe that an affair can save a marriage.
Robert Reich pulls up in his silver Mini Cooper, quipping that he and his car are in proportion to each other. Reich, former Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, identifies himself with the underdog, the little man.
His new movie, Inequality for All, looks into the effects of wealth inequality in the United States. Throughout this semi-autobiographical documentary, Reich consistently leans on his self-deprecating sense of humor by poking fun at his own physical stature; he’s 4’10 ½’’ tall. The jokes, however, do lead back to the heavier issue at hand – the American worker is getting squeezed out of the middle class.
We worry now, but we’ve been concerned about the economy for a long time. The economic recovery from the recession in America has been slower than we hoped, and people continue to suffer from the collapse of so many industries and jobs and safety nets. Much of the pain seems new for large swaths of the American population. But in reality, we’ve been worrying about money forever.
The August employment report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows a slight decline in the unemployment rate (down to 7.3 percent from 7.4 percent in July), according to Businessweek. But the drop is largely attributed to a reduction in the workforce of about 300,000. What’s more, the participation rate (number of people working or looking for work compared to the total working age population) fell from 63.4 percent to 63.2 percent, the lowest since 1978. The National Employment Law Project noted that much of the job growth in August was in retail and food service, industries that generally offer lower paying and part-time jobs.
Even though a growing number of economists see modest and encouraging signs in the recession recovery, the slow growth continues to cause trouble for many Americans. Businessweek writer, Matthew Philips, even questioned whether the economy might be “stuck in second gear” without hope of a more robust “third gear” to propel the recovery forward.
The economic health of the nation has long been a concern to people of faith, because we care for the poor, and poverty has been a persistent problem in rural area and urban centers alike. What’s more, we know there are people of all income levels who struggle with money and possessions, and we are concerned about this, too. We worry that people have enough to eat and that wealth not corrupt our best desires and intentions.
I’ve said many times before that I believe that some people who were Christians and left the faith or those who reject Christianity altogether do so not because of any objection to the teachings of Jesus Christ. They object to the actions of Christians themselves
The Christian Post recently reported that megachurch minister, Bishop, I.V. Hilliard, of the New Light Christian Center in Houston, made an interesting proposition to his congregation. According to the article, the church’s “Aviation Department” (yes, you read that correctly — aviation department) declared that the pastor’s helicopter (yes, you read that correctly — pastor’s helicopter) needed new blades. Click here to read the appeal letter.
This event is the same song but different verse of the prosperity gospel; this gospel promotes a tit-for-tat relationship with God. Since God wants you to be blessed and rich and prosperous, then giving to God will active that divine power within your life. At issue here is not only Bishop Hilliard’s request of money from the congregation for new helicopter blades, but also that Bishop Hilliard says that you will have divine favor in 52 days or 52 weeks if you donate $52. My initial reaction was “why not $40; that at least is a Biblical number?” Also, that’s quite a lengthy time frame — either a little over seven weeks or an entire calendar year. The problem with this mentality is that you will then start to look for it even if it is nowhere to be found.
People of faith and immigration activists around the country have their eyes fixed on Congress this month as both houses take up immigration reform. The bipartisan proposal being considered in the Senate would bring hope and opportunity to 11 million new Americans who aspire to be citizens, doing much to fix our broken immigration system.
While the path forward will be difficult, there is some good news this week that will influence the way policymakers think about this issue.
Conservative lawmakers have long been worried about the future costs of immigration reform, which they predicted would come from federal programs designed to help the poor such as Medicaid. They asked the Congressional Budget Office – a non-partisan government agency tasked with evaluating the cost of all legislative proposals – to give them a report far into the future to make sure that these costs were not hidden in their analysis.
In reality, the CBO found that bipartisan immigration reform in the Senate would trim nearly $1 trillion off the federal deficit, while spurring the economy and creating jobs.
Christianity can quickly devolve into caste systems, where faith communities are divided by the haves and the have-nots, the rich and the poor. Instead of unifying ourselves in Christ, we are dividing ourselves by how much money we can afford to spend.
How much money is required to be a Christian? Imagine how much money we’ve spent throughout our lifetime on “Christian” activities and products (not including tithing or mission-related donations) — now imagine if we gave this money to people who really needed it.
“Consumer Christianity” has turned our faith into a set of costs, and it’s becoming increasingly costly to maintain the Christian status quo. In John 2, the Bible tells the riveting story of Jesus entering the Temple and becoming furious at what He sees: vendors who have turned something holy into a commercial marketplace. Jesus is irate, and he basically tears the place apart because of their sin. But how different are our churches today?
Last week Pope Francis spoke out against the cult of money. Here is how Catholic News Service's Carol Glatz summarized his remarks:
Pope Francis called for global financial reform that respects human dignity, helps the poor, promotes the common good and allows states to regulate markets.
"Money has to serve, not to rule," he said in his strongest remarks yet as pope concerning the world's economic and financial crises.
A major reason behind the increase in social and economic woes worldwide "is in our relationship with money and our acceptance of its power over ourselves and our society," he told a group of diplomats May 16.
"We have created new idols" where the "golden calf of old has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal."
I played the New York lottery for the first time last week.
My $2 ticket didn't win the $588 million payout – surprise, surprise – but it did buy me several minutes of musing, most of it instructive, some of it enjoyable.
I quickly ran out of spending ideas – slightly larger apartment, new computer, clothes for my wife, a car to replace the two we sold when moving to Manhattan. I realized I couldn't even spend the income on a lottery bonanza, unless I started buying things I don't need or particularly want.
In the end, I liked the idea of financial security, but saw little to be gained from sudden wealth. In fact, given the misery that tends to befall lottery winners, I might have dodged a bullet by not winning.
After this brief fantasy, I wondered more than ever why the wealthy work so hard to avoid taxes and other obligations of citizenship. Even though their effective taxes are lower than they were during the Reagan years and far lower than during the great prosperity of the post-World War II era, the wealthy are lobbying fiercely to pay even less in taxes. Once again, they seem willing to crash the government for everyone, rather than pay their share of its support.