Some Thoughts on the Prosperity Gospel

Quite often, I’m emailed about a subject so frequently that I decide that, instead of just writing the same answer again and again, I should just write an article about it so I can point new emailers to the article. That way, not only will they get my response, but they can get involved in the discussion.

One of the most frequent subjects I’m emailed about is from readers who are fervent believers in the prosperity gospel. To put it simply, the prosperity gospel focuses on the idea that God provides material prosperity for those he favors. The idea goes both ways: materially successful people achieve such success because they’re favored by God and, at the same time, people who are favored by God will eventually be materially successful. In other words, godliness causes material prosperity.

First of all, let me state I’m a Christian. I’m involved with a Lutheran church in my community which does a lot of local charitable good, I’m friends with the pastor there, and I’ve even served on committees there. Regardless of my personal religious beliefs, I’ve seen the very positive work that the church does in the community, providing food and resources for people who genuinely need them.

I also don’t believe in “pushiness” when it comes to people’s personal spiritual beliefs. I don’t expect you to become a Christian and I’m not going to browbeat you with the reasons – and I reasonably expect the same from you. Unless it’s entered into with an air of respect and civility, such debates never go anywhere and this isn’t the place for them.

Many of these readers who email me and argue on behalf of the prosperity gospel argue that, because The Simple Dollar is successful, I must be favored by God and that I should use this evidence as a platform upon which to repeat the prosperity gospel to my readers.

I completely and wholeheartedly disagree with this notion.

First of all, if the prosperity gospel were true, every single person of faith would be showered in material wealth. I know some well-off people of faith. I also know some very poor people of faith. At the same time, I know some very financially poor atheists and some very well-off atheists.

Second of all, it implies a nonsensical quid pro quo. The entire idea of a prosperity gospel is based on an idea of direct reciprocity – if you believe in God, you will directly be given material wealth. This implies that God is some kind of spiritual ATM – deposit some faith and you can withdraw some cash.

This implies a very direct connection between our spiritual choices and the material world. Yet, if that direct connection were true, people of faith would have all the material wealth and people without faith would have none of the material wealth. As I pointed out above, a cursory examination of the world shows this not to be true.

One’s religion can play a very valuable role in helping a person choose to make positive choices that help themselves and help the world. If you use that guidance to genuinely become a better person, to give up negative habits and choose positive ones, you undoubtedly are increasing your opportunties for material wealth. However, it requires positive choices and positive actions from you, and there are many sources that people draw from beyond faith to make those positive choices.

All of the goodness that the world has to offer comes from you and your actions and choices. I do believe that positive rewards come from making choices that are positive not only for you, but for other people. Those are generally the types of actions recommended by the major religions of the world – helping others in need, being honest in your dealings with others, respecting others, and so on. Those will result in positive outcomes over the long haul, but it’s not a direct relationship at all.

Spirituality is never a direct quid pro quo. It provides its own rewards, ones that aren’t of the sparkly kind.

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