In a culture of hectic schedules, deadlines, requirements, and relationship complexities, we are expected to succumb to a harsh climate of give and take. As a competitive species, we must not only survive on a basic level, we must also navigate task productivity and accuracy on the job, take risks in order to climb the professional and social ladder, and maintain a give-and-take awareness when it comes to significant others. It is understandable why so many of us engage Christianity using the same motivating factors used in all other major areas of life.
“It’s Complicated;” a phrase commonly used as a way to describe the status of availability one perceives as being open to other relationship options. However, I believe this same phrase applies to most spheres we engage throughout life. Life complexities come at us in a variety of challenges and opportunities. No two are alike. Admittedly, some are dealt much worse hands that others when considering advantage on a global scale.
Some people were seemingly born with the proverbial silver spoon in their mouth. “Relationships come easy for her.” “He will never have to work a day in his life.” But, have you ever taken a moment to realize that just being born and living a modest middle-income lifestyle in America easily places the majority of Americans in the top 1% of the world’s wealthiest? Click here to see where you stand.
In a Capitalist society, we are continuously pitted against each other as a way to maintain a sense of order, prioritization, and status. Yes, there is plenty of opportunity to be had, but usually (if not always) at the cost of others’ loss. Not much room for socialist propaganda. Despite lot’s of talk, at the end of the day, most Americans have to admit (to some degree) we engage Capitalism to ensure our own sense of security, safety, and benefit. And- there is nothing wrong with placing your oxygen mask on first before helping others with their mask. We are more likely to fail as species if there aren’t at least some advantaged people in a position to assist others lacking the appropriate skills and know-how of survival. As tempting it is for me to take this article in the direction most believe it is going- I must opt to “go there” another day.
I write all of this to provide a paradoxical lens when it comes to how Christ intends us to engage Christianity. Rather than pitting human against human or demonstrating personal ability and worthiness to obtain a level of sustainable survival, Christ only asks that we engage him- no matter what socioeconomic, academic, or National level we are on. We should at least admit that even the idea of “faith” requires that we approach Christianity in a manner that practically (if not wholly) negates a Capitalistic modus. When approached by a rich ruler inquiring what he must do to inherit eternal life (confident that he had established a righteous life by having consistently followed Jewish commandments), Jesus answered, “Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, and come, follow me” Luke 18:22b. Not surprisingly, this made the rich ruler sad. Jesus’ response to his reaction was, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” Luke 18:24b-25.
In a Capitalist society, we are rewarded and encouraged for what we produce, build, multiply, and ultimately do. However, while authentic faith may weigh an individual’s integrity on what they do or how they preform- no amount of doing can make our faith whole. Faith requires us to live and exist on a level outside of our comfort zone; in other words, depend on someone or thing outside of our realm of control. Therefore, “Everyone to whom much is given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more” Luke 12:48b. We who are blessed have a responsibility to play a role in how Christ blesses others through us- even if that blessing was obtained by what we do to receive that blessing. Psalm 24:1 tells us, “The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, The world, and those who dwell in it.” Our very ability to produce and obtain is a gift of God, and therefore this ability also belongs to God.
Maybe the concept that Jesus is pointing out when he states the degree of challenge for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God has more to do with the paradoxical system of motivation when seeking reward. God seeks altruism in return for eternal life; this, in stark contrast to earthly reward of Capitalistic gain. Neuroscience will tell us that the brain’s reward center for engaging altruism (posterior superior temporal sulcus) is a completely different region of the brain that preforms and gains reward for personal pleasure or gain (nucleus accumbens). In other words, the very way we experience reward- down to our biological fiber- is experienced and sorted in vastly separate ways and in separate parts of the brain. So much so, that “the pleasure center and the altruism center cannot both function at the same time: either one or the other is in control” (Sway by Brafman & Brafman). On a biological level, by saying that it is hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God, Jesus might as well be telling us that by training our brain to experience and obtain reward through a Capitalistic lens- without ensuring we portion that reward through an eternal lens, we are literally starving and denying the blessing of both others’ and ourselves by conducting our wealth in a way that justifies amassing personal gain.
When we use a Capitalistic lens to engage Christianity, we not only miss the point financially when we believe that God is simply blessing what we do to earn it- we also use that lens to judge others by what they do (or more commonly, don’t do). We begin to own our blessings by believing God is simply rewarding us financially based on works and giving our faithful 10% in the offering plate each week. If we believe this is the case, we must then assume that those less fortunate than us are not being blessed in the same way because of what they are not doing or contributing to the offering plate each week. As a Capitalistic society, we are quick to assume that reward means money or health- both of which we commonly tie to what we do to earn or maintain them (despite heredity).
As a society trained to seek personal gain, it is easy to see how a Capitalistic lens also bleeds into the right we believe we have to judge performance in other areas. We justify personal wrongs by comparing them to the wrongs of others. We feel justified in publically condemning another’s failure to abstain from drinking too much, of voting on the wrong side of the favored party line, or depending on socialistic programs for financial support. We even justify these by dictating when any such circumstance may be acceptable; “I mean, I don’t mind if someone accesses unemployment if they are truly a hard worker and are temporarily out of a job…. I just can’t support the idea of someone else benefiting off of my hard-earned money because they obviously don’t even try.” This is not only self-serving and narrow minded thinking- it is literally a direct result of habitually engaging the pleasure-centered part of the brain (fed only by the thrill of self-serving gain) in hopes to maintain a sense of reward.
From what the bible reads, God is not interested in how we manage our behavior or materialistic positions in a way that establishes worldly status. Christ died on a cross as a sacrifice for our sinful nature so that, “whoever (rich, poor, rule-follower, socially defiant, industrious, lazy, substance abstainer, drug-addict, sinner, saint) believes in him should not die, but have eternal life” (John 3:16b). The petition that we believe does not come with the prerequisite that we preform at an identified level, but that we engage God through a faith that allows each to obtain authentic standing in response to an eternal outcome.
When we choose to approach Christianity through a Capitalistic lens, we not only choose to preform for self-righteous gain, we reject the simplicity of staying in our own lane and attempt to engage in a manner that puts us in the role of a holy, righteous, and sinless God. Jesus tells us in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” No need for complicated religious standards or pressure to hold others to our personal convictions. Authentic faith provides each individual a secure path so we may obtain kingdom reward with confidence via a manner that is attainable no matter who we are or what baggage we may carry.
Avoid the complicated status by keeping it simple; Stay in your lane.