Saturday, August 24, 2013

Finally, a cleric calls out the Gospel According to Ralph Lauren.

I've been waiting for other men/women of the cloth to weigh in on the likes of Joel Osteen (whose cloth is custom-made only), and it's been a long, frustrating and frankly shocking wait. (I guess those evangelical types tend to have each other's designer-clad backs.) Finally, though, my Jobs-like patience has been rewarded via this piece by Pastor Rick Henderson.

For reasons of time and deadlines, I haven't looked into Henderson's background, so I'm going to assume this isn't just a case of some Osteen competitor/wannabe calling the kettle black, so to speak.

Anyway, I especially like the graph that goes:

There is nothing wrong with being wealthy. I love it when Christians are rich. That should mean more money to fund the mission. But there is a line to how much money we as leaders should spend on ourselves. I don't know where the line is, but it is somewhere before the ministry purchasing million dollar homes for us and our kids. That line is somewhere before purchasing us a $10 million private jet. The line is somewhere before the ministry spending $261, 498 for 68 pieces of furniture. That equates to $3,845.56 per item...
Note particularly the way Henderson ties the attainment of great wealth with "more money to fund the mission." Though I'm not crazy about the opening line of the graph, which I think misleads, clearly what he means in context is that there's nothing wrong with becoming wealthy if you then use that wealth for humanitarian purposes. Can a Christian stay wealthy and continue to be a true Christian? I tend to think the answer is no. Scripture isn't my forte, but what about the meek inheriting the Earth and all that? Here I am somewhat reminded of the closing scenes of Schindler's List, where industrialist Otto Schindler is tearfully recounting how many additional lives he might have saved by spending just a few dollars less frivolously here and there. (Play the clip above; it may not fully hit home if you haven't seen the film, but it's worth it for the heartbreaking theme alone.)

So how much money is "enough"? I don't know that either. And I'm not saying that I think people shouldn't be allowed to be wealthy (although I do think that at the upper echelons of American wealth, where right now people are beginning to browse elitist Christmas catalogs in quest of $50,000 espresso makers, the narcissism and general self-indulgence are a bit hard to take). I'm saying I don't understand how a sincere follower of Christ can allow himself or herself to become wealthy. One would think that genuine adherence to one's religious principles would call for, if not exactly a vow of poverty, surely the divestiture of the vast sums that so many wealthy Americans boast.

The bastardization of religion is also visible in the so-called "relevancy" and "felt needs" movements, premised on the notion that if people enjoy doing things at which traditional religion tends to look down its judgmental nose, the obvious course of action is to...redefine the religion so that it now embraces those once-outlying beliefs and/or behaviors.

Once again, see, it's ALL ABOUT YOU!


RevRon's Rants said...

You wrote, "One would think that genuine adherence to one's religious principles would call for, if not exactly a vow of poverty, surely the divestiture of the vast sums that so many wealthy Americans boast."

I took a vow of poverty many years ago, and it took me a number of years to fully understand what it entailed. Rather than the typically misinterpreted meaning, wherein the individual refuses to allow him or herself to seek greatly desired objects, I came to realize that a vow of poverty is actually an affirmative statement that "I have enough."

The obsession that some supposed spiritual teachers have with material wealth is the polar opposite, yet many people who share that obsession eagerly accept their teachers' rationalization, as it lets them off the hook for having ignored the tenets of their chosen faith in their own quest for more "stuff," as well as their preference for amassing their own wealth while remaining oblivious to the suffering that could be so easily diminished, were even a portion of that wealth be put to humanitarian uses.

IMO, it boils down to an ever-swelling embrace of narcissism as a spiritual path, and gives rise to the abdication of any responsibility for participating in the social contract that made it possible to acquire wealth in the first place. The tired rationalization that faith-based groups and individuals should support the needy rather than government doing the job ignores the existence of that narcissism, not to mention the fact that in a society as large as the US, only the government is large enough and far-reaching enough to actually manage the scope of the problems faced. Remove the government from the process, and the suffering expands logarithmically.

To the narcissist, however, that suffering must be attributed to the victims' personal flaws, thereby eliminating anyone else's responsibility for easing it. New Wage doctrine seems to indicate that not only must followers deny responsibility for helping, they must go a step further and ignore the suffering entirely, lest they become infected with the "negativity" that brought that suffering to fruition.

This is not to imply that "traditional" religions are immune. One need only look to the self-professed conservatives' demand that the poor pull themselves up by the bootstraps, rather than continue to live as parasites on society. Never mind that some people don't even have boots, or that the analogy describes an action that is physically impossible. The battle cry is that "I became wealthy because I worked hard, and resent being told to give my hard-earned wealth to someone who doesn't deserve it!"

To those who raise their fists in the air at hearing such a statement, I'd suggest that their issue isn't with "liberals," government, or the poor at all, but rather with Christ, or Buddha, or whomever they hold up as a spiritual model. Because it is those models who tell us to be compassionate, to help our neighbors, and to realize that there are many things more important than wealth.

Dimension Skipper said...

First, well said, Ron!

Second, from The Washington Post a few days ago...

You give religions more than $82.5 billion a year
By Dylan Matthews
August 22, 2013

Matt Yglesias thinks we ought to start taxing churches. “Whichever faith you think is the one true faith, it’s undeniable that the majority of this church-spending is going to support false doctrines,” he notes. Even if you did direct the money toward the one true faith, it’d still be a bad idea, as “Upgrading a church’s physical plant doesn’t enhance the soul-saving capacity of its clergy.”

Regardless of whether you buy Yglesias’s logic, this raises an interesting question — exactly how much money are we talking about here? If, all of a sudden, churches, synagogues, mosques and the like lost their tax privileges, how much tax revenue would that generate?

. . . .

Henriette said...

Your post reminded me of the article in Psychology Today about the Dali Lami being treated like a rock star for no good reason. Here is an article along those lines:
No one really calls out the Dali Lama for his self-help drivel and lack of depth, but people quote his fortune cookie tweets all the time.

Steve Salerno said...

Good point, Henriette...though I suspect we are about to take some flak from other precincts in the SHAMblogsphere... ;)

RevRon's Rants said...

As a society, we've pretty well established that our collective attention span won't tolerate discussions of any depth, and prefers the "drivel" of one-liners, especially when such one-liners express our disdain for anyone who believes differently that ourselves or (gasp!) dares to challenge our exalted self-image.

Beyond our seeming unwillingness to consider different perspectives, we also seem to be striving to prove the truth of Vonnegut's description of ideas as mere badges, worn to express friendship or enmity rather than to inspire actual thought. We even invented catchy phrases to reinforce our dismissiveness of ideas themselves - "If wishes were horses..."

In keeping with this trend, we seem to idolize those who speak words that we can understand and agree with, and revile those who threaten our comfortable world-view. Such self-serving behaviors might dull a perceived threat to our self-images, but do little to actually improve our lives.

IMO, the most significant irony in this kind of behavior is that the core elements of the belief systems we tend to revile are actually quite similar - if not identical - to those by which we claim to live our lives, thereby offering even more proof that the badges we wear are more important to us than what those badges actually say. The end result, as Vonnegut warned, was that "homicidal beggars could ride." And one need only look at the news to see that they are riding very well, not only in terrorist camps, but in our own hometowns, where individuals who are somehow "different" are dehumanized and ultimately robbed of their very lives.

Perhaps a good starting point at which we might reverse this destructive trend might be to be as respectful of others as we would have them be respectful of us. You know, that Christian "Golden Rule" that gets bandied about so casually. And though it is a minor point, I'd suggest that if one chooses to deride another's behavior, it would be more productive to at least make an effort to quote them correctly and - dare I suggest it - bother to spell their name correctly. Perhaps with even this modest effort, we might come to realize that the most important guidance in our lives is also the simplest. Might even inspire us to reconsider our definition of the word "drivel."

Jenny said...

Where does one even start responding to this posting? My checkered history with Christianity leaves me completely biased.

To listen to one Christian bash another Christian is amusing and entertaining, but is it instructive? No, not really. Pot meet kettle. A sinner ought not throw stones at the glass house of another sinner, especially when both parties are inclined to look at humans as guilt-ridden, poverty-stricken, hopeless wretches desperately in need of a savior.

I was just looking at that article as it was originally posted on the blog of "Pastor Rick Henderson." Sweet creeping Jesus! Look at the staggering number of comments it generated. I could spend hours reading them, had I not made other plans for how to spend this Sunday afternoon.

I guess these conversations about religion are just going to rage on until humans can no longer speak. I don't see how any of it is helpful, the arguing, the back-and-forth tit for tat, shit for shat, go-nowhere interpretations of what "God" wants, means, intends, says, etc.

I know, I sound bitter. I'm really not, though. Just somewhat disillusioned.

It's a thought-provoking article, Steve. Thanks as always for the insight you bring and for hosting this ever-evolving forum.