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Jan. 3 2010 - 1:37 pm | 117 views | 0 recommendations | 2 comments

Christianity’s connection to the economic downturn

A cross and a sign reading 'Jesus is Lord' are...

Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

The December issue of The Atlantic had as its cover story a piece about the connection between the prosperity gospel which, as The Immanent Frame puts it, is “a strain of Christian teaching tens of millions of believers strong, which proclaims that an unfaltering faith in God will lead to monetary and other material blessings in this lifetime” — and the economic downturn. Simply put, the story argues that Christianity (or at least certain pastors working with big banks like Wells Fargo) may have played a direct role in the recession in so far as it encouraged Christians, who believed and lived according to the prosperity gospel, to buy homes they couldn’t afford.

Over at The Immanent Frame, scholars and journalists weigh in on the article and Christianity’s connection to the economy.

It’s interesting to read what others make of what was a pretty provocative magazine cover. Here’s a few snippets from the experts…

In September of 2008, I suggested that there was a relationship between the economic excesses of the past few decades and the prosperity gospel…Many wanted to run with this notion that we should lay the blame for the subprime mortgage mess or economic crash at the feet of Christian preachers. But this was never my point. I find it absurd to believe that prosperity preachers have either the influence or intelligence to enact a global economic downturn. The difference, it seems, is whether we interpret the relationship as causal or corollary. Jonathan L. Walton, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, University of California – Riverside

Over time, the religious aspects no longer served as the reason why people worked long hours; rather, it was simply the acquisition of wealth that motivated people to work hard. Rachel McCleary, Senior Research Fellow, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

It seems to me that there is something right about the prosperity gospel. There is a germ of truth to it insofar as the prosperity gospel (rightly!) suggests that the gospel is good news not just for souls, but for bodies—that Jesus came to announce good news not just for the poor “in spirit,” but for the poor. Redemption is also economic. James K.A. Smith, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Calvin College


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  1. collapse expand

    “When it is voluntary, poverty is a choice; but when it is not, it feels like a curse. Can anyone expect a hungry mother of three in a fetid slum of Recife or Lagos to respond to a message about the spiritual benefits of poverty?”

    I found Harvey Cox’s reply cogent.

  2. collapse expand

    Despite its tacky title (“Did Christianity Cause the Crash?”), Rosin’s Atlantic piece is very good, solid reporting. We believers need to face up to the problem of these success-scam ministries, though I’m not sure what power we actually have to stop the crooks in question. After all, promoting positive-thinking mythology isn’t illegal (maybe it should be). If it was, we’d see a massive reduction in the number of self-help titles at Waldenbooks.

    The p. gospel obviously contributes to our economic woes. Too bad I can’t put that in the past tense, but, as the piece points out, the p. gospel marks have yet to learn the folly of empowering rich crooks. Kind of like the public in general, no?

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    About Me

    I'm a journalist living in Los Angeles. I work at the national radio business show Marketplace while freelancing for a number of places. My work has appeared in the Washington Post, Salon, Slate, among other papers across the country. I write about religion a lot.

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