A quick look in the book store’s ‘self-help section’ will tell the tale that we are all a little more than frustrated and are seeking help and assurance. The topics are numerous. With titles like, “Feeling Good,” and “Man’s Search for Meaning,” these books sell the notion that all that we need for success is to be found within. Expert after expert has mused voluminously about the best way to look after ‘self.’ It sells wonderfully well in a consumer society which has taught us to look after self first and to do what we can to gratify self. Sadly, parts of Christianity are cashing in on this hunger by walking away from the gospel message to embrace the consumer attitude that has infected our culture.
Time Magazine published an article in 2006 entitled Does God Want You To Be Rich? (You can read it by clicking here). Televangelists have long capitalized on the idea that people have a need to feel better about self. Today we call this the ‘Prosperity Gospel.’ The article notes that “of the four biggest megachurches in the country, three—[Joel] Osteen’s Lakewood in Houston; T.D. Jakes’ Potter’s House in south Dallas; and Creflo Dollar’s World Changers near Atlanta–are Prosperity or Prosperity Lite pulpits (although Jakes’ ministry has many more facets).” This stuff sells because we have a need to advance ourselves and we would love to believe that the answer to everything is found within, that we can fix everything and be everything. Books like Osteen’s Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential should be moved from the Religion section at the store to self help. His book proffers this advice, "Don’t simply settle for what your parents had. You can go further than that. You can do more, have more, be more."Osteen’s ideas fit best with those of the self-help gurus who keep telling us to strive to fulfill our potential. It’s the kind of thing that would make Oprah proud. All of these notions are saturated with the erroneous assumption that we have all lacked to focus on ourselves and our potential. The success of this prosperity theology is due to the consumerists promise that I will get something more for ME if I get MY attitude right. MY treasure chest will be fuller. What we are really hungry for and thirsty for is deeper and more profound than simply making our life and our lot better.
In Practicing our Faith Dorothy Bass posits; “The fact is that our inward journeys at not enough to meet our need. Our lives are tangled up with everyone else’s in ways beyond our knowing, ‘caught,’ as Martin Luther King Jr. put it, ‘in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied to a single garment of destiny.’ The simplest economics teaches this truth about life in the global village. So does the science of clean air and wholesome food. And so do the desires of our hearts: who would wish to eat a feast alone while others starve? And who will not someday find themselves starving – if not for food, then for health or a dearest companion? We need to cooperate if we hope to find not just contented states of mind but ways of living that are good for ourselves and others nearby and around the world.”
Living in a sense of contentedness about ME and how much I have accumulated is simply not enough. For the Christian, life is a journey which is not focused on self, but on the other. When fully embraced, it assumes the stance of Jesus whose life and witness embodied care and compassion for others. The message in the life of Jesus of Nazareth was LOVE for other and SACRIFICES of self. We follow one who encouraged storing up treasures in heaven, giving away the tunic, forgiving the other, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the stranger, forgiving those in debt to us, embracing the rejected. Prosperity on the Christian journey is doing our part as one member of the body of Christ. Our success is measured in how we make our collective lives better by living the way of hope, healing, forgiveness and love. We need to find ways to communicate this message effectively. People are hungry for certain. Offering more books and philosophies that are a diet about self, is nothing more than offering junk food to a people already gorged on garbage. We need to refocus people on the loving Gospel of the One who noted that service and love would bring fulfillment and grace.