Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Questions I'd Have Asked Barbara Ehrenreich

Last night, a few of us went down to Miami to see Barbara Ehrenreich at Books and Books; for more on the reading, go to my other blog post here. Ehrenreich has just published a book that criticizes the American pop religion of positive thinking, and one of her targets was prosperity preachers. I'd love to have heard her talk more about that.

I was tempted to ask her questions, but I always worry that what interests me would not be very interesting to the rest of the room (some of my fellow audience members did not share my worry; they got to ask a question, and they rambled on and on about themselves until I wanted to snarl, "We did not come here to listen to you!").

I wanted to know if she actually talked to any prosperity preachers, and if she did, whether or not she asked them about all those Bible verses that talk about giving your money away to the poor and oppressed. I've always wondered how prosperity preachers square their message with those inconvenient passages.

They probably don't. I've only read a few of those books, because they make me so angry, but from what I've seen, they just ignore the vast majority of the Bible, which tells us to be generous and not to cling to our money/possessions. Gone is the Jesus of the Gospel who tells the rich young man who follows all the commandments to give away everything he owns to the poor and then he'll be ready to follow Jesus.

Ehrenreich, of course, is not a theologian, and I don't know that she'd have argued theology with the prosperity preachers. I'd love to know how she feels about Liberation Theology, and whether or not she likes it.

One woman who talked predominantly about her relief from her fibromyalgia did mention that she was a devout Catholic, and Ehrenreich used that opportunity to talk about the Catholic church and its approach to the thorny problem of suffering. She also talked about Buddhism, and Buddhism's embrace of suffering, despite the ever-smiling Dalai Lama (her words, not mine).

My reading of the Gospels tells me that by embracing Christianity, by following Christ, I can certainly expect suffering and persecution. I've had conversations with non-believers who struggle to understand what would attract me to such a bad bargain. I try to explain the vision that God has for creation, that God invites us to be part of that vision, that I want to be part of that creation, no matter how much the world tries to convince me otherwise. Those prosperity preachers are declaring a heresy.

God has a much better plan for us than a big house and more cars than drivers per household and more and more stuff. Now that's a radical message, one that most of us don't dare preach. How the world would change if more of us did declare that message more boldly.

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