The Damned Rich?

Cadillac ad

At Religion News Service, Jonathan Merritt lays down the smack on rich people—at least the kind of 1%-er depicted in this Cadillac ad:

You can read Merrit’s full rant at “Sochi Cadillac Ad Encourages Worship at the Altar of Work and Stuff.” It’s hard to come away from reading that piece and not think that all rich people are damned.

I think Merritt’s complaint is an extension of the radical discipleship trend.

I used to be one of those people who thought scant numbers of the rich would inhabit the more heavenly portion of the afterlife. At least that’s the way I once read the Bible. (Frankly, we know all the anti-rich verses in the Bible, so I’m not even going to bother putting them here.)

Here’s part of the problem:

There’s no glory in being poor, and all the sociological studies show as much. The poor are by far less happy about life. They struggle more and appreciate the “spiritual benefits” of life’s struggles less. And if anything, “the love of money is the root of all evil” is more of a problem for the poor than the rich. Anyone who has seen a parking lot of a retailer that sells lottery tickets on those days when the government welfare checks arrive knows from the discarded tickets littering the lot’s asphalt that there’s a lot of love of money on display.

Merritt also decries the workaholic lifestyle, but who is the true workaholic when the rich man works 60 hours a week and saves enough money to retire at 50, while the poor man works 40 hours a week and keeps working until he drops dead at 75?

And from what did the attitude in the Caddy commercial originate? The Reformation perhaps? Luther had strong opinions about the sanctity of work, and it was Calvinists who gave us the Protestant Work Ethic concept that now powers much of the mentality on display in that ad.

Here’s the more discombobulating part of the anti-conventional wisdom regarding rich and poor:

In Rodney Stark’s The Triumph of Christianity, the renowned sociologist of religion makes interesting arguments that Jesus was not only not poor, He was likely upper middle class. Stark is no theologian but a sociologist, yet his arguments in favor of his theory are well-reasoned and interesting to ponder.

Even more contrarian is Stark’s less conjectured argument that the early Christian Church was not only bankrolled by the richest members of that era’s society, but the rich were Church members at twice the percentage as their representation in the general population. In short, the Church in Acts was loaded by the organizational standards of the day, and the rich were some of its most prevalent members.

Yet even more upending is Stark’s contention that the rich Church has been the case for almost the entirety of its history. This was true in Rome, where the homes that the traveling evangelists often stayed were on the order of today’s McMansions—or even larger. This was also true in post-Rome Europe, where the poor were almost never Christians (but instead practiced pagan religions) and Christianity was bankrolled and supported by the nobility.

In fact, when Merritt claims that rich people finance today’s megachurches—as if this is some damning statement—in reality, this has always been the case in history.

Stark notes the fledgling Church would not have gotten anywhere and definitely would not have spread as it did without people with a lot of money investing in the work of the Kingdom. Same for the Protestant Reformation. That Luther-led revolt against the RCC would have died early on, since Luther would have been assassinated and his writings unpublished—if not for the German nobility who protected the reformer and funded his writings.

Is it hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom? Sure. But hard does not mean impossible. Stark’s historical research shows as much.

Christians need to be very careful about painting with a broad brush with regard to rich and poor. Many times, the supposed materialist is the one secretly funding a ministry you and I swear is life-changing and godly.

Stuff I Don’t Get: The Money Divide


I’ve never met a poor Presbyterian or Episcopalian. Likewise, I don’t think I’ve ever met a loaded Pentecostal or Holiness church member.

I have some theories about why some groups of American Christians have more money than others, but they aren’t bulletproof. Does God simply bless Episcopalians more? I find that hard to believe, especially today.

What do you think?

Miscellaneous Thoughts on a Labor Day Weekend


Spent most of the week “riding the chair” as I like to say. Misunderstood a timetable point on a project I was working on, so I had to kick it into overdrive. Cerulean Sanctum went on the backburner. Apologies if I felt a bit distant and uninvolved this week.

Here’s what I’ve been thinking:

  • I hated Blue Like Jazz and didn’t even bother to finish it—something I never do, even with the worst books—but I thought Don Miller’s prayer at the Democratic National Convention was worthy in light of the venue. Yes, it did have a liberal feel to it and, yes,  he did absolve others from believing in Jesus by using himself as a proxy for their belief in his comments at the end, and, yes, he could have been more of a burning witness for Christ, but he did one thing that I admired: He touched on all the social aspects of the Gospel that never get one hint of mention during a typical prayer at a GOP/Evangelical-dominated event. We can say what we will about how we live out the Gospel, but Miller’s prayer highlights one very sad truth about American Christians: Each of us has a half-empty cup when it comes to understanding what it means to live out the full Gospel of Jesus Christ on a practical, daily basis.

  • As for Obama, for someone who keeps talking about change and pushing past old paradigms, he could not have chosen a bigger old paradigm ball-and-chain than Joe “Tony Blair Said It and So Will I” Biden. I mean, seriously. Talk about “old boy networks” and “this is my time” privilege! Joe Biden? Some DNC bigwigs took Obama into a back room and said, “If you have any party loyalty at all, you WILL be choosing the biggest character we owe now that Ted Kennedy’s out of the picture.” Seriously. That conversation happened. I’ll bet good money on it.

  • This just in: John McCain shows he’s got the mojo Obama lacks in picking veeps: It’s Sarah Palin, governor of Alaska, and a darned good choice, too. She’s the closest thing to Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher that we’ve seen in American politics since Elizabeth Dole ( whom I thought was a more viable presidential candidate than her husband, Bob).

  • The more I think about it, the more I realize that one of the most important and influential figures of the 20th century was not a politician, but an explorer, filmmaker, inventor, scientist, firebrand, and intellect: Jacques-Yves Cousteau. He’s one of the most underestimated and overlooked figure of our day. To say he’s the greatest person to come out of 20th century France takes no effort. His global influence even after his death is extraordinary. Do the research and you’ll see what I mean.

  • Doesn’t it bother you that we have to go back more than fifty years to begin to find great Americans that commanded the world’s stage? I think nothing speaks louder about the shriveled figures we thrust into the global spotlight today than that sad truth.

  • In other news, The Wall Street Journal now claims that there are more ultra-rich than ever before in this country. On the other hand, in the same edition, it claims the middle class are getting killed. Hmm. Two Americas? Where have we heard that before?

  • Irony of the Day: I got my renewal for The Wall Street Journal two weeks ago. One year? $349. Ouch! Six years ago when I started reading it, I paid $149 for a year. Then $179. Then $199. Then $219. Then they offered me $299 for 18 months and I thought I was actually getting a deal. Now it looks like the newspaper of record in the Edelen household is going bye-bye. I guess this is why Rupert Murdoch, the new owner, is one of the world’s richest men. If we need any further commentary on the decline of newspaper readership in the United States, I can post the renewal notice online so we can all cringe.

  • By far, the most read post on Cerulean Sanctum is this one. It’s also the most Googled post. Every day of the year I get about a dozen search engine hits on that post and hundreds at the start of a new year. What does that say about churches that so many people are Googling to find the direction they need on this issue?

  • The runner-up in Googling and reading? This post. I’ll leave you to guess why.

  • Is there any weirder holiday than Labor Day? Honestly, I sometimes get Labor Day and Memorial Day mixed up.

Anyway, have a wonderful, relaxing weekend, no matter what holiday it is.