Wednesday, June 5, 2013

God, Certified Financial Planner

While a lot is being made of Virginia lieutenant gubernatorial candidate E. W. Jackson's apparently widely-held (in certain Evangelical circles) beliefs about the relationship between Satan and Yoga, that's not actually the bit from his 2008 book that I find most interesting.

It turns out that in Jackson's view, God is a socialist:

We live in the most interesting times in human history. These are the days spoken of in Scripture, the days of fulfillment. [...] Part of what must happen during this period of great harvest for the kingdom of God is a massive wealth transfer. It is not going to happen by theft or governmental policy. It is going to happen supernaturally. Those invested in God’s market are going to reap a windfall. Make up your mind now to buy in.
Wisecracking about redistribution aside, there's something a bit pernicious here. While I'm somewhat inclined, simply from reading this, to think that the "windfall" would be mainly a spiritual one, I have to admit that it's really not written that way. The theological linking of wealth and righteousness is always a tricky business, because it allows people to tell themselves that no matter what they're doing, if it means that they make more money, then they must be "doing right."

To a degree, this is simply an implementation of the concept that the rewards of being a Christian are not solely in Heaven. And as far as that goes, there's nothing wrong with it. After all one of the complaints that has been voiced about American Christianity is that some strains of it teach passivity in the face of adversity - looking to the divine for the strength to cope, rather than to change, negative life circumstances.

But in a religious worldview that sees obedience (sometimes blindly) as the highest expression of morality, linking wealth and uprightness can lead to evaluation the morality of actions after the fact, based on how much they bring to the bottom line. And when one specifically rules out theft and governmental policy as factors seeing your goodness reflected in your bank balance becomes easier.

This is not to say that I expect a wave of people to start trying to lay their hands on every dollar they can, and site divine election as justification. But the human tendency for self-justification is nothing if not persistent. Throwing it such an obvious bone may not be the best thing for it.

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