Posts Tagged ‘Greed’

A Culture of Equality and Generosity

July 23, 2015

Paul, in the narratives of “collection” to the “saints” in Jerusalem, promotes a culture of equality and generosity as a counter to the greed culture in the society. He considers “remembering the poor” as an integral part of his apostolic mission. This can be seen in his repetition of the “collection” to the believers in need in Jerusalem in Galatians 2.10, I Corinthians 16.1-4, II Corinthians 1.15-16, II Corinthians chapters 8-9, and Romans 15.25-32. In Romans 15.25, Paul says that he is going to Jerusalem on a “ministry” (diakonia) to the “saints” in Jerusalem. The Greek word diakonia is also used for the ministry of the gospel in Rom. 11.13 and II Cor. 4.1, 5.18. That means, for him, “helping the poor” is not separate from the “ministry of the gospel”. Therefore, Paul is encouraging the Gentile churches to participate in the ministry to the “saints” in the Jerusalem church. Interestingly, he uses the Greek verb leitourgein in II Cor. 9.12 and Rom. 15.27. This verb has a secular sense (“to serve the need”) and a cultic sense (“to serve as a priest”). In Philippians 2.30 he employs leitourgein in the secular sense of “serving one’s need”. It is used to Epaphroditus (leitourgos) as he brought the “gift” sent by the Philippian church to serve Paul’s need (Phil. 2.25). In this service Epaphroditus even risked his own life. In II Cor. 9.12 leitourgia refers to the “collection” itself. Leitourgein in Rom. 15.27 may be understood in secular sense when seen in the light of Phil. 2.25, 30 and II Cor. 9.12.

On the other hand, Paul in Phil. 2.17 uses leitourgein in the cultic sense. Also in Rom. 15.27 it may be understood in cultic sense if seen in the light of leitourgos of Rom. 15.16. Paul employs the cultic language in connection with his taking the collection raised among the Gentile churches to the “saints” in Jerusalem (Rom.15.15-33): “priest of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles”, “perform a priestly function with regard to the Gospel of God”, “the offering of the Gentiles, sanctified by the Holy Spirit might be acceptable” (Rom. 15.15-16). The “offering” mentioned in Rom. 15.16 can be taken as the object of Gentiles (i.e. offering given by the Gentiles). This is supported by Phil. 4.18, where Paul describes the Philippians’ “gift” to him as “a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God.” Thus, Paul is depicting the economic relationship with a cultic metaphor of “offering”. “Offering” in the cultic context points to an exchange between God and the offerer(s), where the latter offers “an innocent and defenseless sacrificial victim” as a sacrifice to God. Rene Girard calls this “scapegoat mechanism”. The power of this mechanism lies in its deception and concealment. On the one hand, it deceives by depicting God as the one who is demanding “sacrificial victims”, and thus, portraying violence against the “victims” as a sacred act. On the other hand, it conceals the plight of the innocent and voiceless “sacrificial victims” and transforms the “violence against the victims” as a “good violence”. Thus, the cycle of scapegoating the “weak and vulnerable” continues. Raymund Schwager says that “according to its basic structure, the sacrificial cult is a ritual repetition of the scapegoat mechanism.” The OT prophets were opposed to all of the sacrificial rites in Israel. Amos denounced the cultic practices of the people: “I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon” (Amos 5:21-22). The prophets demanded, rather to “seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:17). Aligning himself with this prophetic tradition and depicting the sharing of resources with the needy as an “offering to God”, Paul is providing a counter culture where “offering” required by God’s justice is not “sacrificial violence” against an innocent and voiceless victim, but serving the need of the victim or sharing God’s resources with the victim of the structural violence. Dominic Crossan calls this “God’s distributive justice”. Far from demanding victims, God not only identifies with the victims, but also addresses the situation of their victimization.

1. Equality

Paul presents the Macedonian believers as an example of those who were pleased to participate in “God’s distributive justice”. In Romans he repeats twice that they were pleased to share their resources with the needy in Jerusalem (Rom. 15.26,27). The Macedonian Christians even “begged” Paul and his colleagues to allow them to be partners in this ministry of sharing their resources with the “saints” in Jerusalem. Testifying about them, Paul says: “(D)uring a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity” (II Cor. 8.2). Notice the contrast between the external situation and the character of the Macedonian believers: “a severe ordeal of affliction” and “abundant joy”, and “extreme poverty” and “a wealth of generosity”. The sharing is clearly not from “plenty” to “want” but from “want” to “want”. Their sharing is not a “charity” or a “free giving” of what is “extra” or “useless” or even “free giving” of tax money. It clearly challenges the existing stereotypes of “giver” and “receiver” in exchange relationship that assumes and assigns superior and inferior status to all participants.

Paul also informs the pure intent of the Macedonian believers in their sharing of God’s resources. He employs the Greek word haplotēs for the “generosity” of the Macedonian (and Corinthian) believers (II Cor. 8.2, cf. 9.11). Haplotēs does not mean merely “generosity”, but “generosity arising out of purity of mind”. In other words, this “giving” to those in need arose from pure intentions without any ulterior or malicious motives. It is sharing with pure intent of what God has given them with their fellow brothers and sisters who are in need.

Being conscious of the “obligatory” relationship between the “giver” and the “receiver” present in the existing society, Paul is cautious not to give it a foothold in the counter community of Jesus Christ. One thing that is not emphasized in I Cor. 16.1-4 and II Cor. 8-9 is the economic hardship of the “saints of Jerusalem church”. Even though one could speculate that the Gentile churches already knew about the situation of these believers in the Jerusalem church (cf. II Cor. 9.12), one wonders why Paul did not repeat this important information to gather sympathy from the Gentile churches, since the issue was a matter of urgency for him. In II Cor. 9.11-12, just as in II Cor. 8.13-14, by avoiding the mentioning of the economic hardship of the needy in the Jerusalem church in the context of “collection”, he is careful to see that the Jerusalem church, as a result of receiving the economic contribution, would not be placed in a direct obligatory relationship to the Gentile churches.

Rather, Paul is emphasizing two things: the principle of equality and the source of wealth. Paul speaks of “their need” in connection to equality or “fair balance” (II Cor. 8.13-14): “I do not mean that there is relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance.” The common interpretation of “their need” is “the material need of the Jerusalem believers”. If that is the meaning, what about the phrases “your need” and “their abundance”? The reference to Corinthians’ “need” is ambiguous here. It can not be understood as referring to material need because Corinthian believers are considered to be relatively rich and that is why Paul is writing this letter to share from their material riches, nor can it be taken as referring to “spiritual poverty” because in II Cor. 8.9 it is already said that Christ has made them rich. Also Paul in II Cor. 8.15 cites Exodus 16.18 which refers to the experience of the people of Israel in the wilderness when they gathered manna for themselves: “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.” The implication is that it was God who made “equality” to happen. In other words, God is a God of “fairness” or “equality”. Here it is appropriate to take it as a general illustration of the principle of equality. Thus, Paul directs the focus of the Corinthian believers to God’s principle of “fairness” or “equality”. This should become the motivation for them to share their resources with the needy in the Jerusalem church. For Paul, it is a concrete demonstration of the God’s new creation. Crossan wonders: “What better deserves the title of a new creation than the abnormalcy of a share-world replacing the normalcy of a greed-world?”

Paul also focuses their attention to the source of their wealth, God. In II Cor. 9.11-12, Paul says that the Corinthian church is in a position to give because God the supplier has provided them with wealth (both spiritual and material, II Cor. 8.9, 9.10). The ultimate purpose of their giving is to render thanksgiving to God (II Cor. 9.11,12). In other words, their generosity is out of their gratitude to the Source of their wealth. Thus, by linking the generosity of the Corinthian church to God and not to the economic poverty of the Jerusalem believers, Paul has consciously disconnected the Jerusalem church as the “receiver” from the patronal power of the “giver” and dissuaded the economically rich from using their economic contribution to advance their patronal power.

2. Generosity

Paul gives two examples of “generosity” to the Corinthian believers: Macedonian believers and Jesus Christ (II Cor. 8.1-6; 8.9). He praises the voluntary “generosity” of the Macedonian believers: “(B)egging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry” (II Cor. 8.4)). This is linked to the “generous act” of Jesus Christ: “the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ” (II Cor. 8.9). In these two examples Paul is emphasizing their generous character and their focus on the welfare of the other. The generous character of the Macedonian believers is depicted by the paradox of “a wealth of their generosity” in “extreme poverty”. As explained above, the Greek word haplotēs denotes “generosity out of pure mind”, that is, without any malicious and hidden intent. That means, their “generosity” is purely for the welfare of the believers in the Jerusalem church. The generous character of Jesus Christ is expressed in his act: “though he was rich…he became poor” (II Cor.8.9), and the focus on the welfare of the needy: “for your sakes…so that…you might become rich.” Paul further says that the “generosity” of Jesus Christ exemplifies the “genuineness of love” (II Cor. 8.8-9). In other words, the “generous act” of Jesus Christ is the expression of the genuineness of love. Thus, the model for agape love is Jesus Christ (cf. Gal. 2.20). Paul in Gal. 5.6 exhorts that faith in Christ manifests itself through loving service, or “it erupts into communal life as love” (Gal. 5.6 “faith working through love”). A believer in Christ imitates the agape love of Jesus Christ, and thus breaks free from the culture of greed and becomes a part of the community of the new creation, whose concrete pattern of life is based on agape love (Gal. 5.13-14). It is the love modeled on Christ that becomes the distinctive character of the community of the new creation. It becomes evident, then, that the culture of the new creation becomes a critique and subversive of the existing greed culture.

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Contentment

November 6, 2014

Contentment is one of the most crucial virtues. It is the “rare jewel” in the present day society. Because we live in a time that is set up to keep us from being content with ourselves and therefore we suffer from insecurity, lack of self-confidence and anxiety. Take a look at the media. The whole point of media and advertising is to convince us that we are not happy, that we don’t have enough, that we need more of what they are selling. When we buy their product, or when we have the lifestyle and body and looks of celebrities and models, then we will be happy!

The current economic system is set up to do the same thing. It is expected of us to try and earn as much money as we can. One house is not enough. Two cars are not enough. A six-digit salary is not enough. There is always an anxious need to gain more, even it means stepping on others to get there.

So from the moment we are born we are brainwashed to believe that the only way to happiness is to earn as much money as possible, to have perfect abs, the perfect boyfriend or girlfriend, or big house in the right neighbourhood. If we don’t have these things, then we are not happy. Since most of us don’t have these things, we hold on to a neurotic need to be different than who we are and live life with much stress and anxiety as we helplessly look for the thing that will make us happy. And those of us who have the money, the perfect abs and all the rest are just as unsettled, because they discover that the things they thought would make them happy really don’t. They too helplessly look for that elusive and illusive thing they are missing.

And the result is DISCONTENTMENT.

Discontentment opens up our hearts to many unhealthy habits in our lives. Materialism is, after all, the natural behaviour born out of discontent with our self-image. Dishonesty is born out of discontent with the truth. Substance abuse is born out of displeasure with the current state of our lives. So many people are unhappy in their jobs and in their marriages or with their own self image. They cast off their spouse in search of someone with better mansions or better status or more hair or less shortcomings. But no matter what they do they can never shake off that gnawing sense of anxiety and unease that is stuck in their chest.

If a person cultivates discontentment instead of contentment, then that person will never be happy and at peace with who s/he is, and what s/he has.

One person who had figured out the secret of contentment was the apostle Paul. In his letter to the church at Philippi, he talks about contentment: “Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have” (Phil. 4.11).

The Greek word that is used for “content” in Phil. 4.11 is autarkēs, which means “sufficient or adequate in one’s self” or “contented with one’s lot”. This word is found only here in the entire New Testament. In I Tim 6.6 another Greek word autarkeia is used for “contentment” which means “contentedness” or “a frame of mind viewing one’s lot as sufficient”.

Autarkēs is used by the Stoic philosophers to describe a man of emotionless, wooden impassivity, the man whom nothing could touch because in himself he had found a completely satisfying world. Paul used this word meaning “restful contentment”, the opposite of covetousness or the desire for more. Circumstances have no power over a contented person. Paul says, “I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need” (Phil. 4.12).

Contrary to Paul, the people of Israel lacked the virtue of contentment during their journey in the wilderness. At Pi-hahiroth, when the Israelites saw the Egyptian army they cried out in great fear to the Lord and said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness” (Ex. 14.10-12; compare this with Ex. 3.7-10 which tells that Israelites cried to God to liberate them from their Egyptian bondage!). Again Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (Ex. 16.3). At Rephidim when there was no water, they again complained, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” (Ex. 17.3). And Ex. 17.7 says, “He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’” They tried to force God’s hand: “If God were really with us this would never have happened. Let him deliver us and we will trust him.” Thus they tested God. Israelites expected their God to fulfill their needs and wants with or without their demand! In other words, they wanted their God to act or provide according to their expectations, and thus keep them comfortable, insulating them from any lack or pain or suffering! This resulted in their discontentment.

Contentment is not found in having everything we like or we want or we need. It is not about always being comfortable and always getting our way. If that’s the only way we can find joy and peace, then we will be unhappy and restless a lot. In Phil. 4.12 Paul explains that contentment isn’t about circumstances. He says, “I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.” The greater part of our happiness and misery depends not upon our circumstances, but upon our disposition. Socrates says, “He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.”

Therefore, contentment is an attitude and an intentional act of will or a willful choice. As Paul told Timothy, “We brought nothing into the world, so that we take nothing out of it, but if we have food and clothing (and shelter) we will be content with these” (I Tim. 6.7-8). Job understood when he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1.21).

Contentment is the state of being satisfied with what one has, with her/his status and current situation. It is not resignation, which is more about giving up, being a victim and feeling disempowered. Being contented means that one is truly satisfied with her/his life as it is right now! Of course there is always room to grow and expand who we are and how we live our lives. But we can also be satisfied with how much we have and accept ourselves as we are. This is a powerful way to be in the world. This means we are not victim to other’s opinions, including media and movies. We actually live our lives in a more authentic way!

Contentment is a learned behavior. It is something which Paul learned: “I have learned to be content with whatever I have” (Phil. 4.11). The Greek verb used here for “learned” is manthanō which means “to learn by practice or experience” or “acquire a habit”.

In Phil 4.12 a different Greek word is used for “learned”, i.e. mueō, which means “to be disciplined in a practical lesson” or “to learn a lesson”. This word is used in the Greek mystery religions to describe people who had worked their way up through the various lower “degrees” and had finally admitted into full possession of “the mystery” itself.

Through all life’s ups and downs Paul has learned how to be content. Bit by bit, test by test, circumstance by circumstance, he persevered through the lower “degrees” until he finally “matured” in acquiring the virtue of contentment. Contentment did not come easily. He acquired it through discipline. Paul says, “I have made my way up through the degrees of progressive detachment from the things of the world, its comforts and its discomforts alike, and finally I have reached maturity on this point. I know the secret; circumstances can never again touch me.” Thus, contentment is the mark of a mature believer, and a virtue to be cultivated by all believers who want to grow in Jesus Christ, who had “nowhere to lay his head” (Lk. 9.58).

What is the secret of Paul’s contented life? How could he be joyful and peaceful in spite of being imprisoned, being in trying situations (1.7, 13, 17; 4.4, 10)? How could he be joyful and peaceful at all times? Paul says, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4.13). This verse might be translated as “I have strength for all circumstances through him who strengthens me.” True, lasting, lifelong contentment is found only in God.

Obstacles to Contentment

In every single one of our lives there are things that stand between us and contentment like a huge wall that we can never seem to scale. Some of the most common ones are:

  1. Selfishness

Pleasure seekers get caught up in high consumption, compulsive acquisition and instantaneous gratification. Instead of being content with what they have, they want to have the latest and the greatest. They feel they need to have something new to satisfy them.

Although the root of discontent is selfishness, it plays out in two ways: Greed and covetousness. Even though these two are closely related, there is a difference. When I am greedy, I just want what is there, whether it is needed or not. When I covet, I specifically want what you have.

  1. Greed

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to contentment is greed. “If only I had a little bit more money, a little bit more things, a little bit more beauty, a little bit more comfort….” The words “if only” are contentment-killers.

Ambition is not wrong. One may strive for excellence and to go up the socio-economic ladder. But when ambition is uncontrolled, or when it simply fuels our ego, it is not good. James writes, “For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind” (James 3.16).

Bible warns specifically against the selfish ambition to get rich: “Keep your lives free from the love of money” (Heb. 13.5). Because “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (I Tim. 6.10). The love of money is not only a root of all kinds of evil, but also an empty love. It will never satisfy, rather it brings misery and destruction. Greedy people fall into temptations like lust and envy. They fall into the traps of corruption and compromise. They become trapped by their own envious desires as they forsake their morals and convictions in order to achieve their goal of financial gain (or selfish purposes/ends). Their greed, their foolish and harmful desires will plunge them into ruin and destruction (I Tim. 6.9, 10).

  1. Covetousness

Covetousness is a big factor in being discontent. It means desiring what belongs to the other. This happens when people are not satisfied with their own selves and what they have, and start comparing with others. The problem is that comparison is the enemy of contentment, because there will always be people who possess a greater quality or quantity of what they think they should have. Because of this, comparison leads to covetousness. Instead of loving their neighbours, they find themselves loving what they possess.

Covetousness robs people of enjoying and being grateful for who they are and what they have. Advertising agencies exploit this human weakness. The goal of advertising is to create discontent with who they are and what they have. It makes them believe that their toothpaste isn’t good enough, their vehicle isn’t good enough, their appearance isn’t good enough, and their life isn’t as good as it would be if they bought their products. And it works. It seeps into their brains and spoils their hearts.

Discontentment breeds resentment towards themselves, their parents, their spouses, their children and God. They get angry and resentful toward God because from their perspective, God is depriving them of what they think they should have.

The truth is that if they are not satisfied with who they are and what they have, they will never be satisfied with what they want!

 

  1. Unhealthy Sense of Entitlement

Another major obstacle to contentment is an unhealthy sense of entitlement. It is thinking that we deserve something or that the world owes us something. It’s getting angry when we don’t get our own way. Paul addresses this in I Timothy 6.6-8: “Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.”

So the world doesn’t owe us anything. We are not any more special or privileged than the next person. We came into this world with nothing and we will leave it with nothing. Let’s be humble and not think more highly of ourselves than we should.

  1. Unrealistic Expectations

Media, movies and advertisements are contributing to unrealistic expectations of people, particularly younger generation. The level of expectation has changed and many people today just expect everything to be theirs. When young people get married, they want everything right now that it took their parents years to accumulate.

The consequences of unrealistic expectations are anxiety, stress, depression, addictions, unhealthy relationships, family conflicts, divorce and suicide.

 

How to Cultivate the Virtue of Contentment

  1. Gratitude

Everywhere one looks these days, one finds unhappy and upset people. Parents demean their children, children blame their parents. Advertisers make it clear in thousands of ways every day that our lives as consumers will never be meaningful or fulfilled until we purchase their products. We live in a culture of deficit, demand and desire. One’s own self and its insatiable demands become the center of one’s life. The orientation towards deficit, demand and desire is rampant in contemporary culture which results in discontentment.

One deep root of the pervasive discontent appears to be ingratitude. The inability to acknowledge and appreciate gifts and benefits one has received from God, parents, siblings, spouse, friends, relatives and natural world tends towards bitterness and, eventually, inhumanity. Immanuel Kant, German philosopher and theologian, counted the inability to express gratitude among the three “meanest and basest vices” that degrade the individual and corrupt society.

Ingratitude is hardly a modern phenomenon. One day Jesus encountered it while on his way to Jerusalem (Lk. 17.11-18). Luke’s account of the healing of the ten lepers underscores the human tendency to expect grace as our due and to forget to thank God for his acts of grace and kindness. To be ungrateful is, at root, to deliberately and willfully ignore God’s acts of grace and kindness. Jesus had to ask the one leper, who was healed and came back to thank Jesus, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”

One of the main causes for ingratitude is deliberate and willful forgetfulness. Ancient Israel’s calendar included several annual festivals to remind the Israelites of God’s acts of deliverance and provision so that they would renew their sense of gratitude and reliance upon God.

In spite of this Israelites forgot: “Nevertheless they were disobedient and rebelled against you” (Neh. 9.26); “Our ancestors when they were in Egypt did not consider your wonderful works; they did not remember the abundance of your steadfast love … But they soon forgot his works” (Ps. 106. 7, 13). Prophet Hosea captured the essence of this decline into ingratitude: “When I fed them, they were satisfied; they were satisfied and their heart was proud; therefore they forgot me” (Hos. 13.6).

Os Guinness says, “Rebellion against God does not begin with the clenched fist of atheism but with the self-satisfied heart of the one for whom ‘thank you’ is redundant.”

Centuries earlier, Moses warned the children of Israel that they would be tempted to forget the Lord once they began to enjoy the blessings of the promised land: “When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery…Do not say to yourself, ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” (Deut. 8.12-14, 17). The antidote to this spiritual poison is: “But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gave you power to get wealth” (Deut. 8.18).

Even as believers in God, we tend to overlook the fact that all that we are and have – our health, our intelligence, our abilities, our very lives, our families – are gifts from God, and not our own creation.

Forgetfulness leads to ingratitude. We tend towards two extremes when we forget to remember God’s acts of grace and kindness in our lives. The first extreme is presumption: when things are going “our way”, we may forget God or acknowledge him in a shallow or mechanical manner. The other extreme is bitterness and resentment due to difficult circumstances. When we suffer setbacks and losses, we wonder why we are not doing as well as others and develop a mindset of murmuring and complaining.

Most of us are awful at acknowledging and showing appreciation for the goodness done to us. A young man with a bandaged hand approached the clerk at the post office, and asked, “Sir, could you please address this postcard for me?” The clerk did so gladly, and then agreed to write a message on the card. He then asked, “Is there anything else I can do for you?” The young man looked at the card for a moment and then said, “Yes, add a PS: ‘Please excuse the handwriting!’” The disposition of the young man is not on the help that the clerk extended graciously, but on the bad handwriting of the clerk!

Gratitude is a knowing awareness that we are recipients of goodness. It combats discontentment because gratitude takes our focus off what we don’t have and onto what we have. It grows contentment in us. Therefore, gratitude and contentment go hand in hand. Cicero, Roman philosopher, says, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”

Gratitude is a conscious and willful choice or decision, not merely a feeling. It is not a result of our circumstances. Gratitude causes us to focus on the good things we already have regardless of our present circumstances. That’s why Paul says, “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (I Thes. 6.16-18). The more we live in the discipline of conscious thanksgiving, the more natural it becomes, and the more our eyes are opened to the little things that we have received.

Gratitude requires humility. It requires us to admit we have been the recipient of goodness we don’t deserve. Gratitude broadens our perspective so we can see the source of the good things we have. Whether we are thanking our parent, spouse, teacher, friend, or a mentor who has invested into our lives, our response of gratitude to their action gives the praise to the one who rightly deserves it.

Studies show that there is a correlation between gratitude, physical health and contentment. Grateful people report increased wellbeing, better health, healthier lifestyles, increased optimism, and a more positive outlook on life. Additionally, those who display a high level of gratitude are much more likely to have below average levels of materialism.

The fruits of gratitude are:

  • Lower stress
  • Stronger immune system
  • Improved cardiovascular function
  • Increased energy
  • Less likelihood of depression
  • Deeper sleep
  • Stronger relationships
  • Deeper sense of purpose
  • Better coping strategies

Thus, gratitude is the very thing that makes life at the same time both livable and delightful. “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home and a stranger into a friend.”

  1. Generosity

Generosity is a sign of being content. In other words, the secret of contentment is revealed in generosity. Because contentment makes the poor man rich and discontentment makes the rich man poor (Prov. 11.24-25). When we give our time, our energy and our resources to help others, it has a way of adjusting our priorities and reminding us how blessed we are. It also gives peace, joy and satisfaction.

  1. Trust in God

Contentment is an outworking of our faith in God. The closer our relationship with God is, the more we will trust him and the less we will be bothered by the circumstances of life. We rest in his power and sufficiency. That’s why Paul says, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4.13). The writer of Hebrews instructs, “Be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you. So we can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid” (Heb. 13.5-6).

  1. Want Vs Need

One should contemplate on the difference between a want and a need. A want is usually based on fantasy. It’s usually something we don’t have and we think that when we get it we will be happy. Wanting something leads to never feeling satisfied because the mind is very creative thing, easily persuaded by the latest trends and always dreaming up more and more things to want. This means we rarely get the chance to fully enjoy what we already have!

A need, on the other hand, is more practical and has to do with the basics – either physical, emotional, mental or spiritual. One may want the “perfect boyfriend”, but what she may need is affection, support and some enjoyment. There is nothing wrong to have dreams, but dreams take time to attain, may be a lifetime, while getting our needs met can happen quickly – if we can identify what they are and if we have the courage to ask!

Charles Spurgeon said, “A man’s contentment is in his mind, not in the extent of his possessions.” The secret of contentment is not about HAVING, it’s about BEING. Contentment is found when my mind and heart are centered on God.

Christian Detachment from Worldly Things

October 13, 2014

Our effectiveness as Christians hangs on our concept of what “Christian detachment from worldly things” means. Perhaps most of our personal and family, and Christian church and organisation problems would be solved if we had a proper biblical concept of what it really is.

The question of Christian detachment from worldly things has been a bone of contention among Christians for many years. Though Scriptures are clear on this matter, still we may not be able to solve all the problems in this article. But we do want to take a good look at the subject.

A. Misconception

1. Worldly Things

There are some very pointed warnings in the New Testament to Christians concerning worldly things:

“Do not love the world or the things in the world…For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride in riches – comes not from the Father but from the world” (I John 2:15-16).

“Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God” (James 4:4).

“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2).

Regarding a young man who travelled with him, Paul says, “Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me” (II Tim. 4:10).

So Christians, as a result of these warnings, have through the centuries drawn up lists of things they considered worldly. Naturally their ideas have differed widely on these matters. Whenever people had difficulty with some temptation or some particular type of recreation or some activity which gave them trouble, they learned a lesson from it, or thought they did, and marked that particular thing down as worldly.

So there came into being a great many different lists of worldly things, varying widely because of the different places of origin. As a result of this, we have today certain Christians in the US (Amish sect) called “hook-and-eye Baptists”. They are given that name because they believe that buttons are worldly and that the proper biblical way to fasten your clothing is not with a button but with a hook and eye. In their view button wearing Christians are worldly, and the hook-and-eye Christians are spiritual. It is as much a worldly thing to them as some of the things on your list are to you. And they feel quite as upset over violations as you do when your standards are transgressed. So on the basis of our lists of “Christian standards” we blithely determine ourselves and others either worldly or spiritual.

Standards differ widely in Christian circles about many things. We all have a tendency to think that the things that we have been taught while we were growing up are the inspired truth. Many of us often seem to mistake our prejudices for convictions. Few of us have ever taken time to check these with biblical principles as to whether they are really true or not.

When we make a list of “things” which we regard as inherently worldly and evil in themselves, we tend to withdraw into our own watertight Christian circle of affairs which results in people becoming insensitive and unsympathetic, and eventually smug and complacent in their views towards others. We become like the priest and the Levite in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, who each passed by on the other side of the road when they saw the wounded traveller, lest they become defiled by helping him. These are the Christians who are so concerned about being defiled with worldliness that they have lost touch with the world. They are no longer interested in helping people around them, in meeting their needs and addressing their problems.

2. Detachment

In contemporary usage detachment suggests separation, seclusion, aloofness and withdrawal from the world. To withdraw from household life, renounce possessions and adopt a solitary mendicancy in order to concentrate on spiritual life.

In colloquial usage, to say a person is detached implies that the person is not willing to become involved with others or that s/he is neither approachable nor sympathetic.

Must a follower of Jesus Christ completely isolate herself/himself from the world, and everything in it, in order to avoid being worldly? Must Christians be odd and weird, and sound and look “spiritual” in order to avoid worldly things?

We often cite the exhortation of “being in the world but not of it” as the fundamental tension of living the Christian life. Although it suggests, rightly, that we need some detachment from our concerns in the world, it does not mean that we should be oblivious of the world around us. Neither does it mean that there is nothing good in the so-called secular world. Rather, Christians need to examine values that have developed in the society and discern the goodness that Jesus revealed in his life.

As Christians we should be willing to not only notice the goodness or virtues in the lives of people, but also learn from them. Take the example of P. Kalyanasundaram, a gold medallist in library science. He worked as a librarian over 30 years at Kumarkurupara Arts College, Srivaikuntam, Tuticorin district, Tamil Nadu. He also did M.A. in literature and history. A will to serve combined with a sense of social justice has been guiding principle of Kalyanasundaram, who has spent in social service for over 45 years. In his 30 years plus service as a librarian, every month he donated his salary to help the needy. He worked as a server in a hotel to meet his needs. He donated even his pension amount of about 10 lakhs to the needy.

In recognition of his service, the United Nations Organisation adjudged him as “One of the Outstanding People of the 20th century.” An American organisation honoured him with the “Man of the Millennium” award. He received a sum of Rs. 30 crores as part of this award which he distributed entirely to the needy. The International Biographical Centre, Cambridge, has honoured him as “One of the Noblest of the World”. The Union Government of India has acclaimed him as “The Best Librarian in India”. He has also been chosen as “One of the Top Ten Librarians of the World”.

He stays as a bachelor and has dedicated his entire life for serving the needy.

On the other hand, being in the church does not automatically save us from the opportunistic, insensitive, and even vicious behaviour of fellow Christians which hinder the church’s development of values which Jesus himself embodied.

Even if we wanted to, could we really have Jesus without also having worldly things along with him? If our piety involved relating to a God who had never entered the human condition, then it would follow that we can best be united with this God by stripping ourselves of all concerns of and for the world. But our faith is a matter of relating to God who has taken on humanity. So we should not expect our relationship with this God to remove us from either the joy or the pain of human life in the world.

If we take Jesus as the model for “being in the world but not of it”, we can see right away that he was very much involved in the world. Jesus showed his appreciation of the food and drink and hospitality offered by a respectable rich man such as Simon the Leper as well as that offered by tax collectors and sinners such as Zacchaeus. He lived a normal human life in the Palestinian society.

If so, what is meant by “Christian detachment from worldly things”?

B. Christian detachment from worldly things

Christian detachment is not essentially a physical act of withdrawal, let alone austerity. It is not an extreme turning away from that which nourishes the human body. Here it is important to distinguish between detachment and renunciation. Renunciation involves depriving oneself of something, actually rejecting it. In detachment you still retain it, but you cease to be its slave. For true understanding of detachment one must look away from external acts and look towards the area of inner attitude and motivation.

Detachment from worldly things is not a matter of things – of doing this or not doing that. But it is a matter of the attitude of mind and heart, the attitude of thinking and dealing with things. Detachment is not from the things of the world per se, but from “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” It is not setting one’s mind on the things of the world, not thinking or affectionately desiring them. Jesus says, “For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within and they defile a person” (Mk. 7:21-23). Greed or acquisitive desire or grasping underlies these “evil things”. So when we talk about Christian detachment, the emphasis is on inner transformation – transformation of mind and heart.

Detachment is not separation from the world and the people of the world. It is being distinct or different. Distinct or different in our attitude towards material things and people. In essence, it is engaging with people and material things with a transformed mind and heart.

Detachment from worldly things is an essential component to draw towards God, fulfilling God’s will with total love and obedience.

1. Lust for material things

God intends that His children consider material possessions properly, to use them wisely, for the good of others as well as themselves. However, the problem occurs when a person sets her/his heart on gaining material wealth, when everything s/he does and thinks about revolves around GETTING.

In this age of consumerism material things play an important role in establishing one’s social standing. Because in unequal societies status competition is intense and we are sensitive to how we are perceived or judged by others. Consumption is about status competition. That’s why people spend thousands of rupees on “status goods”, such as cars, electronic gadgets, furniture and clothes, handbags and sunglasses with right labels, to make statement about themselves. Money is spent not on “things”, but on the value attached to some of the consumer goods in society. So consumer goods are not mere stuff, but LANGUAGE in social relationships. Through things we convey with one another our identity, social status and social affiliation. They play a role in our lives that goes way beyond their material functionality. That’s why consumer goods continue to be craved beyond the point of their usefulness, and houses are no longer for habitation but to store the “status goods” (we hardly find room for free movement inside some houses, because of lot of material goods). Companies intensify and maintain this craving for social identity, status and affiliation by stuffing the market with new consumer goods and promoting them by hiring popular brand ambassadors to entice consumers to emulate these popular figures in order to reposition themselves in the ladder of status in society.
Most of the time the expensive material things we surround ourselves with convey a void in life and a craving for acceptance, recognition and identity − the basic human needs. One may have all the money, yet live with the nagging feeling of emptiness, restlessness and even boredom. A void that can not be filled with wealth and material things.

2. Lust for sensual pleasures
God created the five senses – sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing – so that we could experience, enjoy, and take pleasure in physical things. No particular physical thing of itself represents worldliness. But lusting after that thing is wrong. Lust is an illicit and sinful desire. It is having a self-absorbed desire for a thing, person or an experience. It can make us desire or use something in a manner contrary to God’s will and purpose for which He created it. The object of our lust is placed above all other things in life, and thus lusting is idolatry. Lust represents a wrong attitude of mind and heart.

Notice the world of mainstream entertainment and media. It’s about what’s hot, what’s new, what’s the latest. Today entertainment is about “how far can we go?” in pushing (or blurring) the boundaries of decency and good taste. More pre-marital and extra-marital sex, more violence, more consumption and less morality. There is a continuous changing colour, caste and creed of money, movies, sex and relationships. A core slogan that reverberates in the present Indian society is “Greed, The City and The Pursuit of Happiness.”

Greed is fathered by aspiration and grows in the womb of determination, so no one can fault its lineage. Its problem, like those of the failed brakes, is that it doesn’t know when to stop. Someone said, “What does a person who has everything want? The answer is ‘More’.” It’s that four-letter word which makes desirable “aspiration” transform into unconscionable greed. The surrounding sound of consumerism brainwashed us with its anthem: “Give Me More”. From soft drinks to sex, from moolah to ooh la-la, the yearn-churn screamed, “Yeh dil mangey more!” This greed has turned ordinary people into unflinching murderers, extortionists, and heartless neighbours like the rich man in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. If we have so deliriously chosen Aspiration Unbound, we have to learn to accept its uncontrollable cousin, Greed. The antidote for greed is contentment. As Paul says, “For I have learned to be content with whatever I have” (Phil. 4:12).

Attachment to sensual pleasures destroys the mind’s ability to think clearly and objectively. Detachment is linked to the practice of mindfulness, and to seeing into the truth of things. It is seeing true nature of things. If lust always arises when an opportunity for gaining a quick pleasure or satisfaction is glimpsed, sensual pleasures will never be seen objectively as they really are – as transient, subject to change, and no answer to the search for happiness. The presence of lust appreciates neither the consequences nor the alternatives. In fact, if any decision has to be made, the alternatives will not be seen clearly as long as the mind is clouded by lust. Dishonesty and manipulation of others in order to gain what is craved might result.

As greed for material possessions and lusting for sensual pleasures lead to disputes and contentions both within family and nation, detachment from greed and sensual pleasures leads to concern for the welfare of others and to create a just and harmonious society.

3. Lust for power

One particularly destructive way of attachment to worldly things worth looking at is the lust for power. When the disciples argued about who is the greatest, Jesus placed a small child in front of them and told them to be like that child. The point is not that we should be like little children, because they are always sweet and adorable. Rather, we should be like children because they have no power in the world. That is how much power a follower of Jesus should want! Great harm is done by those addicted to the exercise of power, whether it is a dictator moulding a whole country to his image, a Christian mullah who prefers exercising control over others, or parents who try to make their children into copies of themselves.

However, Christianity cannot be reduced to a naive protest against any use of power at all. Power is not something we can just throw out of this world so that there is no more of it lying around for anybody to pick up. In any case, society cannot function without a structure of authority.

Power exists and is a part of our lives whether we like it or not. We have to face the fact that we will affect other people in our lives, no matter what we do or don’t do. And that is power. Since we will have some influence on the other people in our lives, we must be concerned with what that influence will be. Are we encouraging other people to grow in virtue, or are we reinforcing their self-centeredness or life of selfishness?

The way to UNWORLDLY use of power and authority is shown by the way Jesus used them. He showed his power in serving others – casting out evil spirits, healing various diseases, providing food, forgiving sins and addressing what he considered evil. Yet Jesus did not claim to have either power or authority on his own account. He did not come to do his own will but the will of Him who sent him. Even Jesus, the Son of God, willingly derives his power from his Father rather than presumes to act on his own initiative. If we are to follow Jesus’ example, then we should also be more concerned that our authority and power come from God and not from our own desires for authority and power on our own terms.

Moreover, the power and authority Jesus exercised never violated anyone’s fundamental freedom to believe or not to believe, or the freedom to follow or not to follow him. These are freedoms which Christ still gives to all of us. Is this not the freedom the Church as the Body of Christ should offer her members and the world?
There is a terrific risk in renouncing the desire to remake other people according to our desires. We do not feel secure when we relinquish our attempts to control other people. Not only that, but if we do relinquish control, we are sure to suffer all the more from the shortcomings of others. How often we wish we could find the magic words that will turn other people into what we want them to be! When we live with the otherness of others, there is no choice but to give others space to find themselves in God, just as we assume this right for ourselves.

At the bottom of our turning away from worldliness is an emptying of self. In order to appreciate other people, to “regard others as better than (ourselves)” and to “look to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4), we must have “the same mind…that was in Christ” (Phil. 2:5). We must empty ourselves of our tendency to possess or grasp and use them for our own agendas in life. We must also empty ourselves of the illusion that we can pull ourselves out of our worldliness by our own bootstraps. God does not give us bootstraps, God gives us grace.

With the self put in God’s hands, the self gains new life, the life of God. The emptying of self begins to purify our hearts and minds so that we may become faithful followers of Jesus Christ.

“Some people wish to be pretty, rich and famous or popular. Me? I just want to be happy.”

“The measure of your life will not be in what you accumulate, but in what you give away.”

“Greatness is not found in possessions, power, position, or prestige. It is discovered in goodness, humility, service, and character.” – William Arthur Ward

How Much Is Enough?

August 6, 2014

In the chaos of the Indian street, pedestrians, honking cars, bikes, auto rickshaws and buses battle for road space. In the glass-walled fortresses of “India shining”, it’s a whole different kind of chaos. Shopping malls are where India’s exploding consumerism is witnessed.

Changes are happening in India at a rapid pace since the Indian market was opened for the international trade two decades ago. One of the changes is mushrooming of shopping malls, particularly in urban India. This change is due to the influence of “American Dream”, a myth, characterised by high consumption, compulsive acquisition and instantaneous gratification. The “American Dream” is nurtured by the American economic system that has created a culture in which people are encouraged to accumulate and show off material wealth, to the point where it defined their self-image and their status in society. “American Identity” has, thus, become defined by its relationship with consumer goods.

Emulating this American culture, people in India are embedded in an ever expanding consumerism. They are increasingly persuaded to focus on materialistic pursuits, to acquire “that next want” which goes far beyond a genuine need for sustenance, safety and security. Most people, especially the young, give in to the pressure to possess all the latest fashionable gadgets and consumer goods. Youth find in spending, a way of gaining autonomy and identity, and of overcoming their insecurities. Those who can afford and those who cannot, all seem to have been caught in the ever widening tentacles of consumerism.

Consumerism is economically manifested in the chronic purchasing of new material goods with little attention to their true need, durability, product origin or environmental consequences of manufacture and disposal. It is the desire, pursuit and acquisition of consumer goods. Consumerism is like the greedy man in the story of Leo Tolstoy “How Much Land Does a Man Need”:

After slowly accumulating more and more property, a greedy Russian named Pahom hears that the Bashkirs, a minority race in Russia, are practically giving their land away. He decides to visit them and they offer him as much land as he wants, provided he can walk its perimeter in one day. Pahom agrees and goes out on his trek, but when the sun starts to set, he finds he has walked too far. Running back, Pahom collapses at the starting point just as the sun disappears behind the horizon. The Bashkirs try to congratulate him, only to find him dead. In answer to the question posed in the title, the Bashkirs bury him in a hole six feet long by two feet wide.

The greedy man finds himself driven by an endless desire to acquire as much area before the sun sets and ultimately finds himself lost in his incapability to control his greed.

Similarly consumerism is an insatiable desire for things and money to buy them with little or no regard for their utility. Greed and acquisitive tendencies have grown due to unhealthy influence of consumerism along with scientific and technological development. As N. Radhakrishnan says, “Globalisation has pushed humanity to the cut-throat world of consumerism with utter disregard for human and ecological concerns. And we justify all this in the name of ‘enlightened self-interest’.” Moral principles and ethics have no place in the world of consumerism. The most corrosive impact of consumerism is on human relationships. Consumerism thrives by promoting use-and-throw culture. Attitudes formed towards things (use-and-throw) eventually get transferred to people. As things are discarded after use, people are also thrown out once they lose the capacity to participate in the cycle of consumption, because in consumeristic culture human beings themselves do not possess value. Their value and worth are measured merely on the basis of their purchasing power, thus turning human beings into commodities. The irony is, living beings find their value, worth and identity in non-living things.

The “philosophy” of consumerism is embedded in the slogans and images of the advertising agencies and display designers, who welded human physical needs, impulses and fantasies to consumer goods. Consumerism is driven by advertising, which is designed to create desire to follow trends, fantasies and value system based on acquisition of consumer goods. The advertisers bombard people with images and allurements of status, self-worth, satisfaction and happiness through acquisition. They make people captive in imagination and desires: “I can imagine it, therefore I want it. I want it, therefore I should have it. Because I should have it, I need it. Because I need it, I deserve it. Because I deserve it, I will do anything necessary to get it.” By making people slaves to their imagination and desires, the advertising industry indulges in “proliferation of unnecessary necessities”. It makes one feel insecure, since the advertising industry has turned one’s sense of self-worth into a symbolic presentation of possessions. In the world of consumerism one is captive and unaware. When the prisoner is unaware of his/her chains, then it is hopeless.

Advertising industry has invaded home and family through electronic and print media. During their free time, children and adults occupy themselves with mass media filled with advertisements of consumer goods with enticing promises of good feelings. Their purpose is to stoke further desire for more things. Television programmes and advertisements generally depict a way of life well above the norm and beyond what most people can afford. In this climate, almost everyone is vulnerable to “affluenza”, an infectious disease in which one becomes addicted to having more. Thus, there is no private retreat from the world of consumerism.

The important question, however, is whether consumerism delivers happiness and satisfaction promised by advertisers? In The High Price of Materialism American psychologist Tim Kasser investigates whether materialistic values really produce happiness and well-being. He cites and agrees with studies showing that once people have met their basic needs of food, clothing and shelter, there is little benefit in accumulating more. Using statistical studies Kasser shows how those who place a high value on acquiring wealth and material goods aren’t as happy as their less materialistic counterparts. The “paradox of affluence” is that “richer is not better.” Happiness can’t be purchased in the market place, no matter how much advertising tries to convince us of it.

What’s disturbing is how we continue to shop when it doesn’t make us happier. Kasser argues that our hyper-consumerism is a response to insecurity. In the highly competitive market-driven economies the sense of insecurity has increased. Advertising industry has exploited this human malady and enticed people with false promises of security, satisfaction and self-worth through acquisition of consumer goods. However, the lack of consumption restraint may result in feelings of insecurity, guilt, anxiety, frustration and loss of control, financial hardships and domestic discord. The broader socio-economic consequences associated with unrestrained consumption include global resource depletion and increasing environmental problems.

Kasser found that “existing scientific research on the value of materialism yields clear and consistent findings…The studies document that strong materialistic values are associated with a pervasive undermining of people’s well-being, from low life satisfaction and happiness, to depression and anxiety, to physical problems such as headaches, and to personality disorders, narcissism, and antisocial behaviour.” Jane Hammerslough, a journalist, says, “Faith in material solutions has a funny way of renewing and reproducing itself. Once you sail into the mythical land of Consumer Satisfaction, Where products fulfil every desire, pretty soon you notice another ship setting sail for a place where there’s the potential for even more satisfaction. The product you own is okay, but think of how much greater the satisfaction could be with something else you can buy! It’s hard to resist the urge to hop on.”

What is ignored in this world of consumerism is the fact that the real sources of lasting human fulfilment, security and satisfaction are stable family, healthy relationships, community and self-acceptance. Our worth is determined not by what we have or don’t have, rather what we are as individuals. In an essay, “Gandhian Economy and the Way to Realise It”, J.C. Kumarappa pointed out: “Our life is something higher than material possessions and our life is also to be looked at from the possibilities of development of personality. The personality of an individual does not require for its development the satisfaction of a multiplicity of wants. In fact the simpler (the) life the more conducive it is (to) exercising the higher faculties.” True wealth lies in the scarcity of one’s wants, as opposed to the abundance of one’s possessions. Having fewer things means enjoying what we have more and actually getting to use it, thereby raising its intrinsic value. As it is said, “The less clutter that one has in their surroundings, the fewer distractions there are from the essentials such as family, friends, food, nature and study.” Self-control prevents us from falling into the black-hole of consumerism. Self-absorption, self-gratification and living for now should be overtaken by thrift, contentment and simplicity. As the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu said, “He who knows that enough is enough will always have enough.”

Greed: The All-Consuming Epidemic

June 30, 2014

Changes are happening in India at a rapid pace. One of the changes is mushrooming of shopping malls and the crowds at the malls, particularly in urban India. The myth of American dream, characterised by high consumption, compulsive acquisition and instantaneous gratification, has a strong influence on urban Indians. The deceptive notion that happiness lies in the possession of things is uncritically embraced. I am not suggesting you to stop buying. But to buy carefully and consciously with full attention to the real benefits and costs of your purchases, remembering, always, that the best things in life are not things.

One thing most apparent is that in spite of possessing the things most desired, happiness and contentment still elude those infected with “affluenza”. “Affluenza”, according to John De Graff, David Wann and Thomas H. Naylor, is “a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.” This metaphor of a disease is an apt characterization of a malignant condition that is eating into the entrails of urban India. People want to buy more and more things. This can cause stress. Stress can come from plain greed masquerading as the “noble” desire for a higher standard of living. In order to maintain higher standard of living, one has to work more time. So one is overworked and pressed for time. It is said, American couples have only 12 minutes a day (at an average) to converse with each other.

People have less time because they work more. They work more because they want more to maintain a higher standard of living. That means, as a society we are choosing money over time.

What are the consequences of this choice?

  1. We have new form of “homelessness”. We have people living under the same roof, but hardly have time to connect with one another. Someone wrote a book with a title “Is there a home in this house?”
  2. The most corrosive impact of consumerism is on human relationships. Consumerism thrives by promoting use-and-throw culture. Attitudes formed towards things (use-and-throw) eventually get transferred to people. As things are discarded after use, people are also thrown out once they lose the capacity to participate in the cycle of consumption. Because in consumeristic culture human beings in themselves do not possess value. Their value is directly proportional to their capacity to buy things. Here the irony is, living beings find their value and worth, and identity in non-living things.   

The consumeristic culture, as a result, has promoted greed and hoarding – accumulation of wealth and material things. Mother Teresa said: “Suffering today is because people are hoarding, not giving, not sharing.”

In India it is evident that, although since 1990s there has been a period of sustained economic growth as the country moved towards a more market-oriented economy, the economic growth did not benefit all Indians equally. The benefits of globalization have created two Indias: India shining and India suffering. Middle and upper classes in urban areas have benefited under “India Shining”, but the poor have suffered a decline in living standards and rising food insecurity. Poverty and malnutrition, especially among women, children, and people who belong to scheduled castes and tribes, remain very high.

Large sections of Indian society suffer from gross poverty and deprivation, which co-exists with high and very high incomes and growth rates of income for a very small section. One-third of the world’s poor live in India. 83.6 crore Indians survive on less than Rs. 20 a day or Rs. 600 a month. Over 20 crore Indians sleep hungry on any given night. About 7000 Indians die every day of hunger.  India has the second highest poverty—after Nepal—among all Asian countries.

About 20 lakh children die every year as a result of serious malnutrition and preventable diseases. Nearly 50% of children suffer from moderate or severe malnutrition. This is one of the highest levels of child malnutrition in the world. Nearly 30% of newborn are underweight. 79% of children of age 6-35 months are anaemic. 56% of married women are anaemic.

The apathetic attitude of the government towards the poor and the hungry is well sustained by the Indian society in general. As Jean Dreze, an economist and academic, said: “The government can’t get away with large-scale famine, but it can get away with chronic hunger. It has become an accepted part of life in India.”

Greed in Christian Religion

Greed has also entered Christian religion. Mushrooming of corporate churches, corporate Christian organizations and corporate Christian gospel reflect the mammonization of God and religion. The “gospel entrepreneurs” with their claims of unhindered direct access to God craftily unite God and Mammon with their make-rich-quick “good news”. These “gospel entrepreneurs” subscribe to corporate standards of operation with wealth as the highest “spiritual” value, and prosperity as their gospel. They advocate marketing approach to Christ and Christian religion and give optimistic messages intended to “make people feel good about themselves.” Their philosophy is to make the church as uninterfering and entertaining as possible in order to attract more “customers” into the “spiritual corporate company”. Their doctrine, known as Word of faith, is essentially that God rewards one’s faith almost always in the form of an abundance of wealth. They keep reminding the members the law of reciprocity: “Give generously and you will receive generously from God”. Consecration of wallets is their theology. This “spiritual culture” is not only in step with the corporate greed culture around, but also funneling crores of rupees annually into the coffers of these “spiritual corporate companies”. The number of “God’s crorepathis” is on the raise.

For example, an American televangelist, who visits India every year to proclaim “the power of the Word of faith” and has a $9 crore-a-year turnover from the “corporate gospel business”, was “paid” an annual salary of $9,00,000 and her husband, the Ministries’ Board vice president, $4,50,000 in 2002 and 2003. After the criticisms, she currently receives an annual salary of $2,50,000. Although the law in America states that the tax-exempt religious property “cannot be held for private or corporate profit,” according to a report, among other personal benefits reaped from the “corporate gospel ministry”, the evangelist of the God of mammon has a $20 lakh house and receives a separate $5 lakh annual housing allowance (apart from the utilities and maintenance bills paid by the ministries), is provided with free personal use of a $1 crore corporate jet and luxury cars including $1,07,000 silver-gray Mercedes Sedan, and authorized to use a fund of $7,90,000 “at their discretion”. This “gospel entrepreneur” also receives a portion of the $30 lakh a year in royalties earned from books and tapes sold (even though in reality it was the employees who help in writing). The board consists of the evangelist, her spouse, their children, and friends. The list of the ministry’s personal property worth nearly $57 lakhs of furniture, artwork, glassware, and the latest equipment and machinery includes: $49,000 conference table with six chairs, $11,000 clock, $1,05,000 boat, $42,200 worth of ten vases, and a $5,700 porcelain crucifixion. Of the $9 crore annual “profits” from the “gospel business” the ministry spends 10% on charitable works around the world, including India.  

Observer reports about another popular American televangelist to whom the combination of Ministry and Mammon has provided with a net worth estimated at between $20 crores and $100 crores. It gives an example of the way he raised money for a “noble cause” in Africa. Through an emotional fundraising drive on his TV station (this Christian television network is also popular in India), the evangelist raised several crore dollars for his tax-free charitable trust. It is said that he gave $70 lakhs to alleviate the misery of refugees fleeing genocide in Rwanda. More interesting is the way the funds were used in Africa. He bought planes to shuttle medical supplies in and out of the refugee camp in Goma, Congo (previously called Zaire). However, an investigative reporter discovered that over a six-month period, except for one medical flight, the planes were used to supply equipment for a diamond mining operation at a distance from Goma. It was found that he actually flew on one plane ferrying equipment to his mines. The spokesperson of his Ministries countered the criticism that by diverting the planes for diamond mining, the evangelist was actually carrying out God’s work. He further told that the planes proved unfit for supplying medicine, and so the evangelist used them for the diamond hunt which, if successful, would have freed the people of the Congo from lives of starvation and poverty.

Thus, Christian ministry has become a corporate business with the owners of these spiritual corporate companies becoming wealthy on the pretext of serving the poor and the needy. The God of mammon obscures the God of Jesus Christ, and the gospel of greed the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Some time ago I happened to meet a Christian real estate agent. She said, God is the greatest realtor, because he owns the entire universe. But what she forgot to mention was, the unique son of this “greatest realtor” once said: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head” (Lk. 9.58).

Greed plays an important role in the fall of Adam and Eve. It is at the root of sin. The desire in Eve for the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil did not arise till the intervention of the serpent. It arose only when the serpent “described them as desirable in order to be like God.” This awakening of her desire for the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil is made clear in the text: “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise” (Gen. 3.6). This was not “a momentary desire, but fundamental yearning.” Underlying the desire to possess what God possessed was the greed of Eve and Adam: to be wise like God.

Therefore, greed is at the root of sin. Greed is the essence of fallen human nature.

What are the consequences of greed?

  1. It promotes an egocentric outlook on life. What follows, then, is the neglect of higher ideals in the “icy water of egoistical calculation”, as the Communist Manifesto puts it. This is clearly evident from the fact that America has the world’s highest rate of divorce and, according to family counsellors, “arguments about money are precipitating factors in 90 per cent of divorce cases.” I was told by an Indian Christian leader who works among college and university students that the number of potential divorces among families where both spouses work in IT sector is raising alarmingly.
  2. “Chronic self-absorption”. The unremitting craving for things leaves people with little time and patience to think about others. Hence people become unmindful of the maladies of their society. For instance, how many of them know that 83.6 crore Indians survive on less than Rs. 20 a day or Rs. 600 a month; over 20 crore Indians sleep hungry on any given night; and about 7000 Indians die every day of hunger.

Mother Theresa once said: “One of the greatest deceases is to be nobody to anybody.” It is poverty to live for oneself ignoring your neighbour’s suffering, hunger and death. These neo-poor look with their eyes the suffering and hungry, but do not see. They listen with their ears the cries and agony of the poor and hungry, but do not hear. Because they are absorbed in self-gratification. This is the generation that the consumeristic culture creates.

Proverbs 1.10-19 says: “My child, if sinners entice you, do not consent. If they say, “Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood; let us wantonly ambush the innocent; like Sheol let us swallow them alive and whole, like those who go down to the Pit. We shall find all kinds of costly things; we shall fill our houses with booty. Throw in your lot among us; we will all have one purse” – my child, do not walk in their way, keep your foot from their paths; for their feet run to evil, and they hurry to shed blood. For in vain the net baited while the bird is looking on; yet they lie in wait-to kill themselves! And set an ambush-for their own lives! Such is the end of all who are greedy for gain; it takes away the life of its possessors.”

Greed: The All-Consuming Epidemic

March 14, 2010

Changes are happening in India at a rapid pace. One of the changes is mushrooming of shopping malls and the crowds at the malls, particularly in urban India. The myth of American dream, which emphasizes on high consumption, compulsive acquisition and instantaneous gratification, has a strong influence on urban Indians. The deceptive notion that happiness lie in possession of things is uncritically embraced. I am not suggesting you to stop buying. But to buy carefully and consciously with full attention to the real benefits and costs of your purchases, remembering, always, that the best things in life are not things.

One thing most apparent is that in spite of possessing the things most desired, happiness and contentment still elude those infected with “affluenza”. “Affluenza”, according to the authors of the book Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic (John De Graff, David Wann and Thomas H. Naylor), is “a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.” This metaphor of a disease is an apt characterization of a malignant condition that is eating into the entrails of urban India. People want to buy more and more things. This can cause stress. Stress can come from plain greed masquerading as the “noble” desire for a higher standard of living. In order to maintain higher standard of living, one has to work more time. So one is overworked and pressed for time. It is said, American couples have only 12 minutes a day (at an average) to converse with each other.

People have less time because they work more. They work more because they want more to maintain a higher standard of living. That means, as a society we are choosing money over time.

What are the consequences of this choice?

  1. We have new form of “homelessness”. We have people living under the same roof, but hardly have time to connect with one another. Someone wrote a book with a title “Is there a home in this house?”
  2. The most corrosive impact of consumerism is on human relationships. Consumerism thrives by promoting use-and-throw culture. Attitudes formed towards things (use-and-throw) eventually get transferred to people. As things are discarded after use, people are also thrown out once they lose the capacity to participate in the cycle of consumption. Because in consumeristic culture human beings in themselves do not possess value. Their value is directly proportional to their capacity to buy things.

Here the irony is, living beings find their value and worth and identity in non-living things.   

  1. The consumeristic culture, as a result, has promoted greed and hoarding – accumulation of wealth and material things. Mother Teresa said: “Suffering today is because people are hoarding, not giving, not sharing.”

In India it is evident that, although since 1990s there has been a period of sustained economic growth as the country moved towards a more market-oriented economy, the economic growth did not benefit all Indians equally. The benefits of globalization has created two Indias: India shining and India suffering. Middle and upper classes in urban areas have benefited under “India Shining”, but the poor have suffered a decline in living standards and rising food insecurity. Poverty and malnutrition, especially among women, children, and people who belong to scheduled castes and tribes, remain very high.

Large sections of Indian society suffer from gross poverty and deprivation, which co-exists with high and very high incomes and growth rates of income for a very small section. One-third of the world’s poor live in India. 83.6 crore Indians survive on less than Rs. 20 a day or Rs. 600 a month. Over 20 crore Indians sleep hungry on any given night. About 7000 Indians die every day of hunger.  India has the second highest poverty—after Nepal—among all Asian countries.

About 20 lakh children die every year as a result of serious malnutrition and preventable diseases. Nearly 50% of children suffer from moderate or severe malnutrition. This is one of the highest levels of child malnutrition in the world. Nearly 30% of newborn are underweight. 79% of children of age 6-35 months are anaemic.56% of married women are anaemic.

The apathetic attitude of the government towards the poor and the hungry is well sustained by the Indian society in general. As Jean Dreze, an economist and academic, said: “The government can’t get away with large-scale famine, but it can get away with chronic hunger. It has become an accepted part of life in India.”

Greed in Christian Religion

Greed has also entered Christian religion. Mushrooming of corporate churches, corporate Christian organizations and corporate Christian gospel reflect the mammonization of God and religion. The “gospel entrepreneurs” with their claims of unhindered direct access to God craftily unite God and Mammon with their make-rich-quick “good news”. These “gospel entrepreneurs”, particularly megachurches and televangelists, subscribe to corporate standards of operation with wealth as the highest “spiritual” value, and prosperity as their gospel. They advocate marketing approach to Christ and Christian religion and give optimistic messages intended to “make people feel good about themselves.” Their philosophy is to make the church as uninterfering and entertaining as possible in order to attract more “customers” into the “spiritual corporate company”. Their doctrine, known as Word of faith, is essentially that God rewards one’s faith almost always in the form of an abundance of wealth. They keep reminding the members the law of reciprocity: “Give generously and you will receive generously from God”. Consecration of wallets is their theology. This “spiritual culture” is not only in step with the corporate greed culture around, but also funneling crores of rupees annually into the coffers of these “spiritual corporate companies”. The number of God’s crorepathis is on the raise.

Some time ago I happened to meet a Christian real estate agent. She said, God is the greatest realtor, because he owns the entire universe. But what she forgot to mention was, the unique son of this “greatest realtor” once said: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head” (Lk. 9.58).

Greed plays an important role in the fall of Adam and Eve. It is at the root of sin.

The desire in Eve for the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil did not arise till the intervention of the serpent. It arose only when the serpent “described them as desirable in order to be like God.” This awakening of her desire for the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil is made clear in the text: “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise” (Gen. 3.6). This was not “a momentary desire, but fundamental yearning.” Underlying the desire to possess what God possessed was the greed of Eve and Adam: to be wise like God.

Therefore, greed is at the root of sin. Greed is the essence of fallen human nature.

What are the consequences of greed?

  1. It promotes an egocentric outlook on life. What follows, then, is the neglect of higher ideals in the “icy water of egoistical calculation”, as the Communist Manifesto puts it. This is clearly evident from the fact that America has the world’s highest rate of divorce and, according to family counsellors, “arguments about money are precipitating factors in 90 per cent of divorce cases.” I was told by an Indian Christian leader who works among college and university students that the number of potential divorces among families where both spouses work in IT sector is raising alarmingly.
  2. “Chronic self-absorption”. The unremitting craving for things leaves people with little time and patience to think about others. Hence people become unmindful of the maladies of their society. For instance, how many of them know that 83.6 crore Indians survive on less than Rs. 20 a day or Rs. 600 a month. Over 20 crore Indians sleep hungry on any given night. About 7000 Indians die every day of hunger.

Mother Theresa once said: “One of the greatest deceases is to be nobody to anybody.” It is poverty to live for oneself ignoring your neighbor’s suffering, hunger and death. These neo-poor look with their eyes the suffering and hungry, but do not see. They listen with their ears the cries and agony of the poor and hungry, but do not hear. Because they are absorbed in self-gratification. This is the generation that the consumeristic culture creates.

Proverbs 1.10-19 says: “My child, if sinners entice you, do not consent. If they say, “Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood; let us wantonly ambush the innocent; like Sheol let us swallow them alive and whole, like those who go down to the Pit. We shall find all kinds of costly things; we shall fill our houses with booty. Throw in your lot among us; we will all have one purse” – my child, do not walk in their way, keep your foot from their paths; for their feet run to evil, and they hurry to shed blood. For in vain the net baited while the bird is looking on; yet they lie in wait-to kill themselves! And set an ambush-for their own lives! Such is the end of all who are greedy for gain; it takes away the life of its possessors.”

A System of Equality and Nonacquisitiveness as Subversion of the Greed-Based Capitalism and the Patronage System

November 3, 2009

The dominant culture of our times and the times of Paul is inequality and acquisitiveness. This culture is nurtured by the greed-based capitalism now and the Greco-Roman patronage system then. They not only create asymmetrical socio-economic power relations, but also try to conceal this reality through “beneficial ideology”. Paul in his narratives of “collection” to the believers in Jerusalem furthers a system of equality and nonacquisitiveness, thus critiquing and subverting the dominant systems of inequality and acquisitiveness.

A. The Dominant Systems

1. Greed-Based Capitalism

Modern capitalism has made wealth the highest value, and profit the highest social good.[1] Fred Magdoff rightly remarks that capitalist economies are “based on the profit motive and accumulation of capital without end.”[2] The rationale of capitalism is to maximize profits among the economic elite by creating wants and needs in people for market goods and services, whether or not the desires mediated by the need-making system can be fulfilled. While some needs are legitimate, others are not. Consumerism has become the only universally available mode of participation in the modern society. Thus, it furthers the worship of the “holy trinity”, that is, mammon, acquisition, and opulence.

Since capitalism is centered on the increase of capital, laborer is treated simply as a means to produce profit, but not as a being of intrinsic human dignity and value. In other words, in the capitalist system human agents are reduced to mere “things” or “machines”. This is nothing but “thingification” of persons.[3] That is why poor are insignificant in capitalist societies. Moreover, the corporate greed-based capitalism creates asymmetrical socio-economic power relations with those at the top enjoying power and luxury, and those whose labor is indispensable to produce profit becoming mere “productive voiceless machines” and languishing in hovels. On one side there is surplus and unrestrained consumption, and on the other shortage of even the basic necessities. The most corrosive impact of greed-based capitalism has been on human relationships. Attitudes formed in relation to the machines are transformed to people as well, thus promoting a culture of “productivity and success”.

The dictum that there is no other alternative to capitalism to order human socio-economic future and to have a better life has been embraced globally. But the reality is that, despite global economic growth, there is an even greater increase of poverty and economic disparity. Michael Parenti in his article “Mystery: How Wealth Creates Poverty in the World” rightly questions: “How is it that as corporate investments and foreign aid and international loans to poor countries have increased dramatically throughout the world over the last half century, so has poverty? The number of people living in poverty is growing at a faster rate than the world’s population. What do we make of this?”[4] In the last half a century the investments by the transnational corporations of the US and the West in the economically poor countries have increased tremendously. The reason for their investment in these countries is rich natural resources, and high profit for low investment due to cheap labor, and the nearly complete absence of worker benefits, taxes, environmental regulations, and worker safety costs. For example, in Haiti workers are paid 11 cents an hour (in US minimum wage is $5.15 per hour) by the transnational corporations such as Disney, J.C. Penny, and Wal-Mart. How these companies make such an exorbitant profit is evidenced by the shoes made by Indonesian children working twelve hours a day for 13 cents an hour. These shoes cost only $2.60 but still sold for $100 or more in the US. So the investments of the transnational corporations are greed-driven, not benevolent.[5]

The greed-driven transnational corporations in their desire to make more profit, at times even disregard the human rights. Some of these corporations use child labor to produce profit. In the rubber plantation in Liberia owned by Bridgestone Firestone North American Tire Company since 1926, children work 12 to 14 hours a day. A UN Report “Human Rights in Liberia’s Rubber Plantations: Tapping into Future” notes: “Although management of Firestone…stated that child labour is prohibited within …(its) concession (area), HROs (United Nations Mission in Liberia Human Rights Officers) spoke with a number of children working on …(the) plantation, aged between 10 and 14 years…Reports of child labour on Firestone plantation have also been documented in a report (“Firestone: The Mark of Slavery”) by the NGO, Save My Future Foundation, in March 2005.” In this plantation the workers are given unreasonably high production quota, which takes a rubber tapper at least 21 hours a day to meet the quota. This forces the workers to bring their wives and children to work in order to meet the quota, or else their already low wages will be halved. It is observed that the workers live in shacks, most of which have not been renovated since the 1920s, while managers live in luxurious mansions with all the modern amenities, including golf courses, and receive huge salary.[6] It is also noted that the company dumps toxic waste directly into the Farmington River which is used by the local community for fishing and bathing.

Another report on labor conditions at US-owned flower plantations in Colombia (approximately 60 percent of all flowers sold in the United States come from Colombia), and Ecuador, observes that flower workers in these countries earn poverty-level wages, work long hours, and suffer significant health problems due to pesticides. Over half of women workers in the flower industry in Colombia and Ecuador have been subjected to sexual harassment.[7]

The transnational corporations in the poor countries not only cash in on cheap labor, in some cases by violating human rights, but also expect workers to be “voiceless productive machines”. When workers try to form unions, they are subject to severe reprisals.[8] Nora Fern, Program Director at International Labor Rights Fund, and co-author of “A Valentine’s Day Report: Worker Justice and Basic Rights on Flower Plantations in Colombia and Ecuador” gives an example of how a US transnational flower company called Rosas del Ecuador in Ecuador tried to suppress the voice of the workers.[9] When the workers of this company were not paid salary for several months, they went on strike. They had to be on strike for more than two years and were not allowed to leave the plantation. If they had left the plantation, they would have been accused of abandoning the workplace and would not have been able to receive the money that the company owed them. So they stayed in shifts on the plantation, growing lettuce and other vegetables to allow themselves to survive and filing legal complaints with the Ministry of Labor. Finally, in 2006 they received a ruling in their favor and the employer was asked to pay back their wages. The employer had since disappeared. And so, the workers were left with the land. During the period of legal battle, since the workers themselves don’t have access to the exporters or the retailers, they weren’t able to continue the functioning of the plantation and exporting. So the greenhouses have fallen down, the plants have all died, and the workers are left with a totally dysfunctional plantation, which doesn’t really serve to compensate them for the thousands of dollars the company owed them.[10]

The expansion of the domain and domination of the transnational corporations in the world is also facilitated by the respective governments of the economically rich countries. The international trade agreements are mostly influenced by the transnational corporations.[11] A trade agreement between the United States and India, the Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture (KIA), was backed by Monsanto[12] and other transnational corporate giants. This allows for the seize of India’s seed sector by Monsanto, its trade sector by Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill, and its retail sector by Wal-Mart. This amounts to a war against India’s independent farmers and small businesses, and a threat to India’s food security.[13] The United States is one of the two countries refused to sign the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), 1989, an international convention for the abolition of child labor.[14] Often the economically rich countries use their economic and political clout to influence the governments in the poor countries in order to have unrestrained control over the natural resources and the markets. According to a report “the Group of Seven (G7) most industrialised nations — Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, Britain and the United States — lent money to regimes they knew to be corrupt or repressive in order to buy political allegiance.”[15] They even try to choose the rulers of the poor countries. In an interview to democracynow Evo Morales[16], the president of Bolivia, said: “In 2002, former U.S. ambassador to Bolivia, Manuel Rocha, said, “Don’t vote for Evo Morales”…And a number of things were said about what would happen if I came to the presidency, that international cooperation would be reduced, we would no longer have access to markets.”[17] He further said: “The head of US AID for Latin America stated that they were going to finance a political counterbalance opposition.”[18]

The record of predatory capitalism and heartless, absolute greed is consistent. It leaves mass human wreckage everywhere. The US and the Western economic neoliberalism and the shock doctrine of deconstruction and chaos can be seen around the world. For example, the capacity to control natural resources in Africa is enhanced by spreading terror, uprooting people, destroying families, and sowing distrust and hatred.[19] Since 1990 twenty-two of the thirty-two countries in the lowest economic development category have experienced armed conflicts and the deadly arms have been supplied (either directly or indirectly) by weapons producing and supplying countries.[20] The armed conflicts in countries cause political chaos, destroy the infrastructure and make a huge dent on their economies, which make them vulnerable. This, in turn, provides an easy access for the transnational companies to their markets and natural resources.[21] The interconnectedness between wars and control of natural resources and markets is aptly expressed by the former US General Smedley Butler, who participated in many wars in the Central and the South America: “I was an errand boy for Wall Street.”[22] In late October 2006, the United Nations has proposed a resolution on the Arms Trade Treaty[23], which is aimed at curbing arms transfers to major human rights abusers and areas of conflict.[24] The treaty also urges weapons suppliers to limit weapons sales likely to undermine development in poor nations. 139 countries voted in favor of the resolution, while 24 countries (including many major weapons suppliers) abstained and the United States was the only country voted against the resolution.[25] Frida Berrigan comments that without the active participation of the world’s largest weapons producer and exporter, this important resolution “will not be strong enough to counter the perfect storm of profiting from war.”[26]

Regarding the foreign aid to the poor countries, it usually works hand in glove with transnational corporations. It funds construction of the infrastructure needed by corporations in the poorer countries:  ports, highways, and refineries. The aid given to the latter governments comes with strings attached. It must be spent on the products of the donor countries. The recipient country is required to give investment preferences to the companies of the donor countries, shifting consumption away from home produced commodities and foods to the imported ones. This creates more dependency, hunger, and debt.[27] The US and the West-controlled International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank that lend money to the poorer countries believe strongly in the principles of free market: unfettered free trade, privatization of local economies, and decreased spending on social services in exchange for lending money.[28] When the International Monetary Fund (IMF)[29] grants economic aid, it “imposes a “structural adjustment program” (SAP), requiring debtor countries to grant tax breaks to the transnational corporations, reduce wages, and make no attempt to protect local enterprises from foreign imports and foreign takeovers. The debtor nations are pressured to privatize their economies, selling at scandalously low prices their state-owned mines, railroads, and utilities to private corporations.”[30] The debtor countries are also made to cut back on subsidies for health, education, transportation and food, spending less on their people in order to have more money to meet debt payments.[31] Instead of helping in the economic development in the receiving country, these loans worsen the existing poverty and debt situation.

Similarly the World Bank loans to the poor countries pave the way for the transnational corporations to take control and exploit local markets and natural resources. In 1998, the World Bank’s structural adjustment policies forced India to open its seed sector to transnational corporations such as Monsanto and Cargill. As a result of this adjustment, traditional farm saved seeds have been replaced with genetically engineered seeds which are non-renewable. So the farmers have to purchase seeds for each growing season, which is a costly investment for them. In most cases this has led to poverty and severe indebtedness. In order to relieve themselves of debt, some farmers have even sold their own organs. When these attempts have failed to rectify their financial situations, many farmers committed suicide.[32] Similarly in Indonesia the World Bank loan has encouraged a land administration programme (LAP), which pushed for the titling of peasants’ land. This has facilitated the seize of their land at cheap prices.[33] Achmad Ya’kub, a human rights activist, deplores that the World Bank approved a loan to change the law on water to a new law protecting transnational corporations to control the water resources. This paved the way for water privatization through a project called Watsal (Water Resources Structural Adjustment Loan).[34] He laments that because of land privatization and land conversions the social cost of the marginalization of farmers and peasants, the main victims, is huge, ranging from loss of livelihoods, arrests, and even deaths.[35]

Thus, investments, loans, and most forms of aid from the economically rich countries and the international loan agencies (IMF, World Bank) are designed not to fight poverty (contrary to the claims of the leaders of the economically rich countries (the right question that need to be asked and answered is: how did these countries have become rich?), the transnational corporations, and the corporate-controlled media) but to enhance the wealth of transnational companies at the expense of local populations. Evil is always parasitic of good and must masquerade as good in order to continue to maintain the order of exploitation and oppression. General welfare is not the objective and the highest social good of the greed-based capitalistic system. Profit is no longer the means, but the ultimate goal. The purpose is to serve the interests of global capital accumulation, to take over the lands and local economies of the economically poor peoples, monopolize their markets, lower their wages, indenture their labor with enormous debts, privatize their public service sector, and prevent these countries from emerging as trade competitors by strangulating the local economy.[36] In essence they are aimed at solidifying the feudal system, forcing the poor countries into a perpetual bondage to the rich.

Unrestrained corporate greed-based capitalism has also entered religion. The “faith statement”: “IN GOD WE TRUST” on the “Mighty” Dollar,[37] and the prayer: “Bow your heads and drop to your knees, brothers and sisters! Feel the power of the Holy Dollar coursing through your being as you humbly offer your prayers, exaltations and gratitude to Mighty Mammon!”[38], though ironic, reflect the reality, that is, the mammonization of God and religion. The “gospel entrepreneurs” with their claims of unhindered direct access to God craftily unite God and Mammon with their make-rich-quick “good news”. These “gospel entrepreneurs”, particularly megachurches and televangelists, subscribe to corporate standards of operation with wealth as the highest “spiritual” value, and prosperity as their gospel. They advocate marketing approach to Christ and Christian religion and give optimistic messages intended to “make people feel good about themselves”. Their philosophy is to make the church as uninterfering and entertaining as possible in order to attract more “customers” into the “spiritual corporate company”. Their doctrine, known as Word of faith, is essentially that God rewards one’s faith almost always in the form of an abundance of wealth. They keep reminding the members the law of reciprocity: “give generously and you will receive generously from God”. Consecration of wallets is their theology. This “spiritual culture” is not only in step with the corporate greed culture around, but also funneling crores of dollars annually into the coffers of these “spiritual corporate companies”.

The number of God’s millionaires is on the raise. The owners of the Megachurches and televangelists “receive” enormous salaries.  For example, an American televangelist, who visits India every year to proclaim “the power of the Word of faith” and has a $9 crore-a-year turnover from the “corporate gospel business”, was “paid” an annual salary of $9,00,000 and her husband, the Ministries’ Board vice president, $4,50,000 in 2002 and 2003. After the criticisms, she currently receives an annual salary of $2,50,000. Although the law in America states that the tax-exempt religious property “cannot be held for private or corporate profit,” according to a report[39], among other personal benefits reaped from the “corporate gospel ministry”, the evangelist of the God of mammon has a $20 lakh house and receives a separate $5 lakh annual housing allowance (apart from the utilities and maintenance bills paid by the ministries), is provided with free personal use of a $1 crore corporate jet and luxury cars including $1,07,000 silver-gray Mercedes Sedan, and authorized to use a fund of $7,90,000 “at their discretion”. This “gospel entrepreneur” also receives a portion of the $30 lakh a year in royalties earned from books and tapes sold (even though in reality it was the employees who help in writing). The board consists of the evangelist, her spouse, their children, and friends. The list of the ministry’s personal property worth nearly $57 lakhs of furniture, artwork, glassware, and the latest equipment and machinery includes: $49,000 conference table with six chairs, $11,000 clock, $1,05,000 boat, $42,200 worth of ten vases, and a $5,700 porcelain crucifixion. Of the $9 crore annual “profits” from the “gospel business” the ministry spends 10% on charitable works around the world, including India.  

Observer reports about another popular American televangelist to whom the combination of Ministry and Mammon has provided with a net worth estimated at between $20 crores and $100 crores.[40] It gives an example of the way he raised money for a “noble cause” in Africa. Through an emotional fundraising drive on his TV station (this Christian television network is also popular in India), the evangelist raised several crore dollars for his tax-free charitable trust. It is said that he gave $70 lakhs to alleviate the misery of refugees fleeing genocide in Rwanda. More interesting is the way the funds were used in Africa. He bought planes to shuttle medical supplies in and out of the refugee camp in Goma, Congo (previously called Zaire). However, an investigative reporter discovered that over a six-month period, except for one medical flight, the planes were used to supply equipment for a diamond mining operation at a distance from Goma. It was found that he actually flew on one plane ferrying equipment to his mines. The spokesperson of his Ministries countered the criticism that by diverting the planes for diamond mining, the evangelist was actually carrying out God’s work. He further told that the planes proved unfit for supplying medicine, and so the evangelist used them for the diamond hunt which, if successful, would have freed the people of the Congo from lives of starvation and poverty.

Thus, Christian ministry has become a corporate business with the owners of these spiritual corporate companies becoming wealthy on the pretext of serving the poor and the needy. The God of mammon obscures the God of Jesus Christ, and the gospel of greed the gospel of Jesus Christ.

2. Patronage System

The patronage system (patron and client) formed the economic backbone of the Greco-Roman society. It was based on an asymmetrical exchange relationship.[41] Patron and client were “unequal in control of resources, and so differ in terms of power and status.”[42] In the Greco-Roman world “the greater part of the property, wealth and power was concentrated into the hands of the few, and access to these goods was through personal connection….”[43] Under the patron-client relationship, the rich patron offered his client such benefits as protection in law-suits, food, and money. In return the patron received the client’s political support and an open show of loyalty and respect whenever the two met, which was equally valuable in a Greco-Roman society. In order to be a successful client, the latter “had to follow the golden rule, that is, to please the patron and try to accommodate oneself to his (patron’s) opinion.”[44] Through paying visits to the patrons and observing the ritual of morning salutation to them, clients could get limited economic help from the patron to support their lives. The clients had to address their patrons “master”. A mistake in the observance of proper respect to their “masters” would cost them that day’s payment. The patron-client relationship was inextricably involved with matters of politics and economics. Conqueror was patron of the conquered (today the economically rich and militarily powerful countries), wealthy patronized artists and writers (today corporate companies control the media), and the noble and influential in the provinces were patrons of their towns. The patron-client relationship also formed the basis of many social clubs and provided the wealthy with an entourage to follow them through the streets. Thus, “the basis of patronage system is power and authority, so that a patron might stand to gain power and position in a vertical hierarchy by giving to a client and client became bonded to the patron out of necessity and compulsion, and the patron maintained that relationship through further giving.”[45]

The patronage system also defined the relationship between the Roman emperor and his subject societies. Whenever a society was conquered by another or what Price calls it “an intrusion of authority” into its world, a system of adjustments had to take place in the subject society in order for the local people to come to terms with the new situation.[46] Generally, the official policy in the subject society was that of accommodating the new power relations. The local people were either inclined or forced to follow this official policy. For the allegiance to the emperor, subject society was guaranteed “freedom” from external and internal threats. It was also assured “conveniences” of the Roman state. This “beneficial ideology” was perpetuated by the local elites in the subject societies, hailing the imperial (Roman) “freedom” and “security” and the promise of their continuance in the subject society through military force. The intension was to make the bondage more acceptable to the local populace and to justify the external rule in their eyes. Richard Horsley rightly says that “a successful colonization includes cultivating the acceptance of the colonial relationship among the colonized.”[47] In a way the client society was caught in the web of patron-client system, where it would owe honor and loyalty to the Roman emperor, and the latter would in turn owe protection or guarantee “freedom” from both internal and external threats to the former.[48] In the client societies the political ideals of autonomy and independence that had defined the classical Greek polis (city) were replaced in the Roman civitas by “two aims that were both functional and ideological. One was to use cities as administrative centers for supervising the production and distribution of local and regional resources. That also…meant taxation flowing back to Rome. The other one was to build communities by creating for the empire’s urban populations a common form of civic life (and) a common set of civic buildings…That…meant loyalty flowing back to Rome.”[49] Thus, “benefaction” had become an ideological concealment to the exploitative relationship between the emperor and the subjects. Emperors used “gifts” also to bolster their power and the power of the local elite classes whose support they needed. Thus, the patron-client relationship between the emperor and the subject societies increased social differentiation. Local wealthy aristocracy was also involved in “benefaction”. However, the major purpose of the “benefaction” of the local elite was not to relieve poverty, but to register and naturalize the inequalities of the social system in the society, just as the emperor’s patronage and “generosity” marshaled and orchestrated the overall hierarchy of the system as a whole. The “gifts” objectified the relations of respect, dependence, authority and power upon which the entire system rested. Thus, the culture of “benefaction” not only provided a rationale that justified the dominance of the internal (in the form of the local elites) and external (in the form of the Roman emperor) powers, but also concealed the exploitation in this exchange relationship. 

B. Paul’s Counter System of Equality and Nonacquisitiveness

Paul, in the narratives of “collection” to the “saints” in Jerusalem, promotes a system of equality and nonacquisitiveness as a counter to the dominant, oppressive, and exploitative systems of inequality and acquisitiveness. He considers “remembering the poor” as an integral part of his apostolic mission. This can be seen in his repetition of the “collection” to the believers in need in Jerusalem in Galatians 2.10; I Corinthians 16.1-4; II Corinthians 1.15-16; II Corinthians chapters 8-9; Romans 15.25-32. In Romans 15.25, Paul says that he is going to Jerusalem on a “ministry” (diakonia) to the “saints” in Jerusalem. The Greek word diakonia is also used for the ministry of the gospel in Rom. 11.13 and II Cor. 4.1, 5.18. That means, for him, “helping the poor” is not diverse from the “ministry of the gospel”. Therefore, Paul is encouraging the Gentile churches to participate in the ministry to the “saints” in the Jerusalem church. Interestingly, he uses the Greek verb leitourgein in II Cor. 9.12 and Rom. 15.27. This verb has a secular sense (“to serve the need”) and a cultic sense (“to serve as a priest”). In Philippians 2.30 he employs leitourgein in the secular sense of “serving one’s need”. It is used to Epaphroditus (leitourgos) as he brought the “gift” sent by the Philippian church to serve Paul’s need (Phil. 2.25). In this service Epaphroditus even risked his own life. In II Cor. 9.12 leitourgia refers to the “collection” itself. Leitourgein in Rom. 15.27 may be understood in secular sense when seen in the light of Phil. 2.25, 30 and II Cor. 9.12.[50]

On the other hand, Paul in Phil. 2.17 uses leitourgein in the cultic sense. Also in Rom. 15.27 it may be understood in cultic sense if seen in the light of leitourgos of Rom. 15.16. Paul employs the cultic language in connection with his taking the collection raised among the Gentile churches to the “saints” in Jerusalem (Rom.15.15-33): “priest of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles”, “perform a priestly function with regard to the Gospel of God”, “the offering of the Gentiles, sanctified by the Holy Spirit might be acceptable” (Rom. 15.15-16). The “offering” mentioned in Rom. 15.16 can be taken as the object of Gentiles. This is supported by Phil. 4.18, where Paul describes the Philippians’ “gift” to him as “a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God.” Thus, Paul is depicting the economic relationship with a cultic metaphor of “offering”. “Offering” in the cultic context points to an exchange between God and the offerer(s), where the latter offers “an innocent and defenseless sacrificial victim” as a sacrifice to God. Rene Girard calls this “scapegoat mechanism”.[51] The power of this mechanism lies in its deception and concealment. On the one hand, it deceives by depicting God as the one who is demanding “sacrificial victims”, and thus, portraying violence against the “victims” as a sacred act. On the other hand, it conceals the plight of the innocent and voiceless “sacrificial victims” and transforms the “violence against the victims” as a “good violence”. Thus, the cycle of scapegoating the “weak and vulnerable” continues. Raymund Schwager says that “according to its basic structure, the sacrificial cult is a ritual repetition of the scapegoat mechanism.”[52] The OT prophets were opposed to all of the sacrificial rites in Israel. Amos denounced the cultic practices of the people: “I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon” (Amos 5:21-22). The prophets demanded, rather to “seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:17). Aligning himself with this prophetic tradition and depicting the sharing of resources with the needy as an “offering to God”, Paul is providing a counter system where “offering” required by God’s justice is not “sacrificial violence” against “an innocent and voiceless victim”, but serving the need of “the victim” or sharing God’s resources with the “victim” of the structural violence. Dominic Crossan calls this “God’s distributive justice”.[53] Far from demanding “victims”, God not only identifies with the “victims” but also addresses the situation of their “victimization”.

1. Equality  

Paul presents the Macedonian believers as an example of those who were pleased to participate in “God’s distributive justice”. In Romans he repeats twice that they were pleased to share their resources with the needy in Jerusalem (Rom. 15.26,27). The Macedonian Christians even “begged” Paul and his colleagues to allow them to be partners in this ministry of sharing their resources with the “saints” in Jerusalem. Testifying about them, Paul says: “(D)uring a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity” (II Cor. 8.2). Notice the contrast between the external situation and the character of the Macedonian believers: “a severe ordeal of affliction” and “abundant joy”, and “extreme poverty” and “a wealth of generosity”. The sharing is clearly not from “plenty” to “want” but from “want” to “want”. Their sharing is not a “charity” or a “free giving” of what is “extra” or “useless” (or even “free giving” of tax money). It clearly challenges the existing stereotypes of the “rich” and the “poor” or “giver” and “receiver” in exchange relationship in the patronage system that assumes and assigns superior and inferior status to all participants in that structure.

Paul also informs the pure intent of the Macedonian believers in their sharing of God’s resources. He employs the Greek word haplotēs for the “generosity” of the Macedonian (and Corinthian) believers (II Cor. 8.2, cf. 9.11). Haplotēs does not mean merely “generosity”, but “generosity arising out of purity of mind”. In other words, this “giving” to those in need arose from pure intentions (unlike economic aid, loans, and investments of economically rich countries and transnational companies in the poor countries) without any ulterior or malicious motives as in the Greco-Roman patronage system and the greed-based capitalist system. It is sharing with pure intent of what God has given them with their fellow brothers and sisters who are in need.

Being conscious of the “obligatory” relationship between the “giver” and the “receiver” present in the existing patronage system, Paul is cautious not to give it a foothold in the counter system. One thing that is not emphasized in I Cor. 16.1-4 and II Cor. 8-9 is the economic hardship of the “saints of Jerusalem church”. Even though one could speculate that the Gentile churches already knew about the situation of these believers in the Jerusalem church (cf. II Cor. 9.12), one wonders why Paul did not repeat this important information to gather sympathy from the Gentile churches, since the issue was a matter of urgency for him. In II Cor. 9.11-12, just as in II Cor. 8.13-14, by avoiding the mentioning of the economic hardship of the needy in the Jerusalem church in the context of “collection”, he is careful to see that the Jerusalem church would not be placed in a direct obligatory relationship to the Gentile churches as a result of receiving the economic contribution.

Rather, Paul is emphasizing two things: the principle of equality and the source of wealth. Paul speaks of “their need” in connection to equality or “fair balance” (II Cor. 8.13-14): “I do not mean that there is relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance.” The common interpretation of “their need” is “the material need of the Jerusalem believers”.[54] If that is the meaning, what about the phrases “your need” and “their abundance”? The reference to Corinthians’ “need” is ambiguous here. It can not be understood as referring to material need because Corinthian believers are considered to be relatively rich and that is why Paul is writing this letter to share from their material riches, nor can it be taken as referring to “spiritual poverty” because in II Cor. 8.9 it is already said that Christ has made them rich.[55] Also Paul in II Cor. 8.15 cites Exodus 16.18 which refers to the experience of the people of Israel in the wilderness when they gathered manna for themselves: “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.” The implication is that it was God who made “equality” to happen. In other words, God is a God of “fairness” or “equality”. Here it is appropriate to take it as a general illustration of the principle of equality.[56] Thus, Paul directs the focus of the Corinthian believers to God’s principle of “fairness” or “equality”. This should become the motivation for them to share their resources with the needy in the Jerusalem church. For Paul, it is a concrete demonstration of the God’s community of the new creation: “This is divinely distributive justice, a necessary sharing of God’s resources….Loving as a fair and equitable sharing of a world that belongs to a just God is what gives content to Paul’s assertion to the Galatians that “a new creation is everything” (Gal. 6.15) and to Paul’s claim to the Corinthians that “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new” (II Cor. 5.17).”[57] Crossan wonders: “What better deserves the title of a new creation than the abnormalcy of a share-world replacing the normalcy of a greed-world?”[58]

Paul also focuses their attention to the source of their wealth, God. In II Cor. 9.11-12, Paul says that the Corinthian church is in a position to give because God the supplier has provided them with wealth (both spiritual and material, II Cor. 8.9, 9.10).  The ultimate purpose of their giving is to render thanksgiving to God (II Cor. 9.11,12). In other words, their “generosity” is out of their gratitude to the Source of their wealth. Thus, by linking the generosity of the Corinthian church to God and not to the economic poverty of the Jerusalem believers, Paul has consciously disconnected the Jerusalem church as the “receiver” from the patronal power of the “giver” and dissuaded the economically rich from using their economic contribution to advance their patronal power.    

2. Nonacquisitiveness

Paul gives two examples of “generosity” to the Corinthian believers: Macedonian believers and Jesus Christ (II Cor. 8.1-6; 8.9). He praises the voluntary “generosity” of the Macedonian believers: “(B)egging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry”(meta pollēs paraklēseos deomenoi hēmōn tēn charin kai tēn koinonian tēs diakonias tēs eis tous hagious (II Cor. 8.4)). This is linked to the “generous act” of Jesus Christ: “the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ” (tēn charin tou kuriou hēmōn Iēsou Christou (II Cor. 8.9)), by the common Greek term charin. In these two examples Paul is emphasizing their nonacquisitive character and their focus on the welfare of the “other”. The nonacquisitive character of the Macedonian believers is depicted by the paradox of “a wealth of their generosity” in “extreme poverty”. As explained above, the Greek word haplotēs denotes “generosity out of pure mind”, that is, without any malicious and hidden intent. That means, their “generosity” is purely for the welfare of the believers in the Jerusalem church. The nonacquisitive character of Jesus Christ is expressed in his act: “though he was rich…he became poor” (II Cor.8.9), and the focus on the welfare of the needy: “for your sakes…so that…you might become rich.” Paul further says that the “generosity” of Jesus Christ exemplifies the “genuineness of love” (II Cor. 8.8-9). In other words, the “generous act” of Jesus Christ, which is nonacquisitive, is the expression of the “genuineness” of love. Thus, the model for agape love is Jesus Christ (cf. Gal. 2.20). Paul in Gal. 5.6 exhorts that faith in Christ manifests itself through loving service, or “it erupts into communal life as love” (Gal. 5.6 “faith working through love”).[59] Believer in Christ mimes the nonacquisitive desire of Christ, that is, the agape love, and thus breaks free from the system of greed and acquisitiveness and becomes a part of the community of the new creation, whose concrete pattern of life is based on agape love (Gal. 5.13-14). It is the love modeled on Christ that becomes the distinctive character of the community of the new creation. It becomes evident, then, that the community of the new creation becomes a critique and subversive of the Greco-Roman patronage system and the present greed-based capitalism.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1] Walter Wink, Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1992), p. 54.

[2] Quoted by Manning Marable in a speech given at the Fifth Annual Michael Manley Lecture sponsored by the Michael Manley Foundation, Sagicor Life of Jamaica Auditorium, Kingston, Jamaica, 10.12.2006.

[3] Walter Wink, Naming the Powers: The Language of Power in the New Testament (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1984), p. 109.

[4] Michael Parenti, “Mystery: How Wealth Creates Poverty in the World,” http://www.commondreams.org, 16.2.2007.

[5] Parenti, “Mystery.”

[6] Tim Newman, “Child Labor behind Firestone Tires,” www.commondreams.org. 12.6.2007.

[7] “Valentine’s Day: Labor Conditions at US-Owned Plantations Show Hidden Realities of Flower Industry,” http://www.democracynow.org, 14.2.2007.

[8] Two US corporations in Colombia – Chiquita Brands International, a banana company based in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Drummond Company Inc, a major coal producer based in Birmingham, Alabama – are facing charges in two separate suits filed in US courts for aiding far-right paramilitary groups having close ties to the Colombian pro-US government. Chiquita Brands International is being sued for its role in the murder of hundreds of Colombian workers killed by paramilitary groups. Drummond Company is facing similar charges in the murder of three trade union leaders. It is estimated that 4000 trade unionists have been murdered in Colombia in the past two decades alone. Barin Masoud, “Rights-Colombia: US Firms Face Charges for Aiding Paramilitary Killers,” www.ipsnews.net, 22.6.2007.

[9] US has ratified only 14 of the 184 International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions and 2 of the 8 Conventions the ILO has identified as fundamental to the rights of human beings at work. Only by ratifying Conventions a country is subject to regular scrutiny of the ILO.

www.fpif.org/outside/commentary/2002/021 Oilo.html

[10] “Valentine’s Day.”

[11] A Powerful lobby in the US wants the India-US Nuclear Deal sealed. According to The Wall Street Journal it opens the way for nuclear power business and massive arms deals worth an estimated $25,000 crores. The US Chamber of Commerce and companies such as General Electric and Boeing are lobbying for the deal.

[12] During the Vietnam War the US war planes sprayed about 18 million gallons of Agent Orange (a poisonous chemical toxin) on the land of Vietnam. As a consequence of this, over 3 million Vietnamese are disabled. The victims are suing over three dozen US chemical companies that have supplied this poisonous chemical. The list of companies being sued includes Dow Chemical (parent company of the Union Carbide, which is responsible for Bhopal Gas Tragedy in India) and Monsanto. These two companies are still involved in poisoning the land and the water with their byproducts in India. 

[13] “Vandana Shiva on Farmer Suicides, the U.S.-India Nuclear Deal, Wal-Mart in India and More,” www.democracynow.org, 13.12.2006.

[14] “The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) 1989,” www.rugmark.org. Article 32 states:  “Children have the right to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.” The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), 1989, has been ratified by 192 countries, except by the United States of America and Somalia.

[15] Emad Mekay, “Rich Nations Prodded on “Illegitimate” Lending,” Inter Press Service , 13.2.2007.

[16] Evo Morales, a farmer’s son, grew up in extreme poverty and rose to power leading Bolivia’s long-marginalized indigenous majority. Morales has said that his election marks the beginning of the end to hundreds of years of discrimination and repression of Bolivia’s indigenous majority. He has promised to lift one of Latin America’s poorest countries out of the misery it has endured since the 16th century Spanish invasion. He has nationalized the natural gas industry and ordered land handouts for peasants. He has also slashed government salaries, cutting his own by more than 50 percent, to fund more teachers and health care workers, and secured an increase in the price Argentina pays for natural gas. Morales avoids the lifestyle of the European-descended elites who long ruled and exploited South America’s poorest country. Rather than sitting down to sumptuous banquets with the wealthy, he prefers hosting traditional lunches where peasants eat communally, with their hands, on the marble floor of the palace’s great hall.

[17] “Bolivian President Evo Morales on Latin America, U.S. Foreign Policy and the Role of the Indigenous People of Bolivia,” http://www.democracynow.org, 22.9.2006.

[18] “Bolivian President Evo Morales.”

[19] This phenomenon of death, destruction and plunder is glaringly evident in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Glen Ford, “A Tale of Two Genocides: Congo and Darfur,” in www.blackagendareport.org, 18.7.2007; Keith Harmon Snow, “Over Five Million Dead in Congo? Fifteen Hundred People Daily?” in www.dissidentvoice.org, 4.2.2008; Jim Lobe, “Global Businesses Profit from Congo War, Groups Charge,” in www.interpressservice.org, 28.10.2003.

[20] Recently it has been reported that weapons are supplied to pro-government and anti-government forces of Sudan, an oil-rich country (where civil war is going on), by China and Russia, and the United States (through Kuwait and Saudi Arabia) respectively. 

[21] Read “Human Development Report 2005: International Cooperation at a Crossroads: Aid, Trade and Security in an Unequal World,” Published for the United Nations Development Programme.

The ongoing illegal war in Iraq is a perfect example for the link between wars/conflicts, and control of markets and natural resources. The United States of America is pressurizing the Iraqi government to pass a new law on oil and gas (this is one of the bench marks set by the US for the Iraqi government to fulfill). Under the proposed law, Iraq’s immense oil reserves would not only be opened to foreign oil exploration, but the executives of the transnational oil companies such as Chevron, Exxon Mobil, British Petroleum and the other Western oil giants would actually be among the board of directors of the new Federal Oil and Gas Council that would control all of Iraq’s reserves. The Iraq’s own national oil company would become just another competitor. The new law would grant the council virtually all power to develop policies and plans for undeveloped oil fields and to review and change all exploration and production contracts.

[22] Howard Zinn, “Empire or Humanity? What the Classroom Didn’t Teach Me about the American Empire,” www.tomdispatch.com, 3.4.2008.

[23] Relatively inexpensive and readily available small arms and light weapons can be used to destabilize countries, creating political chaos and economic devastation, thus undermining their economic self-sufficiency and making them vulnerable for exploitation.

[24]A 2005 report by the World Policy Institute found that of the largest U.S. arms recipients in the developing world, over 70 percent were undemocratic regimes, major human rights abusers or both. A recent report by the research group Saferworld found that in 2005 the United Kingdom provided weapons to 19 of 20 nations that had been singled out by its own government as “major countries of concern” for human rights abuses. The Control Arms Campaign has found Russian, Greek, Chinese and U.S. origin bullets in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is engaged in one of the deadliest civil wars.

[25] “The question remains, why is the United States opposed to taking measures to stop this deadly trade? The first answer is strategic. The executive branch wants to preserve its “freedom of action” to arm U.S.-allied groups like the Nicaraguan contras, the Afghan mujahadin, Jonas Savimbi’s UNITA movement in Angola, (warlords in Somalia)…and (militant) groups opposed to the current regime in Iran.” William D. Hartung, “We Arm the World,” www.tompaine.com, 27.10.2006. According to the ABC News, America is funding Jundullah, a Pakistan-based terrorist group, to undermine Iran government.

However, there is also an economic dimension (i.e. control of markets and natural resources) to the US and West sponsored wars, civil wars and conflicts. It is known that the recent occupation of Somalia by Ethiopia and the subsequent appointment of Somalia government have been orchestrated by the United States of America. Now the US-backed Somali prime minister wants to pass a new oil law to encourage foreign oil companies to return to Somalia. Royal Dutch Shell, Conoco Phillips, Chevron Corporation once had exploration contracts in Somalia, but the companies left the country in 1991. Salim Lone, a columnist for the Daily Nation in Kenya and a former spokesperson for the UN mission in Iraq says: “Somalia itself and the region, the Horn of Africa, is newly oil-rich. Kenya has some oil. Oil is the key to domination for the United States — global domination, I mean. But it is going about, you know, the wrong way to get that oil. The US is also worried that its welcome in the Middle East is diminishing, and they need to make sure — both they want to encircle the Middle East with the oil field, and they want to make sure they have Somalia and other countries handy for the oil.” www.democracynow.org, 27.4.2007.

[26] According to an analysis done by the World Policy Institute’s Arms Trade Resource Center, the United States provided countries in the developing world with more than $1260 crores in arms in Fiscal year 2005. According to the Congressional Research Service’s “Conventional Weapons Transfers to Developing Nations” report, the United States led in global arms deliveries for the eighth year in a row. The United Kingdom trailed in second with $310 crores and Russia was a close third at $280 crores in arms deliveries. Together, these three weapons exporters were responsible for almost 70% of arms delivered worldwide. Frida Berrigan, “United States Rides Weapons Bonanza Wave,” http://www.fpif.org, 16.11.2006.

[27] Parenti, “Mystery.”

[28] Ashifa Kassam, “South Americans Wage Battle against Economic World Order: Continent’s People Optimistically Continue Fight Largely Abandoned by Western Activists,” www.commondreams.org, 29.5.2007.

[29] Traditionally a European heads the International Monetary Fund, and an American is the president of the World Bank.

[30] Parenti, “Mystery.”

[31] Parenti, “Mystery.”

[32] According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data record, there have been 1,66,304 farmers’ suicides in a decade since 1997 in India. Of these, 78,737 occurred in five years between 1997 and 2001. The next five years – from 2002 to 2006 – proved worse, seeing 87,567 take their lives. This means that on an average, there has been one farmer’s suicide every 30 minutes since 2002. www.hindu.com, 31.1.2008.

[33] Anil Netto, “World Bank Should Go with Wolfowitz: Activists,” Inter Press Service, 21.5.2007.

[34] Netto, “World Bank Should Go with Wolfowitz: Activists.”

[35] Netto, “World Bank Should Go with Wolfowitz: Activists.”

[36] Parenti, “Mystery.”

Along with the transnational companies aided by their respective governments, and the international financial agencies, “vulture funds” are the “vultures” vying for the “flesh” of the poor. “Vulture funds”, defined by the International Monetary Fund, are companies which buy up the debt of poor nations cheaply when it is about to be written off and then sue for the full value of the debt plus interest, which might be ten times what they paid for it. On the 24th April 2007 the London High Court gave a verdict that Zambia should pay $155 lakhs to a British Virgin Island-based “vulture fund” company, Donegal International, whose director is an American. In 1979 the Romanian government lent Zambia money to buy Romanian tractors. When Zambia was unable to keep up the payments, in 1999 Romania and Zambia negotiated to liquidate the debt for $30 lakhs. At that moment Donegal International stepped in and bought the debt at $32 lakhs and had been seeking $550 lakhs from Zambia. More than two-thirds of the cases brought by “vulture funds” occur in the US or UK jurisdictions. Some other countries that have faced legal actions by commercial creditors and “vulture funds” include: Angola, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Guyana, Honduras, Madagascar, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Niger, Tanzania, Uganda, and Yemen. “Testimony by Neil Watkins, National Coordinator, Jubilee USA Network, to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health, May 22, 2007,” http://www.jubileeusa.org, 23.5.2007.

[37] “IN GOD WE TRUST” is printed on all American dollar notes.

[38] Jason Miller, “Blind Obedience to the Canons of Capitalism: Of Sick Societies, American Dalits, and a Nation of Lady Macbeths,” www. Smirkingchimp.com, 26.11.2006.

[39] Carolyn Tuft, Post-Dispatch, 30.4.2005.

[40] Observer, London, 23.5.1999.

[41] John K. Chow, Patronage and Power: A Study of Social Networks in Corinth (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1992), p. 41.

[42] Chow, Patronage and Power, p. 41.

[43] David A. deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2000), p. 96.

[44] Chow, Patronage and Power, p. 74.

[45]Sze-kar Wan, “Collection for the Saints as Anticolonial Act: Implications for Paul’s Ethic Reconstruction,” in Paul and Politics: Ekklesia, Israel, Imperium, Interpretation: Essays in Honor of Krister Stendahl, ed. by Richard A. Horsley (Harrisburg, Penn: Trinity Press International, 2000), p. 214.

[46] S.R.F. Price, Rituals and Power: The Roman Imperial Cult in Asia Minor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), p. 274.

[47] Richard Horsley, “Krister Stendahl’s Challenge to Pauline Studies,” in Paul and Politics, p. 30.

[48] There is a parallel in the present day world where monetarily and militarily powerful countries strangulate the “weaker” ones by claiming to promote “democracy” and “freedom”.  Imperial wars on other countries are portrayed as liberating ones, humanitarian interventions, and spreading democracy by the propaganda of the dominant media, thus, concealing the imperial power and economic interests.

[49] John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed, In Search of Paul: How Jesus’ Apostle Opposed Rome’s Empire with God’s Kingdom: A New Vision of Paul’s Words & World (New York: Harper Collins, 2004), p. 185.

[50] Crossan and Reed, In Search of Paul, p. 399.

[51] Some of the bibliography: Girard, Rene, Violence and the Sacred, Baltimore and London: John Hopkins University Press, 1977; The Scapegoat, Baltimore and London: John Hopkins University Press, 1986; Hamerton-Kelly, Robert G. Sacred Violence: Paul’s Hermeneutic of the Cross, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992; The Gospel and the Sacred: Poetics of Violence in Mark, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994; Schwager, Raymund, Must There Be Scapegoats? Violence and Redemption in the Bible, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987.

[52] Raymund Schwager, Must There Be Scapegoats? Violence and Redemption in the Bible (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987), p. 83.

[53] Crossan and Reed, In Search of Paul, p. 175.

[54] Ralph P. Martin, 2 Corinthians (Waco, Texas: Word, 1986), p. 267.

[55] Wan, “Collection for the Saints as Anticolonial Act,” p. 211.

[56] Wan, “Collection for the Saints as Anticolonial Act,” p. 211.

[57] Crossan and Reed, In Search of Paul, p. 175.

[58] Crossan and Reed, In Search of Paul, p. 175.

 

[59] Sam K. Williams, Galatians (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1997), p. 144.

Gospel of Mammon

May 21, 2009

The Gospel of Mammon

Unrestrained corporate greed-based capitalism has also entered religion. The “faith statement”: “IN GOD WE TRUST” on the “Mighty” Dollar, and the prayer: “Bow your heads and drop to your knees, brothers and sisters! Feel the power of the Holy Dollar coursing through your being as you humbly offer your prayers, exaltations and gratitude to Mighty Mammon!”, though ironic, reflect the reality, that is, the mammonization of God and religion. The “gospel entrepreneurs” with their claims of unhindered direct access to God craftily unite God and Mammon with their make-rich-quick “good news”. These “gospel entrepreneurs”, particularly megachurches and televangelists, subscribe to corporate standards of operation with wealth as the highest “spiritual” value, and prosperity as their gospel. They advocate marketing approach to Christ and Christian religion and give optimistic messages intended to “make people feel good about themselves”. Their philosophy is to make the church as uninterfering and entertaining as possible in order to attract more “customers” into the “spiritual corporate company”. Their doctrine, known as Word of faith, is essentially that God rewards one’s faith almost always in the form of an abundance of wealth. They keep reminding the members the law of reciprocity: “give generously and you will receive generously from God”. Consecration of wallets is their theology. This “spiritual culture” is not only in step with the corporate greed culture around, but also funneling crores of dollars annually into the coffers of these “spiritual corporate companies”.

The number of God’s millionaires is on the raise. The owners of the Megachurches and televangelists “receive” enormous salaries.  For example, an American televangelist, who visits India every year to proclaim “the power of the Word of faith” and has a $9 crore-a-year turnover from the “corporate gospel business”, was “paid” an annual salary of $9,00,000 and her husband, the Ministries’ Board vice president, $4,50,000 in 2002 and 2003. After the criticisms, she currently receives an annual salary of $2,50,000. Although the law in America states that the tax-exempt religious property “cannot be held for private or corporate profit,” according to a report, among other personal benefits reaped from the “corporate gospel ministry”, the evangelist of the God of mammon has a $20 lakh house and receives a separate $5 lakh annual housing allowance (apart from the utilities and maintenance bills paid by the ministries), is provided with free personal use of a $1 crore corporate jet and luxury cars including $1,07,000 silver-gray Mercedes Sedan, and authorized to use a fund of $7,90,000 “at their discretion”. This “gospel entrepreneur” also receives a portion of the $30 lakh a year in royalties earned from books and tapes sold (even though in reality it was the employees who help in writing). The board consists of the evangelist, her spouse, their children, and friends. The list of the ministry’s personal property worth nearly $57 lakhs of furniture, artwork, glassware, and the latest equipment and machinery includes: $49,000 conference table with six chairs, $11,000 clock, $1,05,000 boat, $42,200 worth of ten vases, and a $5,700 porcelain crucifixion. Of the $9 crore annual “profits” from the “gospel business” the ministry spends 10% on charitable works around the world, including India.  

Observer reports about another popular American televangelist to whom the combination of Ministry and Mammon has provided with a net worth estimated at between $20 crores and $100 crores. It gives an example of the way he raised money for a “noble cause” in Africa. Through an emotional fundraising drive on his TV station (this Christian television network is also popular in India), the evangelist raised several crore dollars for his tax-free charitable trust. It is said that he gave $70 lakhs to alleviate the misery of refugees fleeing genocide in Rwanda. More interesting is the way the funds were used in Africa. He bought planes to shuttle medical supplies in and out of the refugee camp in Goma, Congo (previously called Zaire). However, an investigative reporter discovered that over a six-month period, except for one medical flight, the planes were used to supply equipment for a diamond mining operation at a distance from Goma. It was found that he actually flew on one plane ferrying equipment to his mines. The spokesperson of his Ministries countered the criticism that by diverting the planes for diamond mining, the evangelist was actually carrying out God’s work. He further told that the planes proved unfit for supplying medicine, and so the evangelist used them for the diamond hunt which, if successful, would have freed the people of the Congo from lives of starvation and poverty.

Thus, Christian ministry has become a corporate business with the owners of these spiritual corporate companies becoming wealthy on the pretext of serving the poor and the needy. The God of mammon obscures the God of Jesus Christ, and the gospel of greed the gospel of Jesus Christ.