Saturday, May 21, 2005

Echidne's Saturday Sermon

Not really. More of a rant on sermons, probably, caused by this article in the New York Times about how the evangelical Christians are planning to take the Ivy League back to Christ from its current "pre-Christian" state. What struck me most about this article was the focus on the idea that Jesus wants his followers to be wealthy and successful in earthy goods:

Meanwhile, evangelical Protestants are pulling closer to their mainline counterparts in class and education. As late as 1965, for example, a white mainline Protestant was two and a half times as likely to have a college degree as a white evangelical, according to an analysis by Prof. Corwin E. Smidt, a political scientist at Calvin College, an evangelical institution in Grand Rapids, Mich. But by 2000, a mainline Protestant was only 65 percent more likely to have the same degree. And since 1985, the percentage of incoming freshmen at highly selective private universities who said they were born-again also rose by half, to 11 or 12 percent each year from 7.3 percent, according to the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles.

To many evangelical Christians, the reason for their increasing worldly success and cultural influence is obvious: God's will at work.
As the denomination grew, Assemblies preachers began speaking not only of heavenly rewards but also of the material blessings God might provide in this world. The notion was controversial in some evangelical circles but became widespread nonetheless, and it made the Assemblies' faith more compatible with an upwardly mobile middle class.

By the 1970's, Assemblies churches were sprouting up in affluent suburbs across the country. Recent surveys by Margaret Poloma, a historian at the University of Akron in Ohio, found Assemblies members more educated and better off than the general public.

As they flourished, evangelical entrepreneurs and strivers built a distinctly evangelical business culture of prayer meetings, self-help books and business associations. In some cities outside the Northeast, evangelical business owners list their names in Christian yellow pages.
"God has always used wealthy people to help the church," Mr. Havens said. He pointed out that in the Bible, rich believers helped support the apostles, just as donors to the Christian Union are investing strategically in the Ivy League today.

It's annoying. I know that human beings have always rewritten religion to go with what they wish to do anyway (whether it is slaughtering their opponents or making money or having lots of sex), but the Bible is one of the holy books which is pretty clear on the incompatibility of wealth and faith. Remember the eye of the needle and whatever was meant to go through it (some sources say a camel, some say a rope, but both are equally unlikely to make it)? And all the times that Jesus told rich men to give up their wealth? And how those who own two shirts or tunics should give one up?

Are these literalist believers, I wonder, and if so, how do they reconcile all this re-interpreting with literalism?

The idea that Christ wants you to be rich seems to be very popular these days. Many of the new megachurches thrive on this idea, and no wonder, as it makes religion rather painless. But isn't religion supposed to be something more than a way to whitewash your own greed? Something more than the chance to feel superior to all those heathens who Are Not Like Us? Isn't religion supposed to stretch our thinking and our limits in deeper ways than by suggesting that it would be a good thing to have more money?

The idea that God marks out the saved ones on earth by making them successful is not new, of course. Calvinism endorses this, for example. But Jesus did not. Read what He actually said if you don't believe me.