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Saturday, September 24, 2016

God and Money

In several of my previous posts, I have discussed various aspects of how economics has impacted our views on God, religion and all things relative to morality. I've talked about how God is not a Capitalist, Socialist or Communist. I've also talked a great deal about the so-called "Prosperity Gospel" and its theological, intellectual and emotional shortcomings. Unfortunately, the influence of money is so pervasive and insidious that most of us aren't even aware of its pernicious effects. It is my contention that one of the most insightful statements that Jesus Christ ever made was his reference to the relative incompatibility of possessing wealth with the potential for inheriting his kingdom (Matthew 19:23-24, Mark 10:25 and Luke 18:25).

It is very human to think in terms of different classes of people, and we can all readily affirm that this phenomenon is most often linked to economics. Along these lines, I recently discovered an interesting post that attacked a British politician (Joseph Muscat, Labour Party) for believing "the only thing which separates different social classes of people is money." ( http://daphnecaruanagalizia.com/2016/08/speaks-though-money-separates-different-classes-people/)
According to the author (Daphne Caruana Galizia), culture is the most important factor in defining class ("values, beliefs, attitudes, manners and mores, and behavioural traits").

My question is:  In our world, isn't culture largely defined by money? After all, doesn't the amount of education and the number of opportunities which are available to a person almost always depend on how much money they have or can acquire? And, doesn't education shape values, beliefs, attitudes, manners, etc.?

We like to think that there are better/upper and meaner/lower classes of people, and we like to think of them in terms of culture (we also like to think of ourselves as being part of the better crowd). However, if we are truly honest with ourselves, isn't money the only thing that really separates us from each other? After all, there are many wealthy Democrats in the United States (they don't all belong to the Republican Party). Likewise, we all know many moral people who are very poor, and wealthy individuals who are unscrupulous or amoral. We can probably all point to people of modest means who have exquisite taste in art, music and decorating; and wealthy folks who are garish, boorish and wouldn't recognize class if it bit them in the ass.

For many of us, this is a scary prospect: The notion that money could be the only thing that really separates us from each other. Are you saying that I would be exactly the same as a peasant in Bangladesh if I didn't have money? Are you saying that most of the things that we think of as defining class are really superficial differences that are largely shaped by the presence/absence of wealth? So, take away the money and we're all the same? That is our reality.

Jesus Christ's perspective, however, was radically different. For him, the values were not superficial, they were/are the only things that truly separate us from each other. For him, wealth only made it more difficult to achieve a truly better plane of existence. For Jesus Christ, there were only people. He wasn't concerned with how much wealth and power they had accumulated.

What socioeconomic class do you belong to? Are you upper, middle or lower class? What makes you a member of that class?

We like to say that you can't take it with you when you go, but we've all seen some pretty elaborate tombs and mausoleums at the local cemeteries. Likewise, we've all seen pauper graves - a simple stake, pile of stones or no visible marker. I ask again:  What class do you identify with? What makes you better than the peasant working in a sweat shop in Bangladesh?


  1. "..one of the most insightful statements that Jesus Christ ever made was.."

    There is no evidence for this whatsoever!
    Why do Christians switch off their brains and believe tales?

  2. "There is no evidence for this whatsoever!"
    Don't you mean that you believe the available evidence is poor and not of sufficient quality to attribute the remark to Christ?
    And, just for the record, reaching a different conclusion than you does not constitute switching off my brain or mean that I believe a fairy tale.

    1. Yeah, the Gospels are about as credible as the Book of Mormon or L. Ron Hubbard.

    2. The Gospels talk of the town of Nazareth (didn't exist), returning to one's hometown for census (didn't happen), earthquakes raise dead w/ darkness during day (didn't happen), fierce storm threatens shipwreck - on a lagoon!(a tale refashioned from The Odyssey)...

    3. Minimalist, we've had this discussion before. Yes, the Bible (including the Gospels) is NOT a history textbook. It is NOT a geography textbook. It is NOT a science textbook.
      I know that you are having a hard time accepting this, but it is possible to acknowledge all of that and still see value and worth in the account provided by these very fallible men (the human authors of these accounts). I, along with a great many other THINKING people, still find them to be compelling evidence that a very extraordinary person named Jesus Christ existed early in the First Century, and that it is not unreasonable to conclude that he was somehow connected to the Divine. I respect the fact that you have reached different conclusions - I understand why you have reached those conclusions. I would appreciate an attempt on your part to accord to me the same respect.

    4. "..one of the most insightful statements that Jesus Christ ever made was.."

      So you're saying 'yes, a lot of the Gospels is fiction, but their (non eyewitness/ non contemporary) "record" of his sayings is reliable'?

      It's not healthy to harbor such conflicting views.

    5. "It's not healthy to harbor such conflicting views."
      I feel just fine, and I don't see the conflict. I'm wondering if you happened to read the piece by Paul Davidson on the Sea of Galilee (referenced on Gavin's blog)? If not, you can read it here:
      It's a well-researched and well-written piece that reaches reasonable conclusions about "Mark's" geography. Notice especially relative to our conversation Paul's remarks about the symbolic nature of "Mark's" use of the "Sea" and the availability of Greek and Old Testament inspirations for that use.
      Fiction is sometimes employed by authors to convey profound truths. Apparently, Christ himself was in the habit of using parables to demonstrate the points he wanted to make (sometimes using them to convey spiritual truths).
      I have used the book of Job as an object lesson in this regard. While Job and his home and wealth and friends may all be fictional, the book conveys some profound truths about the way we (humans) deal with loss and each other.
      When it comes to the Bible and religion, you appear to have developed a healthy skepticism (a good thing). Your skepticism, however, does not appear to apply to all things. Your sometimes sweeping and judgmental statements suggest a return to the old Armstrong notion of "I have the truth, and you don't." Is it conflicted to be able to discern both good and bad in something? Is it boring to see things as complex and nuanced?

    6. "..one of the most insightful statements that Jesus Christ ever made was.."

      So Mark's account of the "storm at sea" is fiction, but you believe his Jesus sayings are true?

  3. The New Testament is a reflection of the semi-literate society that produced it. As such, most scholars agree that it draws on both written material and oral tradition. Is it the oral tradition that you have a problem with?
    In Jan Vansina's "Oral Tradition as History" (https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=A-CVBVzZwmAC&oi=fnd&pg=PR5&dq=accuracy+of+oral+tradition&ots=CU8jjAB25O&sig=t3BawTFcOc1XiFT9_t6neLOMKNU#v=onepage&q=accuracy%20of%20oral%20tradition&f=false) we read: "Does this situation and the reliance on memory automatically deprive oral tradition of all validity as a source of history? Or may '...belief upon unwritten story fondly traced from sire to son' (Wordsworth...) be justified? The answer cannot be a simple yes or no. Rather, as with other types of historical sources, this is the question which leads to an examination of how the reliability of various particular traditions can be evaluated."
    Please allow me to use my own experience as an explanation. I am currently writing a fictional account of my family that is based on about forty years of research (including a great deal of oral tradition - Southerners love stories). In some instances, I have recreated dialogue based on letters, other writings of the individuals in question, known circumstances extant at the time, oral traditions about the individuals, etc. Although I can't be absolutely certain, I think it is reasonable to conclude that some of the dialogue which I have created probably took place and was probably close to what I have imagined it to be.
    Moreover, in the case of the gospel accounts, we are told that the writers (or their sources) had the help of the Holy Spirit in remembering what was said (you either believe that or you don't - I happen to believe that). So, do I believe that all of the sayings attributed to Jesus are completely accurate and precise? No. Do I believe that the authors of the gospels captured the essence of Christ's teachings and generally were successful in paraphrasing what he had taught his followers during his lifetime on this planet? Yes!

    1. With what magical hermeneutical algorithm are you able to discern which elements of the Gospels are bunk, and which are authentic?

    2. I wasn't sure whether or not I wanted to answer you - we've been over this ground before. However, just in case someone else is following our conversation and is unfamiliar with past statements on this topic. My "magical hermeneutical algorithm" for discerning between bunk and authentic:
      1. Is the scripture in question consistent with a preponderance of the internal evidence in the book.
      2. Is the scripture in question consistent with known facts from other disciplines (science, history, geography, etc.)
      3. Does the scripture in question violate my own conscience (believers would refer to this as the guidance of the Holy Spirit)?
      4. Is the scripture in question amenable to the application of reasonable standards of interpretation?
      How do I interpret?
      1. What is the context?
      2. What does the original Greek or Aramaic indicate?
      3. Is the language/story symbolic?
      4. How have other folks understood the verses I'm trying to interpret?

    3. Simply *terrible* criteria you have come up with!
      Joseph Smith's seer-stone spectacles would work better!
      Totally lacking scientific objectivism.

      "Internal-evidence": oxymoronic
      Would one use internal-evidence to discern truth in the Book of Mormon or Alice in Wonderland?

    4. At least your assessment of my criteria was scientific and objective!
      Hmmm, I was under the impression that many scholars use internal evidence, and (depending on the circumstances) sometimes even give it preference over external evidence. By the way, you use internal evidence all the time to discredit the Bible.

    5. "..you use internal evidence all the time to discredit the Bible"

      Example of me doing that?

    6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. ".. if you happened to read the piece by Paul Davidson on the Sea of Galilee.."

    I read it before you did (it appeared on another blog before AW)

    So the divine guidance you believe the anonymous writer of Mark - a generation removed from the "events" - had was unable to halt his writing a fable-as-history about the "incident" on the "sea" of Galilee?

    And doesn't your other friend "Luke" guarantee, in his preamble, that what he is about to say is verifiable TRUTH?--then he goes on to 'FIX' certain incredible aspects of Mark's 'storm on the sea' narrative!! INCREDIBLE!