Magazine article The Christian Century

Cornucopia Kids and Parents: Bowing Down to Mammon

Magazine article The Christian Century

Cornucopia Kids and Parents: Bowing Down to Mammon

Article excerpt

AS WE DISCUSS bow we want to raise our two children, we are haunted by the vampiric seduction of wealth in our society. We worry that we are producing "cornucopia kids"--kids who have been given too much. In Beyond the Cornucopia Kids (Direction Dynamics), Bruce A. Baldwin talks about the parents who want their children to have the advantages they did not have, yet are dismayed to find that their children are growing up to be spoiled and self-indulgent. It turns out that having some "disadvantages" in life is an advantage in moral development: it teaches children to work hard, to learn the values of delayed gratification, to practice mental and spiritual discipline before savoring the pleasure of rewards earned.

These parents want their children to acquire these traits, but their eagerness to provide "advantages" is a powerful counterforce to their good intentions. Some of the characteristics of the "cornucopia" kid and his parent: he demands the best name-brand items and must have what everyone else has (the parent doesn't want him to be left out);, she needs constant entertainment and stimulation (the parent is expected to provide the interesting environment); he is unwilling to follow through on work and goals (a parent excuses him or does the work for him); she has little respect for material possessions (things can always be replaced); he expects to get what he wants without work or sacrifice or waiting (a parent who says no will give in later); she lacks compassion (her needs are the center of the universe).

In some instances, cornucopia kids are being produced by cornucopia parents. We are trying to teach young children to share their toys even as we become a nation of begrudging adults who don't want to share our comforts with others. We feel entitled to keep it all, and we resent the fact that some people, for whatever reason, have little and need assistance.

There is nothing new about blaming poverty on the victim. What is new is a tacit religious assent to such an outlook. Several years ago in these pages Robert Wuthnow published an excerpt from God and Mammon in America ("Pious materialism: How Americans view faith and money," March 3, 1993). In a nationally representative survey of over 2,000 participants, Wuthnow found that 89 percent of his respondents felt that "our society is much too materialistic," and 71 percent felt that society would be better off if less emphasis were placed on money, and that "being greedy is a sin against God."

But this same group also said that they wished they had more money (84 percent) and that "having a beautiful home, a new car and other nice things" is "very or fairly important" (78 percent). In fact, most people found nothing incompatible in wanting both to make lots of money and to enter the kingdom of heaven. Wuthnow concluded that "what religious faith does more clearly than anything else is to add a dollop of piety to the materialistic amalgam in which most of us live."

Perhaps such attitudes suggest why we rarely see the Bible actually quoted on behalf of traditional family values" or a public figure analyze the New Testament outlook on worldly riches. Like the prophets of the Old Testament, Jesus speaks about wealth and social responsibility in the imperative voice.

For instance, Jesus tells the rich ruler to sell everything he has in order to qualify for eternal life. When the well-meaning man is saddened by the severity of the prescription, Jesus makes his famous remark about rich people, camels and needles (Luke 18: 18-25). The prosperous can be comfortable with Matthew's version of the Sermon on the Mount ("Blessed are the poor in spirit"), but Luke leaves no room for complacency: "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God." And to make sure we don't miss the point: "But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry." As if this were not bad enough, Jesus continues: "From anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. …

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