Hanna Rosin has written a piece called, “Did Christianity cause the crisis?” in The Atlantic (vol. 304, issue 5, pp. 38-48). She describes the current prosperity gospel, which, it seems, contributed to the sub-prime mortgage collapse and ensuing financial crisis. Unhinged from their economic realities, many evangelical Christians who had hitherto only been able to rent decided to go for huge houses because “nothing is impossible with God,” and “God makes the true believers wealthy.” These Christians could cite 2 John 2: “I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health.” Unlike the Christian emphasis on virtues such as self-discipline and industriousness that characterized the evangelical titans of the Gilded Age such as John D. Rockefeller, the modern evangelical relies on grace as a kind of spiritual luck applying to risky financial activities. Little attention was paid to the predatory mortgage-lending industry, which would make contributions to the megachurches for each congregant who signed up for a sub-prime. Hence pastors preached the believer’s right to the good life as if Jesus had been a friend of money (ignoring what he did to the money-changers). In any case, the irrational exuberance of the housing bubble may have had in it a component of irrationalism from religion–people taking leave of their senses (and their responsibilities) and being utterly blind to it under the subterfuge of a divine sanction.
Stepping back to grasp the phenomenon from the perspective of the religion, it strikes me that the too close a friendship between Christianity and the good life eviscerates the distance between the faith and the world. In other words, the Kingdom of God penetrates the world rather than acts as a check or alternative. No longer are the last first and the first, last. No longer is there an eye of the needle for the camel–rather, the doors are wide open. And no longer must the rich man walk away from his treasure to follow Jesus. God and mammon effectively fuse, adding power to self-centeredness by clothing it in gilded robes. This is particularly evident in the preachers–the scandals alone, such as that of Jim and Tami, attest that something has been amiss. In other words, there is something downright odd about a minister or pastor living in luxury: Christianity become too convenient for its own good.
Stepping back even further: Is it inevitable that a religion goes through a life-cycle of sorts during which it becomes decreasingly distinct and increasingly feckless vis a vis the world? If so, are we witnessing perhaps the final centuries of Christianity?
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