Tag Archives: Mammon

Sell everything you have, and give it to the poor!


As most people would have noticed already, recently I’ve been finishing an older collection of songs with titles like ‘sell everything you have and give it to the poor’. (downloadlink to Safe Happy Christian Music for the Conservative Middleclass )
People have asked me before why I wrote the song, and what I think about the bible verses that it’s based on, so maybe it’s a good idea to clarify a bit with some bible study about Christ and money, or riches in general.

Let’s start with the song, which can be listened here. Music-wise it’s basically a very simple folk song in an American style, so simple that anyone who has had a few lessons on a guitar can easily play it (please do! It’s only G, C and D). The lyrics are a simple retelling of a story in the gospels that is often called ‘the rich young ruler’ in English, a passage found in all three synoptic gospels (Mark 10:17-27, Matthew 19:16-22, Luke 18:18-34):

a rich young man came to Jesus Christ and asked
what should I do to get life, life eternal
you know the commandments Jesus replied
do not steal, do not kill do not commit adultery
yes I do know them he said, I followed them all, all of my life
Jesus said well then there’s one more thing that you have to do:

sell everything you have
and give it to the poor
yeah everything you have
get rid of it
sell everything you have
and give it to the poor
and you shall live

Jesus said do this and follow me
and you’ll have a great treasure in heaven
but the rich young man became very sad
for he did posses great wealth on earth
and he preferred it over the life
over the life eternal

easier it is for a camel
to go through the eye of a needle
than for a rich man to enter
the kingdom of heaven

sell everything…

and if Jesus Christ would be here today
and preach the same words as he did back then in Galilee
we probably would kill him and lay him i a grave again
like good old woody sung years ago
we still don’t want to near those words
and explain them away if we read then…

sell everything… /easier it is…

Quite catchy, isn’t it?

So, why did I write and still this song if I didn’t exactly do what I sing myself? It’s clear that I didn’t sell all my possessions, nor that I am planning to so… The first explanation is that I sometimes write songs about things that I want to understand myself and try to learn more about, wrestling with the subject. But there’s a lot more that can and should be said.

Some in the first church might disagree here (a lot of people did sell everything, read acts) but I believe that while the command to the rich young ruler was not a general law for everyone, and only a personal advice to that one guy. But still there is a very grave warning about being rich in this story and other places of the New Testament that cannot be ignored if you that the bible seriously.
Or at least that’s what one who takes the bible at face value would think, but it seems one of the most-ignored biblical messages these days, even though there’s a very grave warning attached to it. Whatever the metaphor of the camel an the eye of the needle means (I’m not going into that discussion here, it only would distract) the range of interpretations one could have for “easier it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” goes from it being very very hard for rich persons to be saved to beyond impossible. It might be softened by ‘what’s impossible for humans is possible for God’, but it still looks like it looks very bleak for rich people when it comes to being saved.

It would be an understatement to say that according to Jesus there is something very dangerous about riches and money. The fact that the only false god Jesus calls by name is Mammon, his own personification of money should say enough here, but there is much more in the New Testament to back this up. Jesus literally says ‘blessed are the poor’ and ‘woe to the rich’ in Luke 6 for example. The apostles also have some interesting things to say. Let’s look at some bible verses, and I suggest that if you want to really think about this issue you read them slowly and prayerfully and let them sink in, and let the text read you.

Matthew 6:24 No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money/Mammon.

(Note that the NET bible translates ‘Mammon’ into money here)
This is straightforward: Money competes with God, and if we serve money we will not be able to serve God. The danger of being rich here is that the things we think we own end up owning us, and take us away from God, and demand our soul.

1 Tim 6:6-11 6:6 Now godliness combined with contentment brings great profit. 6:7 For we have brought nothing into this world and so we cannot take a single thing out either. 6:8 But if we have food and shelter, we will be satisfied with that. 6:9 Those who long to be rich, however, stumble into temptation and a trap and many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 6:10 For the love of money is the root of all evils. Some people in reaching for it have strayed from the faith and stabbed themselves with many pains. 6:11 But you, as a person dedicated to God, keep away from all that. Instead pursue righteousness, godliness, faithfulness, love, endurance, and gentleness.

Paul echoes the same idea here, but adds different layers about temptation to it. Note that he is often misquoted here, he does not say that ‘money is the root of all evil’, but that the love of money is. This is an important distinction to contemplate.

There also is the famous warning against the rich from James, where he echoes Jesus from Luke 6 and seems to assume that riches often comes from a sinful life:

James 5:1-6 5:1 Come now, you rich! Weep and cry aloud over the miseries that are coming on you. 5:2 Your riches have rotted and your clothing has become moth-eaten. 5:3 Your gold and silver have rusted and their rust will be a witness against you. It will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have hoarded treasure! 5:4 Look, the pay you have held back from the workers who mowed your fields cries out against you, and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. 5:5 You have lived indulgently and luxuriously on the earth. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 5:6 You have condemned and murdered the righteous person, although he does not resist you.

No, that’s not Marx, that’s the New Testament, and it echoes countless passages from the prophets in the old testament, including the description of the sins of Sodom in Ezekiel:

Ezekiel 16:49-50 49 “‘See here—this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters had majesty, abundance of food, and enjoyed carefree ease, but they did not help the poor and needy. 50 They were haughty and practiced abominable deeds before me. Therefore when I saw it I removed them.

To complete this bible study, and to bring some balance to those who think that utter poverty is what all these verses point to (they don’t) I also connect this to the wisdom of Agur (no, I have no idea who he is either but he is included in the bible here as a wisdom teacher…) as recorded in proverbs 30:7-9 that I turned into another song on the same album, with less chords and instruments than ‘sell everything’, but a lot more weirdness. The music to ‘poverty nor riches’ might lose itself in pseudo-shamanic atmospheres and noisy freejazz interludes, the lyrics themselves are straight from the bible without much paraphrase:

Two things I ask of you, O LORD;
to not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me
and give me neither riches nor poverty
only my daily needs
for I may own too much and disown you
and say Who is the Lord
or I may become poor and steal
and so dishonour your name O Lord

How do we connect the dots here? It seems that there are great warnings against being wealthy in the bible, which are very often ignored. Which is quite dangerous, because relatively spoken we all are rich as Westerners. Compared to a lot of people in the global South today, and to most of the population in biblical times, we’re all rather wealthy and rich even though we often fail to see it. But the effect on our soul and our faith might still be there if we don’t watch out…

There are 2 very important realities about money.
* Money can very easily become an idol. Jesus doesn’t call it Mammon for nothing. This is not something new, a lot of philosophers and spiritual teachers in all kinds of traditions would agree about this. Money, and possessions in general are a dangerous idol that make it impossible to connect to God.
And some are willing to sacrifice human lives and whole ecosystems for. And that in our modern secular times… And that brings us to our second point:
* A lot of rich people have become rich by being oppressive or dishonest, as Jesus, James and the prophets tell us. This is evidently very bad for the involved oppressed, but it also is a sin that keeps the rich one away from God, makes one arrogant. If you dehumanise your brother to just a pawn in your game of getting richer instead as a person worth as much as you, deserving as much as you, you’re far from God indeed.

In spite all my rage I might still be just a rat in a cage. My album title ‘Safe Happy Christian Music for the Conservative Middleclass’ might be sarcastic but after all I still am Middleclass myself. Some people would look down on me as not earning much to certain contemporary standards, while others would see me as incredibly wealthy. (Including most of my forefathers in earlier eras, people from biblical and historical times, and people in the global South)

I’ve met people who knew what it is to live with nothing and trust God, living from day to day in faith and trust. While this is very basic Christianity, it also is something very few modern Christians need to develop, and something I know is seriously lacking in my faith life. I trust that I will have enough. I am a spoiled Westerner.

(The issue of being wealthy might even be part of why the West is losing its Christianity in this era btw. Faith is trusting in God as a Reality anyway, and we have made it accepting conceptual statements.)

As you see, these are things that I am still am struggling with. I don’t have all the answers, and even if I had them they will not sink in unless you have struggled with them yourselves.

Some will think I’m going way too far here, but I’m not sure of that. If you think I’m too soft on sin here, and want a more resolute input, I refer you to this excellent series by Micael Grenholm on Holy Spirit Activism who does argue it is a sin to be rich as a Christian. And his biblical explanation is quite strong, stronger than a lot of reasoning where super-important issues for some people are defended as ‘biblical’.

What do you people think?

peace

Bram

See also on this blog:
Abundance is the enemy of capitalism…
10 old traditional and/or biblical Christian ideas that are sometimes mistakenly seen as ‘progressive’…
Teachings of the Early Church Fathers on Poverty & Wealth
the love of money vs. the way of Christ…
Christianity: first a question of allegiance, not worldview!

10 old traditional and/or biblical Christian ideas that are sometimes mistakenly seen as ‘progressive’…


Foto0067Before we close the year with some lists of the most-read stuff of 2014 and an evaluation of my project of demodernisation (and de-Americanisation, see also here) I will post this one last long and maybe to some controversial blogpost. This time we’ll talk about certain basic Christian ideas or at least ancient minority positions within Christianity that are sometimes regarded as new and ‘progressive’ ideas and thus tied to a new and ‘progressive’ form of Christianity which is incompatible with either the old-fashioned nonsense of the past or the true ‘conservative’ Christianity, depending on which side of the false dilemma one finds themselves. Which is very problematic actually…

I’ve seen the combination of the words ‘progressive Christianity’ gain more and more influence over the last years on the English-speaking internet. The term itself is like other words including ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ a term that I find utterly unhelpful and quite ambiguous .  I’ve also seen a lot of very different and sometimes quite contradictory interpretations of what ‘progressive Christianity’ is supposed to be, some of which were interesting to me, and others which weren’t at all… It seems that the expression became more popular (at least in the blogosphere) when the ’emergent’ brand lost its prominence, and that it also took over some of the content of that label, especially in the form of its ‘updated protestant theological liberalism’ (which frankly doesn’t interest me at all as a moderate anti-modernist).

(The main reason that I’ll never use the word ‘progressive’ to describe myself is that I completely reject the modernist myth of ‘progress’, which seems to be the root of the whole idea of contemporary progressiveness. But that’s another story that would only derail this post)

All of this does not mean that ‘progressive Christians’ don’t  have a lot of interesting things to say. A lot of the stuff that progressive Christians believe in and want us to talk about (but not all!) is very important to me too, or at least stuff I agree with… The problem here mostly the false dilemma that some see that I’ve mentioned already: the mistaken idea that ‘progressive Christianity’ (or ’emergentism’, or liberal protestantism, or…)  is a new and better and modern thing (or postmodern or contemporary or whatever word  is used to describe both their chronological snobbery and modern-Western cultural imperialism/neo-colonialism) , something completely distinct from what came before disconnected from it, and better than anything before it anyway.

While the opposite is true: most of the prophetic things that ‘progressives’ have to teach us are quite old, and they are important truths that have a long history within Christianity. Some as a minority-view, some as the majority-view in other times or other Christian traditions. Some normative outside of modernism even…

Let’s also talk here  the confusion of terms with some of the other words besides ‘progressive’ before we start. I’ve written before about the term ‘conservative’, which only means an impulse to conserve a certain tradition. For example the American use of the word ‘conservative’ has nothing to do with ‘conservative Christianity’ as some kind of ancient basic orthodoxy, but with some fairly recent (last 200 years mostly) forms of protestantism tied to the political old-school liberalism of the founding fathers and the American constitution (which has nothing to do with Christian orthodoxy at all!)

Fundamentalism as a Christian movement has not much to do with a basic Christian orthodoxy either. It’s more an early 20th century reactionary antithesis to liberalism, emphasizing not at all the core of historical Christianity but some areas in which they disagreed with liberal theology of that time, which gave a very unbalanced view of what the ‘fundamentals’ of Christianity were that did not follow basic Christian orthodoxy at all. So while fundamentalism might be a photo-negative of classical liberal theology, it still is thoroughly modern in a lot of ways.  (see also this post for my problem with the bad photo-negative copy of it in American anti-fundamentalism, which is itself tied completely to what it tries to escape from)

So let’s list some of the ideas that are rejected by some or all American conservatives and fundamentalists, while embraced by progressives and thus seen as ‘progressive’ (or ‘liberal’)  by a lot of people. Those ideas are not new nor progressive nonetheless but have been part of the rich and diverse history of Christianity from the early days and can be traced back to the bible itself.   Most of them can be solidly defended from a basic orthodox reading of the bible.

(Note also that some of the things that are very important to the current ‘progressives’ are absent from this list because they just don’t fit in the list. Some are new for the modern age or just repackaged old heresies or non-Christian philosophies adopted by liberal Christianity. Rejecting the supernatural -spirits, angels, the afterlife- for example is not a new idea that people  could only come up with after evolving to a new step and entering the modern age. The Sadducees, who were more conservative than the Pharisees, already taught this and Jesus and the NT writers could have easily followed them, but they rejected it in favour of the views of the Pharisees…
But my exclusion of certain progressive ideas from this list doesn’t have to mean that I either agree nor disagree with any of them, just that I did not include them. I probably have forgotten a lot of stuff that could fit in this list….)

1. pacifism and Christian non-violence
I always assumed that pacifism or at least a tendency to non-violence were part of basic Christianity from my reading of the gospels, and especially the sermon on the mount. (I say this as a pentecostal kid living in a post-Catholic Belgian culture btw.) I know that some see it as an ideal that doesn’t always work, but even then, with enemy-love as one of Jesus commandments I could not conceive of Christians who would completely dismiss the idea in favour of militarism.
Great was my shock when I explored the internet as a young twenty-something and discovered Christians (mainly from the US) who completely dismissed the idea of Christian non-violence as dangerous and naive and placed it under the category of ‘liberal nonsense’. Such a view is completely a-historical and completely ignorant of the words of Jesus himself.
Christian non-violence does have a long history. It was prominent in pre-Constantinian times and while it wasn’t the majority position in later times (Even with ‘just war’ doctrine most wars would be seen as illegitimate btw… You can’t defend any of the American wars of the last half century with just war theory for example!) it has popped up regularly in the history of Christianity among groups or people who wanted to take Christ seriously. We see it appear already with the first Christians -who rather died that killed for their faith- over St. Francis of assisi -who went to meet the Sultan unarmed to talk about Christ in the middle of a crusade- and the line goes all the way to the Quakers and Anabaptists, and the modern Christian peacekeeper teams.  Christian non-violence is a deeply biblical idea that has been held in different degrees by a lot of people who took the New Testament and the words of Christ very seriously!

2. Anticapitalism
Recently the pope said some things about capitalism that were not received well by some American evangelicals. But contrary to what some people thought he did not say anything new and did only reword catholic doctrine that was already popetrickleaffirmed by the popes before him. What he said was quite logical for most non-American Catholics and other Christians also. I’ve never understood why capitalism is such a holy cow to certain (mainly American) Christians. It is a very modernist economic idea that has not much to do with classical Christianity but is tied to historical liberalism, and it can devolve very easily into economical and social jungle-law Darwinism, which is the opposite of anything a Christian could ever defend. So while it cannot be linked to the bible being a modern invention, it also goes counter to some Biblical and historically Christian ideas. Look at this list of quotes from the church fathers for example.
I once wanted to write a series about Christianity and capitalism but never got further than this first post  I also have written a post called Abundance is the enemy of capitalism. starting from the biblical idea of abundance as a part of shalom, which is opposed to the capitalist basic principle of scarcity…

I can also add that there is nothing new or ‘liberal’ about vaguely ‘socialist’ ideas and ways of living. The church of Acts was quite ‘communist’, as well as most monastic orders.
And let’s not forget that the only false god that is called by name in the gospels is Mammon, of with Jesus says that he cannot be served together with God…

3. ‘Green’ lifestyles and ecological awareness
If God is Creator (which all Christians including all evolutionary Creationists affirm – as far as I know) , and we are to love God above all, some respect for His creation seems to be very logical to me. Taking care of creation is also a commandment in genesis (unless you see ‘ruling’ as a very oppressive dictatorship, but I would say that we aren’t to do anything to nature we wouldn’t want rulers to do with us…) It always was logical to me that Christians should have a lot of respect for nature as the work of Gods hands, although it might be that this impulse was fed more by my (almost post-)catholic teachers in school than in my pentecostal upbringing.

Premodern people did live a lot closer to nature. Jesus spent a lot of time in nature praying and meditating throughout the gospels. Our modern disconnect with nature is far removed from the world of the bible, but respect for nature as Christians is a tradition that goes back at least to (again) Francis of Assisi, and probably the Celtic Church.
There is no good reason for us to condone destruction of Gods creation in favour of our idols like ‘the economy’ or ‘progress’. None of these does have to have any of our allegiance as followers of Christ…

I could also refer to Pope Francis here, who is rumoured to write an ecological encyclical in 2015  and repeat that there’s nothing progressive at all about conserving nature. If there’s anything at all that deserves to be called ‘conservative’ if that word has any meaning at all, it’s conserving the creation in which God has put us…,
(The same is true for most of the other ‘progressive’ views of Pope Francis. They are -like most things in this list- not new at all and actually quite ‘conservative’ in that they have a long biblical and traditional history)

4. Not taking the first chapters of genesis as literal history
And then for something completely different: I can’t be the only one who has noticed that the debate about a literal reading of genesis does mainly live in fundamentalist and evangelical circles, while it is more of a non-issue in most other classical orthodox denominations, including the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Church. Which already should say something about how ‘progressive’ the idea of a  non-literal reading of the first chapters of the bible actually is I guess.
There have been a lot of readings of the Creation story throughout church history, some of which were literal while others were completely allegorical. Augustine for example, while writing about ‘the literal interpretation of genesis’ assumes that the seven days where metaphor and that the whole cosmos was created at the same moment…

Even Charles Darwin himself did not think that his ideas of evolution were incompatible with his Christian faith. He did lose it over the cruelness of  nature though.

5. Rejecting the idea of hell as eternal conscious torment for all non-Christians
Another debate that is as old as the history of the Church is the fate of those not in Christ. While universalism has always been a minority position, belief in hell of some sorts seems to be a majority position, the details vary a lot throughout church history. Some of the church fathers seem to tend to very generous inclusivism or even in the direction of hopeful universalism, with some like Origen even arriving at full universalism. (Which means that Christ in his death and resurrection was able to save all from hell, not at all that all religions are the same or so…)
Another part of the discussion is the nature of hell. C.S. Lewis seems (in line with more orthodox church fathers) to see hell as being cut of from God, the Source of all life. Other orthodox thinkers see hell as the same place as heaven, where the undiluted presence of God is unbearable to those who hate Him.

Another alternative idea about the fate of the wicked is Annihilationism (the wicked are just annihilated and cease to exist after the judgement), and old and in origin Jewish idea that has been made popular in more recent times by the seventh-day adventists (also followed by the Jehovah witnesses by the way) for mainly biblical reasons.

6. Rejection of an exclusively ‘penal substitution’ view of the atonement in Christ
And another important discussion, but here the evangelical default itself is historically a more recent minority position: penal substitution atonement as we know it (Jesus saved us by taking Gods wrath upon Himself on the cross) is only as old as protestantism. For the other 1500 years and in other traditions very different ideas existed about how Jesus saved us by his life, death and resurrection. We even see this in the famous Narnia story, where Lewis follows a classical ransom-version of Christus Victor atonement: the sinner (Edmund) is freed from slavery to death and sin (the witch) because Jesus (Aslan) took his place and defeated death and sin in the resurrection… Note that this still IS substitutionary atonement, but not at all penal substitution. (If I understand correctly the idea of penal substitution as some protestants teach it is regarded as abhorrent and even heresy by a lot of Eastern Orthodox thinkers)

I am of the opinion myself that no theory of atonement will ever explain everything that happened so we need a lot of them together to have a more complete picture. Some popular versions of penal substitution, especially when elevated to the level of ‘gospel’ do sound very troubling to me though…

7. Egalitarianism in marriage and women preachers
As a Charismatic I became convinced of egalitarianism between the sexes for biblical reasons. I don’t see how a couple can be ‘one flesh’ as genesis says and still have one who always have to lead and another who always has to follow. I also am convinced by the bible more than by Christian tradition  of the importance of women in every role in the church., Jesus is quite ‘feminist’ (anti-sexist might be a better word) himself compared to his culture, like in the story of Martha and Mary for example, and the early church had a lot of women in a lot of positions, up to the female apostle Junia and the businesswoman Lydia who had a house church in her house.

It’s nonsense to put this kind of egalitarianism away as ‘liberal’ or claim it as solely ‘progressive’. I’ve seen women preachers in African pentecostal churches, and you can say a lot about those, but ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’ did in no way apply to them. I’ve never had any interest in the liberal ‘we moderns know better than those dumb bronze-age desert people’ reasoning, and it still doesn’t convince me at all.
I do believe in the need of equality and mutual submission in marriage though for biblical reasons and from experience. I’ve met a lot of women who were used by the Holy Spirit through preaching, and denying that would feel quite a lot like blasphemy against the Holy spirit. God does use women in a lot of roles, and calls individuals for very different things, regardless of their sex.

(Let’s also repeat here that I don’t believe that any idea about ‘biblical manhood’ that does not fit with the fruits of the Spirit as described by Paul has any legitimacy at all. None of that stuff is biblical, it’s just unhealthy cultural stereotypes that are made legitimate by abusing bible verses.)

8. Rejection of the idea of the ‘rapture’ (and of dispensationalism as a whole)
Let’s be short here: the idea of ‘the rapture’ isn’t even 200 years old, so it’s from the same time as a lot of liberal theology. Traditionally most Christians have been amillenialist but there are more interpretations of biblical eschatology that make more sense than the dispensationalist one.
Nothing progressive about rejecting the rapture or dispensationalism, it’s just what every Christian before the 1800’s and most non-evangelicals since then did, whatever their eschatology was…
Some forms of dispensationalism do seem to border on heresy for completely different reasons too though.

9. ‘Mysticism’
Mysticism is a hot word in certain circles, and one that has a lot of different interpretations. The most basic meaning is to experience the presence of God yourself as a believer. It’s nothing new though, there runs a deep mystic tradition through both Eastern and Western Christianity which was already very important in the first centuries of Christianity with the desert fathers and mothers.
What does seem to be new and endemic to certain corners of contemporary progressive Christianity is that mysticism does in some way exclude the idea of supernatural beings. This is completely contrary to a lot of older Christian mystics who did encounter angels, demons and other ‘supernatural entities’ as if it were the most normal thing one could do…

10. Not framing the trustworthiness of the bible as ‘inerrancy’
The bible is very important for Christians for a lot of reasons, and it is one of the means through which we can encounter God. The bible is a library of books that are seen as inspired by God by Christians (‘God-breathed’ according to Paul in a very well-known verse) but the fundamentalist notion of ‘innerancy’ of the literal text of the bible goes further than how Christianity classically saw the bible. It did not by accident come into being around the same time  as the Catholics invented papal infallibility, a time when modernism eroded any faith in trustworthiness of the bible, the Christian tradition or Christian authorities.

This went further than the trustworthiness that premodern Christians ascribed to the bible, and gave rise to the modern ‘new atheist’ reading of the bible which is as far removed from the message of the bible as the fundamentalist one. (They are closely related anyway as purely modernist traditions)

So while I do affirm the trustworthiness of the bible (something that isn’t in the historical creeds btw!) I don’t think we should go looking for scientific or other details that are just not there. And we should not fear contradictions or paradoxes. God can speak truth through things that are not 100% historical as well. We have differences in the 4 gospels, and different theological agendas, even the church fathers knew that, but it wasn’t a problem until modern times (and it still if for the Orthodox and most Catholics…) so maybe we want the bible to be something that it isn’t meant to be.

In the end, the Word that became flesh is Jesus Christ, and the bible is here to point at Him, not at itself… It isn’t a paper pope and if it becomes an idol that distracts from God it’s really sad, not?  We should always seek God and Jesus in the bible, otherwise studying it won’t be of any worth, as Jesus says to the Pharisees somewhere…

So we come to the end of my list of things that are  not at all new to Christianity and can’t be claimed to be exclusively tied to ‘progressive Christianity’, whatever that even may be. Note again that the list is by no means exhaustive, and that I probably overlooked very important ones…

(I didn’t include much that goes against the republican ‘Americanist synchretism’ that some  American conservatives seem to believe in, with America as some holy entity that is more special for God than other countries or cultures. For non-Americans like me such things are too irrelevant and illogical to even address… Neither did I address double predestination for example, which is seen as heresy by the Eastern Orthodox and rejected by most non-protestants…)

So what do you think?

peace

Bram

Abundance is the enemy of capitalism…


Today I’m going back to the subject of capitalism being the antithesis of Christianity… I read a blog comment that made me understand something that I’ve been trying to get into words for a while now. It is probably related to my never-finished series about Christianity and capitalism, although I wasn’t planning to write on that topic right now. The blog post was called ‘Is Capitalism Un-Biblical’ by Christian Piatt. I do believe it is, but there wasn’t that much in the post that was very new to me although it was not a bad read at all. The question itself is very ‘duh’ to me, I’ve never believed that capitalism was compatible with Christianity in the first place, and I’ve never trusted it more than the atrocity that communism became in the 20th century either. But there was a comment by someone called ‘belovedspear’ that made me connect some dots:

A peculiarity of capitalism is that abundance–those times when creation pours out God’s bounty–is a disaster. Take this year’s corn harvest, for example. It’s been a bumper year, with tremendous yields. That means wreck and ruin for farmers, whose crops won’t sell for enough to pay off the debt-loads on their half-million dollar harvesters. We human beings are such strange, strange creatures.

Christianity sees abundance as a part of shalom, or a very holistic state of peace with God, and everyone and everything else. Part of that shalom is an economy of abundance, in which everyone has enough.

Our current system (that I call ‘capitalism’ here by lack of a better name) built on ‘the logic of the market’ does the opposite. not only is ‘scarcity’ the basic idea behind it, but it also has the worst way imaginable to handle abundance. The idea that everyone has enough is actually destructive to the capitalism that we have today.

A very big evil is that if we do have abundance, the market goes bad, like the commenter describes. If farmers produce too much of something, what one would expect is that either it would be stored in some way for years of less produce (think about the biblical story of Joseph) or distributed to those who need it, or used for something else or… So that that abundance can be shared as a blessing.

Nope, abundance is a curse for the market and sharing would be a sin…

So what we actually do is to destroy it because the market demands so.

Perfectly good fruit, milk, crops, whatever, is destroyed every year here in the EU because of technicalities about price and markets. And all the while other people are dying of hunger on the same planet.

And we call ourselves civilised people and think that we’re so much smarter and better than the people before us…

I’ve always seen this as evil. I’ve only never before today made the connection with exactly how antithetical all of this is to the biblical idea of abundance.

Anyway, destroying anything that is good because of market technicalities is ridiculous, anti-christ (and anti-humanist) and more than very bad logic. It’s idolatry. The value of the goods is less important than the ideological idols of ‘the market’;  and its supposed rules which become more important than anything. And so everything else needs to be sacrificed because of these abstract rules that only exist in the realm of the abstract and the ideological, and will only manifest themselves in the real world if we believe in them and want them to be true…

The idea that anything should be destroyed because the market ‘demands it’ is an abomination, and a sign that all this worship of this all-important market entity is not compatible with commons sense or Christianity. It is idolatry of the worst sort!

No matter how much people you quote and how much theories you make to defend this weird evil, it won’t fly. It’s dangerous nonsense, as dangerous, destructive and irrational as the idea that whatever god wants to have human sacrificed. Destroying good things because ‘the market needs it’ is a a sacrifice, and an insult to creation and humanity. And one of the signs that we are not smarter than people in any other time who had lots of other dumb ideas…

But on the other hand, the geocentric Ptolemaic cosmology has never hurt or starved anyone… A lot of the ‘unscientific’ ‘superstitions’ are completely harmless, while this kind of nonsense destroys good things, and human lives.

What do you people think?

shalom

Bram

 

Micael Grenholm on God and wealth…


silver_denarius_augustusSwedish blogger Micael Grenholm, who blogs at Holy Spirit activism about stuff like humanitarian issues, christian pacifism, the gifts of the Spirit  and signs and miracles. (Seems like a rare combination, but I say it shouldn’t be, biblically it’s a very logical combination if we look at the gospels) is kicking against some holy cows again with a must-read series on God an wealth.

(introduction)

Part 1: It’s Wrong to Be Rich

Part 2: Equality

Part 3: Sharing Everything

Part 4: The Church Fathers

Part 5: three heresies

I’m not sure what exactly I believe on this issue, but I do kinda think we as Christians are called to be both generous and to live simple. I always bump into the question ‘does God hate the rich’ when I read the sermon on the plain (blessed are the poor, woe to the rich…) or the ‘easier it is for a camel…’ saying that is found in all 3 synoptic gospels.

But it is also followed by the ‘What’s impossible for humans is possible for God’ line’ (I’m paraphrasing from memory and translating here) so it is more complicated. If we cling to our possessions, like most modern Westerners probably do, there might be a dimension of the Kingdom of God that we miss.

I personally think that the Story of Zaccheaus, who gave away most of his money when he repented, might be a good paradigm for the salvation of the rich (if he was still rich afterwards that is…)

What do you people think?

shalom

Bram

John Wimber on the love of money.


I found this quote by John Wimber, the founder of the vineyard movement of which I’m still a part, very interesting, especially in the light of all the ‘health and wealth’ preaching going on among some charismatics and pentecostal types…

“Many Christians and Christian leaders have been neutralized by the love of money and materialism. The homage paid to affluence becomes a burden that saps our energy as well as our love for God and other people. Though repentance and the cleansing of forgiveness, we can rid ourselves of this burden and begin to let God transform our value system. Like Jesus and Paul, we can learn to be content with what we have, living modestly in order that we may give liberally to the work of the kingdom and to meet the needs of others. “

 

More interesting quoted from Wimber on the gospel, money and social justice here on the Holy Spirit activism blog.

shalom

Bram

 

 

the love of money vs. the way of Christ…


Thee ebible.com verse of the day, reminded me again how different the Way of Christ is compared to the assumed ways of life of this modern world:

5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you. ” 6 So we can confidently say,”The Lord is my helper;
I will not fear;
what can man do to me?”

Hebrews 13:5 – 6

In a world where our current economic systems are based on greed, ‘more more more’, and ‘I’m cooler than my neighbour coz I have X’, and where people think that greed is a good driving force behind an economy, the Way of Christ is actually quite subversive…

If  only all of us Christians would effectively live according to the last of the 10 commandments about not coveting what belongs to our neigbor, there would be a big problem for our contemporary Marketing and Advertisement industry, which tries to create new needs every day, and tries to sell us everything we don’t need… (And then I’m not even talking about the commandment before that one, about not bearing a false witness!) If one would try to set up a system that is opposed to the words of Jesus and the OT laws, our late modern consumer capitalism would be a pretty good candidate of what would emerge…

But instead of keeping our focus on what shouldn’t be but is, let’s look at what should be and how it’s meant to be, and let’s for a moment meditate on the following words of Paul in 1 Tim 6:

:6 Now godliness combined with contentment brings great profit. :7 For we have brought nothing into this world and so1 we cannot take a single thing out either. 6:8 But if we have food and shelter, we will be satisfied with that.6:9 Those who long to be rich, however, stumble into temptation and a trap and many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 6:10 For the love of money is the root of all evils. Some people in reaching for it have strayed from the faith and stabbed themselves with many pains. 6:11 But you, as a person dedicated to God, keep away from all that. Instead pursue righteousness, godliness, faithfulness, love, endurance, and gentleness.

The way of Christ is not to follow money, which becomes an idol called Mammon in the bible, but to use money or the unrighteous Mammon (if we have it) to make friends. Yes, people are put before money here.  And people who hoard riches, which are living out our neoliberal dreams in other words, are even used in the gospels as an example of human wickedness… Kingdoms are clashing here. Which one do we choose?

The way of Christ is to love, first and foremost. Mammon should desacralised and instead of turned into an idol that guides our lives, and riches and money are to be used to help other people, and not to build our own empire. Jesus even said to the rich young rules that he had to sell everything and give to the poor if he wanted eternal life, and before we are too quick to dismiss that, let’s remember the first church in the book of acts effectively lived like that, as did the first Christians in the first centuries, a lot of monastic orders throughout the ages and even New Monastic today…  So it’s not impossible…

Imagine how the world would be different if we really followed Jesus, settled for enough and shared the rest with all those in need. It has been done before. The Roman emperor Julian the apostate, who didn’t like the Christians very much, said that ‘the Christians fed their (Roman) poor in addition to their own. So why do we think of these things as so otherworldy?

And I am part of the problem here!

I know I’m preaching to myself now, and I still have a long way to go in this.God help me, Spirit lead me, Jesus teach me!

Any additions, examples, whatever?

shalom

Bram

Copyrighting Truth is theft and a crime against humanity!


edit: since my post initially wasn’t that clear about what I meant, I expanded it heavily, the new part is put in [ ]-brackets…
edit2: thanks to Stefania for assisting me in the tracking down and removal of a whole truckload of typo’s…

The title already says it all, and I don’t mean to attack anyone, but it makes me wonder about our whole religious publishing and music industry:

Copyrighting Truth is theft and a crime against humanity!

Any Truth that gives life cannot be our own property, but should be shared with all of humanity! Every grain of truth we stumble upon is not our invention, but something the Almighty has given us. To not give it away freely is to steal from those who need it as much as we do!

Jesus tells his disciples to bring the Kingdom of God:

“As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.” (Mat 10:7-8)

What shall we think then of all our religious publishing?

So how can we as Christians put a copyright on anything that proclaims the Kingdom of God? How can we claim to own Truth about the Kingdom of God, and only give it to those who pay? Do we then follow Jesus more, or Mammon, the false God of the dire money?

Isn’t this blasphemy? All Truth belongs to God! Shouldn’t it be given freely?

Or don’t we believe in the importance of the religous messages that we sell? All those Christian books that promise new insight in the bible, new truths about God and how to live our life to the fullest, and yadda yadda yadda. If it’s true that we have this information, is it Christlike to charge money for it??

Or don’t we really believe in the importance and trancendence of what we have to tell, and treat it like any other information that can be told. Do we believe that God is more important than the things of this fallen human society, or do we believe that Mammon and the ways of this world which are imprisoned by that false God are more real than the gospel we write about, than the Truth we proclaim, than the Kingdom of God? I would say that

All Truth that matters belongs to God and is not ours to make money of, but ours to share in all possible ways to those who are spiritually starving in this postmodern world!

[So what do I mean? I did say ‘Truth’ should not be copyrighted. I don’t say our books are the perfect incarnation of Truth. I may not be a big fan of copyrights the way they exist in this world, but when you write down your own story, it’s evident that you are the owner of that story, and no-one else should be using it as a product to make money of behind your back, that’s just fair.

One of the things I was thinking about when writing this post is a story I once read about Dan Brown, author of the Da Vinci Code, being sued by some guy who claimed that Dan Brown had stolen his theories about I think Jesus and Mary Magdalene living in France. Now, let’s assume for a moment that this story is true… (it’s not) Then the guy claims to be the owner of the truth about Jesus. We have a serious problem if the Truth would be owned by someone, and it would be even worse if that guy doesn’t even care about truth, but sees it as a product to be bought and sold.

Like I said, if it is Truth, it is of God. It cannot be owned or controlled by us, and our motivation should be to share it with everybody.

So if you as a Christian have something that (you believe) has the power to bring people closer to God, you should make that available for all. That does not mean you can’t make money for a living selling your books, but if you really believe in the power of what you have to give, and then make people buy your book, and workbook, and series of teaching DVD’s, and put copyright notices on all of them with warnings that violators will be prosecuted by federal law and stuff, something does not at all fly well with me. If your stuff is that good and essential and life-transforming and yadda yadda, and you’re only willing to give it to those who pay you, you’re robbing people and ripping of God. And the result is more like some kind of scientology-light than the Kingdom of God…

So make your books, sell them, make it available, but if you really believe that you have something that’s important for everybody, you will not only sell it, but also prompt people to share it. You will applaud it if someone else finds a new way of commnucating what you were sharing building on your work.

Because in the end; the Truth in there is not ours, it’s God’s! We, and our works, are just vessels, jars of clay in, and the treasure inside of us is much more than Mammon. ]

What say you?

shalom

Bram