Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Problem of Prosperity Doctrine...


I have recently read and replied to some Facebook posts in my network regarding so called "prosperity doctrine" within Christianity. It basically is about the idea that God somehow wants all "believers" to be prosperous and rich. It is a fundamentalist religious approach similar to "The Power of Positive Thinking" as written in the early 1950s by Norman Vincent Peale. Somehow in the latest doctrine, just "believing" is enough...very little "thinking" or "doing" seems to be needed.

At an earlier age than most, I read "Power of Positive Thinking", and I do think it has continued to impact the core of my being in sometimes invisible ways. Yet, I have to take exception to the "pray and grow rich" mentality that unfortunately seems to source itself from our materialistic, hedonistic, consumerist mentality in the USA.

America has truly been blessed the past 200 years or so...though I think that "blessing" has been largely based on hard work and right thinking when it comes to individual rights and free enterprise. Unfortunately, in just the last 60 years or so, we have moved from that model to one where either government or God has to take care of us...because we are somehow powerless to take care of ourselves financially. I don`t know for sure if this mentality originated in government or religion, but I would suggest that the two institutions now play quite nice together in growing dependent, weak and despondent followers to support their programs. Of course, I am over generalizing...but I still think a majority of supporters of these institutions participate based on need more than pure belief, reason or passion.

While there are many directions one could go philosophically on this subject, let me focus on what I have observed the most in my life...and that I think impacts a large number of my friend and family, some of whom follow my blogs. What I am writing is not with the intent of hurting or tearing down...but to challenge and hopefully lead to the real truth behind some wrongful reasonings.

Though it has oft times been tremendously confusing, I have been a lifelong reader of religious doctrines and apologetics. Most of my exposure has been to Christian traditions since my Grandfather-father figure was a fundamentalist, evangelical minister. I have been trying to catch up in the last couple decades with comparative understanding of other religions such as Judaism and Islam...primarily because so much of our future acculturation will depend on all these religions understanding each other and "getting along". Obviously it is not an easy task.

I have been discussing with many of my "home folks" of Christian persuasion the true meaning of being a "Christian". I am reluctant to call myself one anymore primarily because it means so many different things to different people. Just in America alone, last I knew there were 108 different denominations called "Baptist", and even in the mainline churches such as Presbyterian, Lutheran, Congregational, etc...there have been so many divisions and schisms in the past century that I think it would be hard to pinpoint a pure commonality for those religious labels as well.

Most Christians I know would probably fundamentally define a "Christian" as "one who follows Christ". That is the most basic definition I can think of for the word anyways. But then, the problem comes with defining who Christ was...is or will be.

Since we still have not seen the "second coming" that fundamentalist Christians believe in...the main thing Christians have as a guide to following Christ are his teachings and examples as revealed in the Bible. Now, since most of those writings were written almost 2000 years ago to a very different culture, day and age...many have taken it upon themselves to modernize or reinterpret many things that were standard to Jesus` teachings and related to the Jewish and other Mediterranean cultures. We now have some very different ways of viewing and doing things than the original "Christian" church did. This does not necessarily create problems for me personally as I think this should be expected in a belief system...evolution, progress, enlightenment...whatever you want to call it. Yet, I get continually challenged or piqued by modern day "fundamentalists" who pick and choose what parts of the old they want to keep, and what part of the original teachings they want to ignore.

I think most Christian churches have become too caught up in traditions, pomp and circumstances that my perception of "Jesus" would have no interest or time for. I think he primarily lived for the poor masses, came from an impoverished, occupied land of Israel...and exclaimed himself to be the Jewish Messiah that all religious Jews were looking for to deliver them. Yet...he had a very different idea from them of what "deliverance" was all about. Even in Jesus time, religion and government were constantly dancing together to try and control the masses...and in modern day politics we see this still playing out quite effectively.

All of this preamble to setup the main point of discussion. Religion...and politics...has become all about the money. Most religious programs in churches or on TV spend significant time on "fundraising" or taking offerings. Most of this money goes to support the "program" of superstructures, church salaries, travel costs for groups going to other countries to "evangelize" other nations or cultures...and hopefully some is left over for the local poor and hungry though from what I have seen that is probably less than 10-15% of the annual budget of most local churches.

Like big government with the upside down pyramid of entitlements and dependencies...I think most Christian churches have drank the same Koolaid of big programs, edifice complexes, media spending and other "marketing" campaigns as political governments have developed into. Church for many now is about "clean entertainment" and self gratification...uplifting self to being "close to MY God"...as if God can be reduced to our pitiful levels of existence. What happened to the great MAJESTY of a God to be FEARED? In this case I think the Jews have a more realistic view of who or what God is really all about.

But back to the "Christian"...how does being prosperous fit into a majority of Jesus` teachings that you SAY you believe in? Here are a few examples...not MY words...

"If anyone will be my disciple, let him take up his cross and follow me"

“Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” ...Matthew 8:20

Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it....Matthew 10:38,39

“Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”...Matthew 19:23,24

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also...Matthew 6:19-21

Ecclesiastes 5:10
Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless.

1 Timothy 6:10
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs

OK...much more could be quoted or said...but I think the point is...there is very little Biblical content tied to a "prosperity doctrine". I also think every modern day Christian should read Dietrich Bonhoeffer`s "The Cost of Discipleship" before taking a stance on this issue. He lost his life at 39 years of age standing up to Hitler`s Nazi regime for his faith...which was not a very prosperous thing to do.

I now tend to quote more worldly sayings to support my personal viewpoint on the subject...such as:

You cant take it with you...

He who dies with the most friends, not the most toys...wins...

Some of the most miserable people I have known have been the richest I have known...

It is the LOVE of money, not money itself, that is the root of all evil.

Money cannot buy class or character...

Own your money, dont let money own you.

The rule is not to talk about money with people who have much more or much less than you

When money speaks, the truth remains silent

And just about my favorite..."Prosperity is a way of living and thinking, and not just money or things. Poverty is a way of living and thinking, and not just a lack of money or things.
- Eric Butterworth

1 comment:

Security Leaders Group said...

Right on Ed. The catholic upbringing I had never exposed me to the prosperity thing. It was always about the "give up everything and follow Jesus". I finally gave up on Catholicism when I noticed the banners at the Church on the Campus at UofM were quotes from Marx.

I always viewed wealth as the means to do more interesting things. Richard Branson and Elon Musk are great examples of what I hoped to do. But I, like you, discovered you can have an impact and accomplish great things without wealth, and be happy doing so!