Monday, September 11, 2006
Does God Want You To Be Rich?
This is Time's cover story for the week - Does God want you to be rich?
(Pictured, The Rich Man and Lazarus.)
It deals with the slick new mega churches, the prosperity church. We have seen versions of these on television, Jim and Tammy Baker more or less set the stage, if you will, for these churches that proliferate the suburbs. It's a church without liturgy, mostly preaching and singing and feel good stuff. They also do charitable work. Lot's of dramatic preaching however, especially on how God wants you to have abundance in your life. Tithe, tithe, tithe, and you'll get it back in abundance. Oprah preaches the same sermon. It seem s to work - for them. Oprah is rich and so are most of these preachers.
One TV pastor is quoted in the article saying this about the new prosperity 'theology';
"Who would want to get in on something where you're miserable, poor, broke and ugly and you just have to muddle through until you get to heaven?" asks Joyce Meyer, a popular television preacher and author often lumped in the Prosperity Lite camp. "I believe God wants to give us nice things." (A lot of people seem to think that. I'm sure God does, but remember what Our Lady said to Bernadette, "I can't promise to make you happy in this life, but in the next.")
I love how pastor Meyer included ugly, she might have included the lame, the crippled, the retarded, and mentally ill, conjoined twins, the blind and hearing impaired, or old folks abandoned in nursing homes and slums. Don't forget the third world living in cardboard shacks. (Although, to be fair, I think some of their charities may attempt to help persons in these situations. The congregation contributes generously, hoping to receive a hundredfold in return. Would that mean they already have their reward if they do?)
Think of the saints who chose to follow Jesus by renouncing wealth and worldly honors. I can think of one ugly saint right off the bat, Blessed Margaret of Costello - yep, her prosperous parents got rid of her. Jesus himself cautioned against riches and the Old Testament notion that these were a sign of God's favor. To the contrary, Our Lord chose to be poor, born in a stable of a poor Virgin, raised by a poor carpenter. His poverty was such, he proclaimed, "The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."
He taught his disciples, warning them that for a rich man to be saved it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. Now whether he meant a sewing needle, or a gate in the city wall that was difficult to traverse, he was clearly stating that riches can be a hindrance on the road to salvation. (I mean, he repeated himself, saying, "How difficult it is for a rich man to be saved.) In another place, warning against riches he states, "where your heart is, there is your treasure also - a man cannot serve both God and riches."
The entire Gospel praises poverty, humility, penance, prayer, and even suffering. Jesus calls the Christian to deny his very self and take up his cross and follow him, affirming to Philip, "You know the way - follow me." What is the way Jesus walked? Nothing less than, poverty, humility, penance, prayer, and even suffering.
The prosperity churches seem to be a contradiction of the Gospel. I know one woman, who had been a Catholic but now attends a local mega church. She is divorcing her husband who is dying from severe heart disease. She wants the house and all of the assets. She attends her church at least three times a week. Something is askew there.
Of course there are similar stories in every denomination of Christians - perhaps these are aberrations, I don't know. I know wealthy Catholics, devout and charitable, albeit rich, they are poor in spirit. I also know wealthy Catholics that are very proud of their wealth and like to flaunt it. They count every penny and yet live extravagantly, looking for deals whenever, wherever they can. Status and wealth are extremely important to them. They remain aloof from those 'beneath' them, unless these people can benefit them in some manner. I'll never forget hearing about a retired couple, who have a very nice bank account, asking their doctor if he could give them a break on their bill because they were on Social Security. Riches can be a trap for anyone. That is why I don't trust the prosperity gospel - it contradicts Our Lord's teaching and example.