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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Mormons and "The Gospel of Wealth"

David Brooks, an op-ed columnist for The New York Times wrote a recent piece entitled, "The Gospel of Wealth." In it he reviews the ideas of David Platt, a pastor whose ideas of spirituality and affluence have changed drastically over the years. According to Brooks, Platt posits:
When Europeans first settled this continent, they saw the natural abundance and came to two conclusions: that God’s plan for humanity could be realized here, and that they could get really rich while helping Him do it. This perception evolved into the notion that we have two interdependent callings: to build in this world and prepare for the next. . . 
The tension between good and plenty, God and mammon, became the central tension in American life, propelling ferocious energies and explaining why the U.S. is at once so religious and so materialist. . . 
I don't think Mormons are immune from this. If someone has abundant material wealth then we tend to assume they are "blessed."  I cannot recall any context where someone's wealth was considered a curse.

Despite repeated cautions by Church leaders about materialism there is little evidence members are listening and implementing this counsel. The fact remains that we tend to assume that those whom God loves he gives money to.

Platt proposes that:
" . . . The American dream emphasizes upward mobility, but “success in the kingdom of God involves moving down, not up.”
Mormon ideas of meekness and humility don't seem to embrace a minimalist lifestyle.

Minimalist lifestyles seem to generate their contempt rather than admiration. Mormons pursue larger homes, larger incomes and larger lifestyles. If you don't, then they tend to assume there is something wrong with you. Spending the rest of your lifetime devoted to missionary and other church service only garners admiration if you have already made an independent fortune, not if you forgo it entirely.

Brooks isn't optimistic and neither am I:
Americans will not renounce the moral materialism at the core of their national identity. But the country is clearly redefining what sort of lifestyle is socially and morally acceptable and what is not.
Conspicuous consumption and ostentatious displays of wealth are becoming a bit passé, but it is difficult to know just how much they will fall out of favor. How much they fall out of favor in Mormondom will depend on all of us. I hope we are up to the challenge but fear we are not.

I plan on writing more about materialism in the future, so stay tuned.

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