Thursday, July 06, 2006

A subtle middle-class idolatry

I've been thinking a lot lately about materialism and the idolatry of the "good life" in U.S. culture. Michael Spencer recently wrote a hard-hitting essay on that very topic (HT: Theocentric Preaching). Michael is on-target in his assessment of the pervasiveness of the idolatry of the "good life" in the United States (even among Christians):

One of the clearest indicators of this idolatry is the insistence of evangelicals that their pastors not challenge the definition of “the Good Life.” Catholics have a priest who lives in simplicity and poverty as an example of sacrifice and a reminder of what discipleship should mean. Yet millions of evangelicals want their pastors visibly living as high up the scale of American success as possible, precisely because this baptizes these values and insures that their leaders are, like themselves, swimming in the pool of “the Good Life.”

It is a common compliment to contemporary pastors that they are “just a regular person.” With all due respect, shouldn’t we admit what is really being endorsed? We do not want leaders who live the Christian life so seriously that they make us uncomfortable with their example, and challenge our lifestyles with their own.

I recommend reading I-Monk's article and looking around at the the lives of ourselves and those around us to see how deeply the pull to idolatry runs.


Blogger Unknown said...

I understand the comments comparing catholic priests with evangelical pastors but I am not so sure that is all of the issue. If you compare the parish priest with the bishop of the diocese compared with the cardinal compared with the pope himself I wonder if the analogy fails to some extent. Also, is it wrong for the pastor be paid by the congregation to a level at least at the average income level for that congregation? Is the point that average income level for EVERYONE in the middle class is too high? In some Orthodox communities the priest must work a secular job in order to support his family. Is this the way it should be? If everyone tithed and gave the offerings the Lord prompted them to give, it should cover anything that the Lord desires the church to do.

The Lord does bless to overflowing and this blessing should be shared with others. I would think the problem would be greed more so than idolatry.

11:27 AM, July 07, 2006  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

IH: Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

A description of the essence of the idolatry Michael writes about is found in a paragraph I didn't quote in my post:

"The idolatry of “The Good Life” is, instead, the reshaping of the Christian movement into a particularly American religion where God becomes the means to provide us with the comforts, material blessings, experiences and “necessities” of a prosperous American lifestyle as defined by American culture.

God is not a means to an end. He is an end in himself. The problem with middle class incomes (even the lower ones being plush by worldwide, historical standards) isn't in the money itself but in what we do with it and what we expect it to do for us. You might want to have at my June 30, 2006, link, "Reasons not to preach tithing." Peace.

7:17 PM, July 08, 2006  

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