Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Spiritual Prosperity?

Not long ago, there was a front page story in the NY Times about a minister named Creflo Dollar. Yes, that's his real name, and it's quite appropriate, as he's known for preaching a "prosperity gospel." He owns a couple of Rolls Royces, a $2.5 million apartment in Manhattan, a mansion in Atlanta, and travels by private jet. He is a controversial figure, as you might imagine. Some Christians see wealth as a sign of the glory of God, but there are also those who remind us that it's as difficult for a rich man to pass through the gates of heaven as it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.
I don't read a lot of religious books (though when I was younger I loved the Old Testament and read Genesis and Exodus over and over again), but in my attempts to broaden my spectrum of financial literature, I happened to read part of a book called The Four Spiritual Laws of Prosperity, by a minister named Edwene Gaines. She and Reverend Dollar seem to share some of the same outlook-- as she says in the introduction to her book:
"I travel first class. I have fine clothes, jewelry, and a lovely home. If I want something, I simply buy it. I even have somebody on my staff who buys my toilet paper for me."
She makes clear that prosperity is about a lot more than money: that true prosperity involves relationships, love, generosity and a sense of spiritual purpose. But she does talk an awful lot about the material side of things, and how if you tithe to every person that gives you "spiritual food," you'll be rewarded. She gives examples of people, herself included, who were desperately poor and at the end of their rope, but they tithe their last dime and/or attend one of Edwene's seminars, and then, boom:
"I was given a brand new Cadillac and an expensive diamond ring."
"By the end of three months, my income had doubled. At the end of six, it had tripled."
"She found a job... now, fifteen years later, she is a millionaire. She has a large, diverse investment portfolio and a beautiful home with a steam sauna."
Edwene does have a sense of humor. After having to tell her hungry teenage daughter that they have no money for food, she prays for groceries. She is immediately interrupted by a telephone call telling her she has won a $300 shopping spree at Safeway, in a contest she can't remember having entered. "Thank you, God! Thank you, God!" she cries, but her daughter says, "Thank you, God, my foot! I stood an hour at the table where they had entry slips and filled out 50 of those suckers!"
The concept of tithing seems a bit rigid to me, but I don't really have a problem with it in principle-- yes, people should give according to their means, and many religious organizations do good things with the money people donate to them. But I found that Edwene Gaines' book sometimes made tithing sound like a big pyramid scheme-- I'd have an easier time being told to tithe for my spiritual food by someone who wasn't, so to speak, a waitress at the spiritual diner. And I'd be happier if my money was paying for something other than a preacher's Rolls Royce and private jet.


Anonymous said...

I already do triple tithing to the U.S. Government so they can pay politicians to go on junkets and nail interns. I shudder to think what the church would do with it.

Anonymous said...

The church already gets a tax exemption. They don't need my money, too.

People are always so astounded by the churche's numerous monuments to its own glory, but nary a tear is shed for the 14th through 16th century peasants whose repeated tithes and purchase of indulgences. They've a softer-sell in their racket now, but given their preferred tax exemption and ability to invest for profit (banking, insurance, chemicals, steel, construction, real estate, etc.) and pay no taxes on those profits, they can do without my penance.

Caitlin said...

to me this all boils down to a willingness to let go and also to live in a spirit of abundance. If you fear you won't have enough, you wont' be able to share what you have but if you have faith that you will be provided for in some way (via god, the universe, angels, a sugar momma...whatever) then it's very easy to share what you have, even if it doesn't feel like "enough"...because what you need will come.

Sometimes I really struggle to have that sort of faith, but personally I truly believe it's necessary...for true abundance, for happiness...

I don't really do organized religion so when I think of "tithing" I interpret it more as as structured way to "let go" -- deciding on a portion to give away (to charity or whatever). I think it's a great concept...and should be liberated from church for those of us that don't go :)

Yes, this is my "hippie woowoo" comment for the day ;)

Anonymous said...

again, i tithe, in abundance, to the U.S. federal government, as well as to the People's Republic of New Jersey. The latter of which installs soviet-style apparatchuk more concerned with getting blown by under-qualified Homeland Security man-whore israeli nationals and/or flousy labor union chiefs, than trimming down the state budget.

mapgirl said...

I dislike tithing all 10% to the church. I think you pay enough to the plate to keep your congregation going, but the balance of the 10% can go to other charities you think are worthwhile.

Churches collect the money to keep up the grounds, etc of their parish and to do good works. I find that other charities do just as important good work.

But then again I don't go to church anymore, nor do I tithe (and never did), but if I did, that's what I'd do

OH OH! I forgot. Your tithe and plate donations are tax deductible! So pay by check!

Anonymous said...

If you read Edwene's book, then you read that she says to tithe to wherever you get your spiritual food. She said that could be an individual, a foundation, a religious institution, whatever. She did not say it had to be to a church. I didn't get the impression of pyramid scheme whatsoever. And she actually did tithe to a waitress who once offered her some encouragement when she was feeling down. Funny that you should use that as an example!