The title of this post is an old saying among con artists as a way to justify their activities. The idea behind it is that a really good man won’t jump at the chance to, in effect, get something for nothing. See the Nigerian banker scam, where people are promised tens of thousands of dollars in return for wiring a few hundred dollars.
Now, the fact is, this isn’t quite true. You can cheat an ignorant man by getting him to believe something that isn’t so–either about the world, or about himself. Sometimes you feel sorry for the one conned, but sometimes you really don’t.
For instance, in the movie The Sting, a masterful portrayal of the art of the con, the main character is introduced via duping a man into believing that he’s helping out a fellow in trouble with the mob by delivering money to a specific location. The mark then runs off with what he thinks is the cash, only to find out that he’s got an envelope full of tissue paper. This scene both serves to set up the main plot of the movie–which you should watch if you haven’t–and as a reminder that total jerks can have bad things happen to them.
Which brings me to the Prosperity Gospel. For those who don’t know what this is, it’s the notion that if you have enough faith, and demonstrate such by either believing really hard and usually saying some form of what is effectively a magic spell or giving money to the preacher, then God will give you more stuff than what you have now, or fix your health problems, or just generally make your life better obviously and tangibly.
This is heretical for a multitude of reasons. It’s not outright not-Christian because there is some Scriptural basis for expecting some degree of stuff from God–y’know, the clothing of the lilies of the field and the feeding of the sparrows. However, it’s wrong because it completely misunderstands what those verses mean–hint: see “need” vs. “want” and ignores most of the rest of the Bible, including discussions about how foxes and birds have homes, while Jesus doesn’t have one, or that the apostles were vigorously persecuted.
This sort of preaching gets a wide audience, because the notion of having a divine spigot of stuff sounds pretty awesome and like an easy life. Most people are up for that.
Some of them, however, have more reason to be up for that than others.
Many of these preachers operate in places that are desperately poor. Mentioned in such books as Phillip Jenkins’ The Next Christendom, men like Reinhard Bonnke go to South America and Africa and preach that if their listeners have enough faith that their sick will be healed and they will have money so that they can afford good food for their families and actually put them in halfway decent housing.
The people in these places, and others in dire straits, count as the ignorant man mentioned above. They still bear responsibility, but you really feel sorry for them more than anything else, because they want to provide their families with basic necessities, as recognized throughout history–and, oftentimes, lack the Biblical literacy to understand why what they’re being taught is wrong, due to either lack of literacy in general or just general poverty. Woe be unto them, for being willing to believe that God exists to for their purposes. I suspect, however, that where will be worse woe unto the false teachers who led them into believing that God is a sentient vending machine.
Worse, however, are those who have what they need and believe that God is somehow interested in making them the next Rockefellers, for it is greed that they add unto their blasphemy. Let’s be real here: The most anyone might have the expectation to get from God is enough to barely survive on. Everything else is a bonus. (Note: not a comment on entitlement spending). However, your life being even halfway decent by worldly standards is a little much to expect, although it can happen.
How much more is it completely insane, self-centered, and avaricious to believe that God is just going to see to it that you have a new car, bigger house, scads of cash, and not a worry in the world? Especially when you can read the Bible and have access to things like online editions of commentaries if you don’t understand things.
It’s ridiculously worse, is what it is. It’s a perversion of the Christian faith, as bad as the Gnostics who preached that matter itself was sinful, or the men who have advocated conversion at swordpoint, or those who have declared that God favors whites/blacks/whatever over anyone else.
But really, here’s the worst thing about it.
It’s too small. Too transient. Too fixed in the temporal.
The truth? The wealth God offers is in the next world, not this one. Eternal life, freedom from sin, closeness to Himself, (yes, I saved the best for last) and some other stuff that we’re not told exactly what it is.
You can’t take anything from this world to the next–and your time here is much less than your time in the next. And, also, God is infinite.
Isn’t that a tad bit better?
‘Til next time,
Lowell Van Ness