Thursday, March 27, 2008

Here's a Meme Buster

One of the criticisms of theologically conservative Christianity from at least the left is that we are a rich group of folks hoarding our money and allowing the poor to starve - while keeping the government conservative so it doesn't take any of it away.

Oh, those rich mega-churches . . .

Well, I have never seen that in church - but I haven't been in every church. However, there is some evidence that my personal experience is accurate

Oh, those poor mega-churches . . .

"Faith an Asset, Not a Liability"

If getting rich is your goal, steer clear of a conservative Protestant church. That's the absurd conclusion of a study by Duke University professor Lisa Keister, who authored "Conservative Protestants and Wealth: How Religion Perpetuates Asset Poverty" in this month's American Journal of Sociology. Keister suggests that wealth is "among the most fundamental indicators of well-being" and, according to her, the church is sorely lacking it. When comparing net worth in the year 2000, conservative Protestants (CPs) averaged $26,000 compared to $66,200 for the wider population. "[The findings] are consistent with the argument that long-term exposure to CP values, particularly during the critical childhood years when people learn to save, adversely influences asset ownership..." Keister tries to validate the liberal stereotype of Protestants as poor, uneducated people who force their women to stay home barefoot and pregnant. She claims that biblical teachings are hostile to the accumulation of wealth and cites people who say that it "prevents one from knowing God." Unfortunately, Keister ignores the obvious explanations, which are that believers are more inclined to give sacrificially and place less priority on material things. In fact, as Arthur Brooks notes in his book Who Really Cares, one of the best things that could happen in the fight to reduce poverty would be for Americans to become more religiously conservative. Brooks writes, "Religious people are, inarguably, more charitable in every measurable way." In contrast to Keister's theory, most Protestants don't have an objection to riches but refuse to be defined by them. As our Dr. Pat Fagan has pointed out, men and women of faith place a higher priority on producing human capital than financial capital. Keister's report seems to feed into society's notion that that success is determined by what you accumulate, rather than what people accomplish or how they serve. In the end, wealth is no more an indication of success than it is of happiness. -- Tony Perkins
The religion blog at the Dallas Morning News also noted the report - and drew three interesting comments:
  • In her conclusion, Keister says:

    "CPs [Conservative Protestants] have low wealth regardless of family background and that low educational attainment, early fertility, large family size, and limited female labor force participation are partially responsible."

    Three out of the four factors deal with women. By making sure they keep women "in their place", they also make sure their families will continue to fall behind.

    It would be funny if the results weren't so tragic.

  • My wife is a physical therapist and I home school our two high school children. Our son graduates, with national accreditation, in May and his GPA is 3.83. He was pre-accepted to a top college as of last year. Our daughter graduates next year and thus far has a 3.78 GPA.

  • Let a statistic speak! I was a young and successful electrical contractor. After becoming a Christian, I closed my business in 1985 to attend school for seven years to become a CP pastor (graduated college summa cum laude). My present income is two-thirds (actual dollars, not adjusted by inflation) of what it was in 1985. Would love to provide a detailed report but will conclude with a challenge to the examiners -- I’m not as poor as you might think. Things aren’t always what they seem (read Matthew 6:19-21).
    [“Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But accumulate for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.]

Well, at least I know why I am broke. So, what do you all think:

Is wealth one of the "most fundamental indicators of well-being"?

1 comment:

  1. Is wealth one of the "most fundamental indicators of well-being"?

    To a point. Economists have looked at this question for decades. They've found that after basic needs are met additional income has no effect on emotional well-being. A good book for this is Happiness by Richard Layard. He put a summary of the book here (Warning PDF).


How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
1. The Golden Rule
2. You cannot read minds
3. People are not evil
4. Debates are not for winning
5. You make mistakes
6. Not everyone cares as much as you
7. Engaging is hard work
8. Differences can be subtle
9. Give up quietly