Prosperity gospel and the recession

December 28, 2009 | 8 comments

I read an eye-catching article titled, “Did Christianity Cause the Crash?” in The Atlantic. Hanna Rosin, the author, argues that the prosperity gospel preached to tens of millions of Christians, promoted excess financial risk-taking that contributed to the housing bubble and its inevitable burst.

Here’s the lead into the piece:

“America’s mainstream religious denominations used to teach the faithful that they would be rewarded in the afterlife. But over the past generation, a different strain of Christian faith has proliferated—one that promises to make believers rich in the here and now. Known as the prosperity gospel, and claiming tens of millions of adherents, it fosters risk-taking and intense material optimism. It pumped air into the housing bubble. And one year into the worst downturn since the Depression, it’s still going strong.”

This article caught my attention because I frequently work with patients who have been influenced by the prosperity gospel. And it can be challenging at times to help them see the primary need, or supply, is not money, but spiritual understanding.

The prosperity gospel promises increased material wealth and gain if you follow the tenets and practices of those who preach it.

Millions of people already want the material riches before they ever step foot in a church, so to hear a preacher from the pulpit, supposedly anointed “from above,” tell them they can have their consumeristic heart’s desires fulfilled if they believe in God and have strong faith, is like a dream come true. Pray yourself to earthly riches, fame and success, the message comes across.

Rosin argues in her piece that Christians steeped in prosperity gospel teaching, acted on trumped up hopes and dreams that exceeded reasonable financial expectations. They bought homes they could not afford, believing that God would give them the money they needed to make future mortgage payments. The increased income did not come. Payments were missed, foreclosure took the homes, and millions of dreams were crushed, all contributing to the crash we’re all familiar with now.

It can be a stretch to follow all of Rosin’s logic, but her reporting does provoke some serious thought about the theological errors and misrepresentation of true Christianity the prosperity gospel advocates.

Jesus Christ did not teach his followers to pursue or yearn for great worldly wealth and success. He taught them to seek the riches of Spirit and rest assured that their human needs would be met.

To the young man who wanted Jesus to tell his brother to divide his father’s inheritance with him, Jesus replied, “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” It seems that Jesus did not care about the extra money and didn’t believe the boy needed to be concerned about it either.

Jesus did not hold out in front of public thought images or promises of worldly gain as a reward for following him. He promised eternal life for faithful followership, and the route to that goal may or may not be attended by much money. But every need will be met along the way.

There is a big difference between seeking spiritual gain first with human needs met as a consequence, and pursuing dreams of material gain through prayer to God. The first puts God first. The second puts mammon first.

It seems that prosperity preaching feeds on humanity’s lust and want of material comfort and gain. If followers put the pursuit of monetary gain first, above listening to the voice of Wisdom, poor financial decisions can result. The voice of Wisdom does not lead one down a path of financial ruin. It leads one down a path of discipline, balance, patience, contentment, and to choices that endure hardship.

The prosperity gospel has led many people astray. Whether Rosin is right or not, in her conclusions, each reader can decide. But reading the article is a wake-up call to anyone caught up into the “Pursue your dreams,” type of wishful thinking the prosperity gospel engenders.

The more mental weight we throw into the scale of Spirit, the less we think about worldly gain, money, getting monetarily rich and pursuing earthly dreams. These all fall to the wayside for the greater riches and wealth of spiritual understanding and demonstration.

Prosperity, in Spirit, is not measured in material quantities or by things owned, but by spiritual understanding gained and love lived. There is a big difference!

Christianity causes men to turn naturally from matter to Spirit, as the flower turns from darkness to light. Man then appropriates those things which “eye hath not seen nor ear heard.” Paul and John had a clear
apprehension that, as mortal man achieves no worldly honors except by sacrifice, so he must gain heavenly riches by forsaking all worldliness. Then he will have nothing in common with the worldling’s affections, motives, and aims.” Mary Baker Eddy


8 thoughts on “Prosperity gospel and the recession”

  1. Evan, you have sparked a political response to a theological assertion that the only gospel preached is one of prosperity; there is as well the social gospel which compels a sharing of wealth, a distribution of wealth. The housing bubble came about because the government entity Freddie Mack and Fannie May directors and their co-horts on the financial committee decided that “prosperity” could be brought about artificially and with it voters grateful for the largess bestowed upon them by government. These two government agencies insisted banks make loans to those who could not afford them in order that those banks continue to remain in good standing and to ward off the invasion of Acorn-like terrorists coming into banks and causing a ruckus embarrassing the bank managers and owners.

    When those mortgage holders could not keep up on their payments, the banks were told to make the money up somehow. What they did was get creative and went to direvatives which I really do not understand only that they are bad mortgages bundled in with good mortgages and sold worldwide.

    So it is not just the Christian Right, the inference made by Ms. Rosen, that caused through the preaching of the “prosperity gospel” that caused the bust; it was the federal government’s meddling in bankers’ duties and learned sense of who should and should not receive loans. It is interesting that rural banks who were thought too small and insignificant to bother with are indeed very solvent right now, aflush with money and were during the early part of 2008 and 2009.

    The Christian Gospel has not been compromised, but rather the greed and arrogance of a few powerful people who wanted as the prodigal son did theirs right now and too bad the fallout.

    Sylvia in Ohio

  2. To Sylvia in Ohio, your comments are based on the same point Evan is making – building upon the sand and not upon the rock. He is referring to choices made in thought, away from Principle [I believe]

  3. I must agree with Sylvia the “housing bubble” is more the result of political influences than anything taught in Christian churces and your response betrays a political bias that has nothing to do with Christian Science.

    Truly with Love,


  4. Oh, yes, I understand about the political influences and decisions at work that fueled the housing bubble. But the real decisions were made by people on the streets that committed to purchasing the homes, accepting the loans, etc. And these decisions were the outcome of the individual ideals and aspirations they were guided by. So, I find it interesting and instructive to think about what kind of ideals form these aspirations and cause people to make the decisions they make.

    The more we each understand our ideals, or the models we follow, and be honest about them, the better our decision-making will be.

  5. Evan…this is lovely, compassionate, and urges the integration of wisdom, economy, and brotherly love that leads to TRUE spiritual wealth…brotherhood, charity, and peace. Thank you…Kate

  6. Blaming any single political or commercial entity, or the poor or middle class for the housing bubble is like blaming the rain for a rainstorm. In our society all of us are under tremendous pressure to judge our self worth by our possessions, our homes, our cars, our jewelry, etc. This pressure is only magnified when the economy is no longer based on production but on consumerism, derivatives of debt and unregulated financial constructs. Christianity did not cause the bubble. Greed causes bubbles.

  7. The Dutch tulip boom, followed by the tulip bust, in the 1600’s and the repeating patterns show this to be a human characteristic. And to judge by human events is not divine science. That would be “mental science”, something Mary Baker Eddy hoped would not happen to the absolute science she set forth.

  8. Thank you for this thought-provoking article, Evan. I have become more aware of this trend recently. The need, I think, is to be very alert as Christian Scientists not to fall into this trap, using phrases like “demonstrating supply”. God is Principle and Principle demonstrates itself in our lives. I love what my teacher said many years ago, “You never have it made in matter,” and I would follow that up with “Why would you want to?” If we are truly hungering and thirsting after righteousness, then our satisfaction and security come from seeing and expressing His presence whatever our circumstances may be. That’s glorifying Him — and we can expect to see His blessings in tangible ways, and to have our needs met. Thank you again for making me think harder about this issue.

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