Idolatry is anything that replaces or compromises the person of God. Idolatry embraces some person, or thing, or notion instead of the person of God. Idolatry speaks a language of moral significance. It rationalizes. And most significantly it is deeply personal in that its object need not apply to anybody else at all, although its object may be shared in aggregate by a large group of people. And so people, as idolaters, have had a shared idolatry from time to time of stones and snakes and the sun and fire and thunder and dreams and hallucinations and self-images and ancestors and leaders and rulers and orgasms and race and ideas and science and superstition.
But within this pantheon of gods, none is more conspicuous than that of money. As an idol the weight given to money means that people are judged in direct relationship to the amount of money they possess. Acquisition and accumulation becomes the standard for virtue. And in this scheme it does not matter the manner in which money is acquired, but the main thing is that it comes. And if this altar is what is worshipped by most today, then the opposite is also true, that those without money are inferior or weak or indolent or less worthy.
Where money is an idol, poverty is sin.
The other day a man stated that you cannot have too much money. And a while back a man of the B’hai faith told me that their doctrine formally taught that they had a right to live a comfortable life first, and then to make contributions. Of course middle class Christians believe the same. I say this because that is precisely how they live. The North American churches are packed full of idolaters who love money, who take care of themselves first, and who substitute their occupations and the making of money for God.
I make these claims today as a simple affirmation both in regard to the actual lived lives of church goers as well as confessionally, and perhaps mostly confessionally, in regard to the truth of the fallenness of people in general. It is not that there is in every economic transaction a one-to-one correlation of sin. It is not that there is malice in dollar bills. But it is that human relationships are profoundly distorted and entangled at this altar. And this entanglement is not merely local. It is systemic and global so that the comfort of white church goers comes at the expense of both local people’s whose land has been requisitioned and the 72 hour work weeks of labourers on the other side of the world who make a couple hundred dollars a year per family, all so that a select group can live in comfort.
Those who justify their comfort by simplistic rationalizations of ingenuity and initiative and the favour of God and diligence and enterprise and luck should try and live on a welfare cheque.
Jesus Christ unveils all forms of idolatry as the worship of death. And Christ is not concerned with death, but with life. Money is anathema to the true Christian heart. Money and property are false and futile forms of God. It is false because it is an idol; it is futile because everything that you can do or gain or acquire with money dies. And it is precisely that people spend every day going to job so that they can get money that shows precisely and practically where their loyalties lie.
It is freedom from money that Jesus offers the rich young man in the parable. It is the eschewing of money that indicates whether a person trusts money or God. It is that simple.
The churches in North America are overwhelmingly in the position of the rich young man today.
A neighbour asked me to help him harvest his crops. It is very late in the year. Everyone is having trouble getting them in because of the weather. I gladly said that I would help.
How much do you want to drive my combine?, he asked. I don’t care, I replied. And I don’t.