Often I see people express gratitude to God for their material gains. On Facebook, someone will thank God for their life, “So blessed by god to have been given this [middle-upper class, privileged, white, American] life.” I’ve always had a problem with this expression of some people’s faith. I always wondered how is it that I was given this life, with all of the privilege I have, and another child was given war. Other children in the world have been granted the blessings of a less privileged situation, or had their families murdered, or were taken into the sex trade, or endured any number of random adversities that I never even had to dream of because my blessings had me born in America, with white skin and middle class parents?
Sure, spiritual beliefs often say that we chose our life standing before we were born into this world, and I understand how that helps us see our own adversities in a more purposeful light, but it also breeds a lack of empathy, almost a reinforcement that people living in under-developed, under-privileged countries or living in less privileged positions in our own country, deserve what they’ve been given. This always bothered me. I never liked the idea that a stronger belief in Jesus or God would grant me blessings that society deemed worthy, and which were near impossible for others but as simple as walking down the street for me. My christian privileges never sat well with me, and to an extent, it feels wrong to thank God for things that grant me financial security and not much more. It has me thinking, are these material successes and gains the things God truly finds concern in when granting blessings to those who seek a relationship with divinity?
I was taught that God was all about love, faith, and hope. In Christianity, Old Testament God has a son, and through Jesus, he learns, and so we learn too. Then God, and his son, also encompassed charity, forgiveness and redemption. These are things which cannot be touched or held, but which can be felt and experienced. When we experience these things, it can help us get through the adversities this life holds for us, and that is a blessing certainly. However, this is not often what I read from religious people. I often read things more like, Thank you for the pay raise. #blessed.
That being said, when people thank God for material gains, are they really reaching the God they think they are reaching? I challenge that the god we worship when we thank him for material gains is a false idol. We are worshipping money and our need for it to function within society (not nature, not God’s creation, but society–which is very much a human construct, not a divine one). This is idol worship, is it not? This is exactly what God warned us against in his Ten Commandments. This is what Jesus was furious about when he went through the temple that held capitalist markets and destroyed the profiteers merchandise.
12Then Jesus went into the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those selling doves. 13And He declared to them, “It is written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer.’ But you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’”
When reflecting on this story, it occurs to me that the merchants selling in the temple were likely not overly-wealthy people. They were likely normal people, with or without faith, who had normal human needs. They needed to put food on their family’s table and put shoes on their children’s feet. They were like you or I, struggling simply to get by and make it in a society that requires we exchange money for basic survival needs. Still, Jesus made sure they knew, the business that they had brought into God’s place of worship was not welcome there.
When we thank God for our blessing, we are putting ourselves in the presence of God. We are, whether in his house or not, living on the planet of his creation. This means that when we seek to speak with God, we are in a place of prayer. When we thank God for material gains while praying, how are we any different than the desperate robber who sold stolen goods in the temple to provide for himself or his family?
Well, we didn’t steal, you might think to yourself.
We live in a physical world, with physical needs for survival and a limited amount of resources. Those resources are being very poorly and unevenly distributed among the world’s population. That means, whether you are aware of it or not, when your needs are met, it is at the expense of someone else’s needs, sometimes at the expense of their life. For example, you may eat meat to sustain you life, but an animal died for you to eat meat.
A better example of this is the privilege of land. For many of us, (and I’ll just give the American example here but it is relevant all around the world to people of privilege) if your heritage is not native to the land you live on, you’re living on stolen land that cost people their lives. Americans who claim to be blessed for living in this country are “blessed” because English men came here and murdered almost an entire population of Natives, whose lives are equally divine to our own regardless of their faith. We are all God’s children. The land you live on is stolen from someone else–from your divine brother and sister. This is what many people consider a blessing. While I think it is appropriate that we be grateful for our homes, our land, our needs being met, I think it is unfair and lacks true love and compassion to claim excessive wealth and privilege as a blessing granted to you by God because you believed in him more loyally than someone else might have.
Did God truly bring one of us a home and a family and middle class white American privilege while bringing an innocent child in the middle east war and violence and an early death? Is that the God we are thanking for our privileges when we achieve a material gain and call ourselves #blessed?
Truly, I believe the things which make us blessed are not the roof over our heads or the opportunities our privileges allow us. Those things are privileges and they are good and should be acknowledged, and we can even be grateful for them but they are not blessings brought to us by God. They are a consequence of our standing within an incredibly biased, greedy, fearing, and untrusting society–a society that was structured and put together by humans, not by God. God created a garden, he gave us this Earth. We created the structure of society. If we are blessed by the gains of society, who has blessed us with those things? I challenge that it is not the God we claim to know in the bible.
The things which God blesses us with are not career goals or aspirations, nor material gains or successes. They may be the courage or perspective to gain those things, but the material gains themselves are of zero relevance to God. God blesses us with unconditional love, with opportunity for faith, for joy, peace of heart, seeing the good in people and things all around us. God blesses us with purpose and understanding and a capacity for compassion and empathy far greater than our egos might otherwise allow us. God does this to those who seek. Perhaps, for some of us, that may result in opportunities or success. But remember, Jesus did not have a life of financial success. He lived a life of meaning and purpose, of truth and love, but not of material worldly gain. He lived a life of poverty, but wanted for nothing because of the true blessings he received from his father–love, faith, hope, compassion, empathy, charity, truth, and purpose. Those things provided him with what he needed to survive, and not in the excessive amount we crave them today.
Of course, I respect every individual’s understanding of God and do not presume to tell anyone what they should believe. I simply seek to challenge some of the collective beliefs which threaten to turn us against one another, which hide in roots of control and capitalism. I challenge people to think about where they put their faith. Do you find your blessings in the material things you possess or in the love you experience and share? Do you find them in the things you give, or in the act of charity? Do you find them in the Job you have, or an opportunity for purpose and service? Do you find them for the new house you bought, or for the planet we inhabit together? While these may seem like slight differences, it is these slight shifts in perspective which can drastically change our interactions with each other, and our relationship with ourselves, in the world.
I see a trend in our society which is doing well to mask itself as divinity but which is, at its true core, rooted of fear, lacks true faith and breeds hatred and division. I see a God being worshipped who is present in our world, but who is not the pinnacle of divinity. The God we are worshipping is corporate. It is money. God and Jesus both warned us against this false idol, and it has been so long that we have forgotten and allowed it to infiltrate our prayer, our beliefs and our faith.
What’s worse is that this world does not have to be as horrible as it is, and it remains this way because of the power that capitalism has gained through this misunderstanding of God and his blessings. We have allowed the greed for an easy, comfortable and privileged survival to corrupt our faith at such a high level that we now find faith in the security of knowing how to play Society’s system to our own personal advantage–and it is successful because the system functions predictably most of the time.
This is not God. This is the false idol God warned us of.
God is love, no more and no less. Unconditional, equal, love, as expressed in the bible. Love can be witnessed and practiced as kindness, empathy, understanding, charity. We find love through hope and we experience it through faith and trust. God never promised he would give us a mansion, a boat, a high paying job, white skin in a biased society, or anything else material. Corporate America promised us that, and at great cost to our selves and to others.
While I am grateful to have been born into an easier life of privilege, I am burdened by the knowledge that I have done nothing of my own merit to gain it. This burden is not equal to the adversity of being without privilege, but it is uncomfortable. That discomfort is eased by worshipping corporate America as a God and thanking it for the blessings it has granted me, but it does not bring my heart peace, nor my soul comfort to know that I have these things as someone else suffers. Thanking an entity for these things as if they are blessings from God, given in return for my faith and love, devalues God and blinds me to the capacity of love and worldly understanding that God makes possible for me. It does not bring me faith or love to think that a God might provide these things for me, but leave thousands of children around the world, younger than American kindergarteners, starving to death without even a breast to suckle. If that is their blessing, and this is mine, then the God who brings me those blessings in not one of unconditional love. That God is not teaching me the things which the bible promised I would learn from a relationship with him.
So be grateful, yes! Love the things you have, and know that they are good and that not everyone has them, and that alone is reason to be grateful! But I warn against calling them blessings and worshipping the entity from which they came. The ignorance of not know where those blessings came from does not save you or I from the consequences of that ignorance–which is division, loneliness, war, violence, etc. There is an exception to every rule, and there could be one here too. Sometimes miracles do bring us material gains, but often those come unexpected and in areas which we find ourselves truly out of alternative options and lacking in privilege. Still, most of what we express as blessings in this life are, in reality, just the result of our societal privileges. You may find, in your quest for divinity, that you’re worshipping a highly deceptive form of evil.