Thursday, August 30, 2007

Poverty, Prosperity, and Fluid Paradigms, Oh My!

Former NFL coach Bill Parcels was famous for making comments like, “They are what they are” or “it is what it is” which usually made for good newspaper fodder and sports talk banter. Economists have been saying for years, “Preferences are preferences,” i.e. “they are what they are.” Somehow it isn’t as glamorous and doesn’t challenge anyone’s masculinity when we say it.

Also, that statement as an economist may be fine for the classroom but that may be the point at which economics and Christianity depart. The author of James makes the following claim about the religion of Christianity, stating, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” A view of such a religion shapes our beliefs in a couple of ways by shaping our concept of God and how we interact with both God and people. What follows will be the continuation of an earlier post, “Good Boots and a Good Bed” and should serve as a further analysis of conspicuous consumption.

We’ve got the poverty gospel, the prosperity gospel and some variations in between. Most people don’t believe that God wants them to be destitute and according to a TIME Magazine article written by David Van Beama and Jeff Chu titled, “Does God Want You To Be Rich?”many would agree.

In a TIME poll, 17% of Christians surveyed said they considered themselves part of such a movement, while a full 61% believed that God wants people to be prosperous. And 31%--a far higher percentage than there are Pentecostals in America--agreed that if you give your money to God, God will bless you with more money.

It seems so many of these movements come from a population's concept of God. We see God as a promise keeper so we celebrate and shout declarations about our inheritance. The sad thing is that there would be a lot of people that would join Christianity if being Christian meant you could drive a Rolls. Then there are others that see Jesus Christ the suffering servant and head for the hills, deny themselves of everything in the material world and never speak to anyone (ala Monty Python's The Life of Brian). Also, let me throw this out at you,

I was thinking in class today, "I want to be a missionary some day." If my salary is $100,000 a year and I give away $50,000 dollars each year and I'm a missionary for 3 years of my life some form of charity has just lost 50Ka year. Similarly if I decide to take less hours at my job because I enjoy playing tennis on Saturdays does the money I could have earned and didn't earn count as conspicuous consumption? These are radical comparisons but I'll bring it to the point soon.

We're called to go out by Jesus, it's the Great Commission. If someone elses mission consists of moving to the hills never to speak to anyone again and worship the heart of God then they should do that. God has called other people to stranger missions . . . see Eziekel. But if many decided they were going to live a hermetic lifestyle would that be good for those in need? If everyone who had money said this is an obvious blessing of God let me buy giant houses and fast cars would that help the poor?

Preferences aren't just preferences. There are good preferences and there are right preferences and I will say that there is not a uniform hard line on what that looks like but I would suggest that there should be deep peace on major purchases. I don't mean to make it sound formulaic but consumption is a big part of our lives we do it everyday. It's a wisdom thing.

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