Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Blessings or Earnings? If David Geffen or Elton John Is Rich, Isn't That a Sign of God's Favor?

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Blessings or Earnings? If David Geffen or Elton John Is Rich, Isn't That a Sign of God's Favor?

Article excerpt

Is there any other nation besides the United States whose people are brought up learning to focus their aspirations so forthrightly on material prosperity? We pursue the American dream, a concept that (however it may be defined) always involves the hope of financial gain. However much we have, we always want more. We want not only to earn a living but to succeed gloriously, to have it all. Our Declaration of Independence exalts the pursuit of happiness. Yet real happiness often seems to get lost in the struggle to reach the top of the heap -- a struggle that is at the heart of our national myth as well as of countless popular movies, from Rocky to Top Gun to Jerry Maguire.

It's also at the heart of much American religion. For ours is the country of the prosperity gospel, a system of beliefs that has its roots in the Calvinism the Puritans brought to these shores. The Puritans preached that some of us are saved and some aren't, that God rewards his chosen ones -- the elect -- with material wealth, and that affluence is consequently a sign of divine favor. This prosperity gospel has been a staple of popular Christianity in the United States ever since. Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker peddled it on The PTL Club; Pat Robertson (himself a tycoon) proffers one variation of it, and Robert Schuller another; and the most popular fundamentalist megachurches preach it as well. (As an Ohio man told a New York Times reporter when asked why he worships in such a place, "I like being around successful people on Sunday.") Not long ago Simon and Schuster published a book titled God Wants You to Be Rich: The Theology of Economics. The title wasn't meant as a joke.

Such thinking, of course, represents a vulgar distortion of the real gospel, in which Jesus (who, let's remember, never mentioned homosexuality) declared that it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. When a rich young man asked him, "What must I do to gain eternal life?" Jesus replied, "Go, sell everything you have, and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven." The idea here is that God makes deals, demanding a sacrifice of worldly riches in exchange for a ticket to the afterlife; the point is that selfish attachment to material wealth makes it impossible to experience the divine. …

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