Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Christianity caused our current financial crisis?

Boy, do I have a lot to blog about, as I've put this off for way too long. Basically, I dumped a ton of time into my Cell Biology midterm, and it payed off big time. But it's only just begun. I still have a Genetics exam to deal with.

Still, this item came along, and I just had to say something about it. A recent article in The Atlantic ascribes some of the blame for our current financial crisis to mainstream churches. The reason? Apparently, because of Prosperity Doctrine.

The article points out how prosperity preachers are so popular as to be among the bulk of mainstream evangelical churches these days. Any church that's a "big box" denomination of some sort is almost certain to have a prosperity preacher at the heart of it. After all, nothing attracts those who want to store up treasures in heaven quite like a gospel which teaches that you can also store up treasures here on earth.

But what is prosperity preaching? For those who are unaware, it's a descendant of the idea of faith-healing. Essentially, it comes from Mark 11:22, where the disciples of Jesus, amazed that Jesus had cursed a fig tree and it had withered within only a day (after the fig tree dared to have no figs out of season for him, the nerve of that dendrite!), exclaimed their surprise. Then Jesus says, "Verily I say unto you, whosoever shall say unto this mountain, 'Be thou removed, and be cast into the sea!' and shall not doubt, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass, he shall have whatsoever he saith." I'm probably getting some small detail of the quote wrong, since I'm too lazy to go to my bookshelf and look it up to make sure, but I'm getting the essence of it right.

Well, this idea has been used to promote the idea of the Lord giving you the power to be healed by faith. It works like this: Believe that you've been healed, and bam! You ARE healed. Of course, it's not always that simple. If you end up not being cured of your M.S., for example, it's probably because your faith is weak. (I actually saw this first-hand back when I was a Christian. So sad for the woman who languished away, trusting that God would heal her.) Anyway, the idea easily was extended to other things. After all, if you can claim healing by faith, then you can claim any other success in your endeavors, provided that your wishes are in accordance with God's will. So if you want to build a successful church, you believe that it's already done in God's plan for you, and it happens. Naturally, this gets further extended into personal finances. God wants his children to have the means to be able to do His will on earth, you see. And that means you don't have to be poor! You can be financially successful to be able to do God's glorious work with the money! Ah, but you have to be in accordance with God's will, and that means that FIRST, you must faithfully tithe. God will then give back to you, "good measure, shaken together, and running over."

It sounds at least somewhat biblical. Certainly there are plenty of scriptures where God rewarded His faithful servants with financial reward, such as Solomon or Job. Besides, what better way to get the attention off the fact that the preacher is wearing an Italian suit and a gold chain than to say that you too can have such success? The problem is, of course, that it tricks all kinds of well-meaning souls into giving 10% of their income, such as it is, to said rich minister in hopes that their financial woes will soon be over. What this usually results in is the poor sods being 10% poorer, and no closer to being Donald Trump. The prosperity preacher, on the other hand, sets a good little example of what one could hope to someday be. (Hem hem!)

The worst part of this is that the majority of churches, by number, struggle just to keep the lights on. But the few that don't, that are rolling in it due in large part to the gospel of financial wealth, are claiming the lion's share of church membership. They are ecclesiastical Wal-Marts, promising great deals, and sucking the surrounding area dry.

Okay, fine, but what does this have to do with the housing market? Well, enough people follow the prosperity doctrine these days to create a false expectation of the hope of future wealth among as much as 20% of the population. These people, believing by faith that God will grant them future riches, are far more likely to enter into home loans which they shouldn't. And if enough people do that, the housing market sets itself up for a fall. This, says the article in The Atlantic, is quite possibly what set up the conditions for collapse in 2008.

Is this article correct? Well, there is, of course, the role that predatory lenders played in all of this, deciding to grant loans to people with unworthy credit prospects in exchange for exorbitant interest rates. There is also the role of government removing key checks and balances from the moneylending industry. But aside from that, yes, the role of evangelical churches did contribute heavily to the problem. That, and talking heads shows like Oprah, telling families everywhere that personal wealth began with home ownership -- an idea which has always been a monetary mirage in a fiscal desert. No, the prosperity preachers didn't cause the housing bubble, nor did it cause that bubble to burst. But it definitely inflated that bubble to a great degree.

So why does this intrigue me? Only because I repeatedly hear people asking me, "What's the harm? Really, what's the harm if people believe something which gives them personal comfort?" The answer is myriad, of course. But at its basic element, it has to do with clinging to false hope when one could have a harder, but at least genuine hope. These people had faith in God to grant them wealth, and all they got was an empty wallet, and a foreclosed mortgage. It's sometimes counter-intuitive, but it is always better to have the cold-hard, prickly truth than the softest, most lovaby comfortable illusions.

1 comment:

cobbie said...

Okay, so you've made a point that perhaps faith in God may contribute to a person's willingness to adopt a higher level of financial risk. So what is your solution? What do you think would change things?