Sunday, July 28, 2013

Getting a Grip About Poverty, Wealth, and Amos

Depending on who you listen to, 'those Christians' are nutjobs who hate booze and Bingo; or wackadoos who believe that God is a sort of sugar daddy.

Prudes, Poverty, and Profit Prophets

I've run into folks who seem convinced that physical pleasures are naughty.

The way some carry on about 'the world, the flesh, and the devil,' I get the impression that they don't approve of the visible world in general. Lust is a bad idea, by the way, and another topic. (1 John 2:16)

They also generally insist that God made this world, but I have no idea how they'd explain how God made a creation that's basically bad: and not notice. Unless maybe Genesis 1:31 isn't 'Biblical?!' Our current situation, by the way, involves free will and original sin, which doesn't mean what you may have heard.

Since wealth often brings some measure of physical comfort, this lot tends to see affluence as a sin.

Others seem equally convinced that God is obliged to heap wealth on folks who support a particular church or ministry. I haven't heard anyone call it a 'pay for prayer' program, but that's what it amounts to. I've discussed the prosperity gospel before, and it's a bad idea.1

I think folks who equate poverty and virtue, or who expect God to make 'good people' rich, are sincere.

I'm also quite sure that they're wrong.

'My Way or the Highway?'

Deciding that being wealthy is a bad idea can, for an individual, be a milestone on the way to Sainthood. But that doesn't mean that everybody needs to be poor.

Some Saints were extremely wealthy, and didn't let that get in the way of doing what's right. That doesn't mean that everyone should have the biggest house in town.

'My way or the highway' isn't, I think, a particularly good way to run a business: or anything else. Believing that everyone in the world should be just like me? That's silly, at best. 1 Corinthians 12 says differently, and that's almost another topic. (August 26, 2010)

Then there's the notion that burying a statue in your yard will magically increase the value of your house. That's wrong on several levels:

Rich, Poor, and Saintly

I think it's easy for Americans to look at folks like Saints Francis and Claire, both of Assisi, and assume that all Catholics should be Italians who live in poverty.

It doesn't work that way.

Saint Louis was king of France. He was not poverty-stricken. At all.

Sir Thomas More, former Chancellor of England, made sainthood because he decided that execution was preferable to going along with a king's plan to start a private little national church. He wasn't in the 'I own a nation' economic class, but he was far from poor.

They became Saints because they "practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God's grace." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 826)

Personal wealth or poverty don't matter, apart from providing different opportunities and obstacles. What matters is how we decide to use what we've got.

Snakes and Fish, Scorpions and Eggs

I can see how someone could cherry pick support for 'prosperity gospel' ideas from the Bible.

For example, today's Gospel reading, Luke 11:1-13, includes this:
" 'And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.

"For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

"What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish?

"Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg?

"If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the holy Spirit 5 to those who ask him?' "
(Luke 11:9-13)
Assuming that money, and the stuff money can buy, is all there is to life - - - that's a flawed assumption, in my considered opinion. I don't mind having money, at all: and I've never turned down a fee, even when I'd have done a job for nothing.

But I grew up in an era when too many Americans had given their kids everything money could buy, and little else. We're still doing disaster cleanup from that sociopolitical debacle. On the other hand, my generation helped correct some long-standing errors:
And that's yet another topic.

Amos and Ephas

Sometimes it's easy to tell who's the bad guy: he's the one with a top hat and narrow mustache.

Fall Production, McQuaid Jesuit, November 18-21, 2009
(from Arts, McQuaid Jesuit, used w/o permission)
" 'Adrift in New York or Her First False Step'
"An old fashioned melodrama"

Real life is a bit more complicated.

Amos was a shepherd who denounced the "hollow prosperity of the northern kingdom," which got him kicked out of Bethel.
"Hear this, you who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land!

"1 'When will the new moon be over,' you ask, 'that we may sell our grain, and the sabbath, that we may display the wheat? We will diminish the ephah, add to the shekel, and fix our scales for cheating!

"We will buy the lowly man for silver, and the poor man for a pair of sandals; even the refuse of the wheat we will sell!'

"2 The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Never will I forget a thing they have done!"
(Amos 8:4-7)
I could select bits and pieces from Amos, and claim that being rich is a sin. That kind of trouble I don't need. Jeremiah 28:12-17, and all that.

It looks like being rich wasn't the problem. Trampling the needy, unjust meddling with commerce, and using wealth as a club: that was a problem. Sometimes it still is.

Speaking of prophecy for fun and profit, I won't contribute to America's perennial 'End Times Biblical prophecies!' - read all about it, just $19.95, or whatever mass-market paperbacks go for these days. For one thing, I couldn't do that sort of writing with a straight face; and for another, there's Revelation 22:18-19.

We've been on 'standby alert' for two millennia and counting, and that's yet again topic. (Matthew 24:3-4: Matthew 28:16-20; John 14:1-21; and particularly Mark 13:32-37; for starters)

If this post seems a little disjointed, I'm not surprised. It's been a hectic week, and I'm still catching up on sleep. Still, it could be worse. I finished another blog's post at about 4:00 a.m., Friday morning:

Getting a grip about:

1 I've discussed the prosperity gospel and other bad ideas before. (May 17, 2013) Here's some background:
"...The Renaissance and the Reformation have shaped the modern western individual, who is not weighed down by external burdens like merely extrinsic authority and tradition; people feel the need to 'belong' to institutions less and less (and yet loneliness is very much a scourge of modern life), and are not inclined to rank 'official' judgements above their own. With this cult of humanity, religion is internalised in a way which prepares the ground for a celebration of the sacredness of the self. This is why New Age shares many of the values espoused by enterprise culture and the 'prosperity Gospel' (of which more will be said later: section 2.4), ..."
("Jesus Christ The Bearer Of The Water Of Life," 1.1) [emphasis mine]

"...In a New Age perspective, illness and suffering come from working against nature; when one is in tune with nature, one can expect a much healthier life, and even material prosperity; for some New Age healers, there should actually be no need for us to die...."
("Jesus Christ The Bearer Of The Water Of Life," 2.2.3)

"...New Age training courses (what used to be known as 'Erhard seminar trainings' [EST] etc.) marry counter-cultural values with the mainstream need to succeed, inner satisfaction with outer success; ... some New Age devotees are involved not only to become more authentic and spontaneous, but also in order to become more prosperous (through magic etc.). 'What makes things even more appealing to the enterprise-minded businessperson is that New Age trainings also resonate with somewhat more humanistic ideas abroad in the world of business....they are likely to appeal to those businesspeople who have already been involved with more (secular) humanistic trainings and who want to take things further: at one and the same time for the sake of personal growth, happiness and enthusiasm, as well as for commercial productivity.(46)"
("Jesus Christ The Bearer Of The Water Of Life," 2.4) [emphasis mine]

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I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

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Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

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