Judging God v. Mammon

worship of mammonCould the Sunday article in The Washington Post's Style section on families turning from money to faith have been told without mentioning religion at all? The article is about how the current economic crisis is forcing families to look to things other than money for satisfaction. Churches and spiritual leaders are involved in this transformation, which is primarily driven by people's dwindling portfolios and fears of losing jobs or not getting raises. No longer are children going to get everything they want as they have since the Great Depression and oh how those kids will suffer:

At a time when the magnitude of the nation's economic decline has been staggering and panic-inducing, a quiet resolve is emerging in many middle-class families to take a step back and reconsider their lives in a spiritual or philosophical way, according to interviews with clergy, economists and residents.

It may be a natural response to crisis, but some, including Platais, suggest that the accumulated loss and turmoil have produced a will to find meaning in other ways: refocusing on relationships and values, helping people in need. Many parents are talking to children about buying less, saving for what they really want and delaying gratification.

"We have to go back to the things that are really important, which aren't things at all," Platais said. "They are people and relationships, and it's love and your faith and your neighbors and the people you take care of."

This concept is easier for those whose losses are few or more abstract -- say, in retirement accounts that might not be touched for a decade. It is tougher for those who feel immediately imperiled by the downturn, who have lost homes, jobs or money they need now.

The article describes these families as if they were sinking ships. All that has mattered up until now in keeping these Titanics afloat was money to buy stuff and the hopes of more money to buy more stuff. Now that's no longer the case for the average middle class American. A vague sense of "spiritual prosperity" is going to take the place of materialism. I don't get a very good sense from the article what that is, nor do I get a sense that the people who are talking about "spiritual prosperity" know what they mean by spiritual prosperity.

The vague sense of spiritual prosperity could have been re-enforced if more authoritative sources were quoted, such as the Old or New Testament. An appeal to historical examples beyond the Great Depression could also have backed-up the concept portrayed in the article.

The article leaves me with a couple of thoughts as journalists strive to cover the spiritual side of the economic crisis.

My first thought is that this article plays the story fairly straightforward in the sense that materialism and faith are equally valid methods of maintaining happiness within a family. The article reminds me of a fashion piece describing the shift into the winter seasons. The summer fashions will slowly disappear, and as much as we liked the summer styles, it is just time to move on. Once the economy gets better, will it be OK to return to materialism since that seems to be what everyone wants anyway? In that sense, the article is fairly objective.

In a significant way, readers are left to decide for themselves the value they wish to place on materialism. And I liked that. Unfortunately, I came away from the article with little idea of what it means to grow my "Spiritual Prosperity."

Second, I hope we see some coverage of the prosperity theology, which teaches that genuine religious faith and acts result in people prospering financially. Along with this, I would hope journalists take the time to read the most profound book of Job in preparing to interview people who teach this version of the Gospel. The story of Job should generate some interesting questions for people who believe that one's material worth is tied to their spiritual devotion.

Image of the 1909 painting The Worship of Mammon by Evelyn De Morgan used under a Wikimedia Commons license.

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