America’s Religion of Wealth

In the New Testament, there are two occurrences of the word wealth: a silversmith of Ephesus said to his fellow idol-makers “. . . ye know that by this craft we have our wealth” (Acts 19:25); and from Paul to the Corinthians, “Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth” (1 Cor 10:24). It is interesting to see these two statements juxtaposed onto America today. Our idol is wealth itself, the accumulation of which has become the American Dream. Whereas seeking another’s wealth, or the prosperity of another, is seen as anti-American.

The word “rich” or “riches” appears many times in the New Testament. Most of the occurrences refer to spiritual riches and the riches of God or those given by God. But many of them refer to temporal wealth. Only two of these are not held as a criticism of the holder of riches, and it is interesting to note them. The first is Zacchaeus (Luke 19:2-9) who was wealthy but told the Lord, “half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.” This was obviously true because “Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house.” The second example was Joseph of Arimathaea who gave his own sepulcher for the burial of Christ’s body. These two show what wealth should be used for. The Book of Mormon prophet Jacob elaborated, “ye will seek [riches] for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted” (Jacob 2:19). Moses wrote, “And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them” (Moses 7:18). How did it happen that there were no poor?

Recently there has been a huge brouhaha about “redistributing” wealth, and how anti-American the concept is. Let’s look at it through a New Testament lens. Acts 2:44-45 says, “And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.” Acts 4:32 says, “And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.” Judging from these cites and the statements from Zacchaeus, Moses and Jacob above, redistributing wealth is exactly what we should be doing.

Now, before I get called a socialist and get hung in effigy, let me make clear that the government is not the proper tool for doing this (I hear a sigh of relief). However, how do we go about it? Many want to continue in our comfortable ways until compelled to act by commandment. But hasn’t the commandment already been given in so many different ways? “Feed my sheep,” “pure religion,” “Come follow me.” And should we not begin taking steps toward the kind of world we know Christ would like to return to? Or do we secretly hope to delay his coming until we have a nice nest egg saved up for retirement?

Most give to charity, but are we like the rich who cast into the treasury of our abundance, or does it pinch just a bit (Mark 12: 41-44)? If it doesn’t pinch, is it a sacrifice?

The Encyclopædia Britannica encapsulates what I think has become a widely held spiritual justification for greed: “German sociologist Max Weber, in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904–05), held that the Protestant ethic was an important factor in the economic success of Protestant groups in the early stages of European capitalism; because worldly success could be interpreted as a sign of eternal salvation, it was vigorously pursued.” Too many of us believe that if we are righteous, we’ll be not only temporally but financially rewarded. If the question is reversed and we ask, “Are movie stars and hedge-fund managers wealthy because of their righteousness?” it is laughable. And yet we hold to the hope that God wants to reward our righteousness with wealth.

Much has also been made lately of the end of America with ridiculous statements of anti-Christs and economic collapse. In the face of such thinking, we need to ask, “Who is our Savior?” Is it a politician? an economic trend? a share price? a judicial appointment? Leo Tolstoy wrote with an ironic pen in Resurrection that a liaison official between the Church (Russian Orthodox) and the government thought “It was his duty to maintain, and to defend by external measures not excluding violence, that Church which, by its own declaration, was established by God himself and could not be shaken by the gates of hell or any human effort. This divine and immutable God-established institution had to be sustained and defended by a human institution.”

Too many people have told me they believe President-Elect Obama will undermine the divinely-inspired Constitution. Don’t they think Divinity can protect His work? In God do We Trust? If God wants America to continue to receive blessings, we better be worthy of them. If he does not, no politician, political party, agenda, or stance will quell his wrath. But what will? I think abandoning our idolatry of the Almighty Dollar is a good first step. And if none of this convinces you to be less greedy, then give more to charities—it will reduce your taxes.

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