Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Offending Mammon

Our youth group sponsored a church carwash the other week (yes, it was rather late in the season). Up pulled one car with a Bush 2004 sticker proudly displayed. Then up pulled a car with something resembling Lisa Simpson's "America Out of Everywhere" sticker, also proudly displayed. We washed both.

If there was room in the band of disciples for Matthew (a tax collector allied to the status quo) and Simon the Zealot (a political radical against it), then there is room in the Body of Christ for both conservatives and progressives... with one stipulation: Both need be willing to be transformed by the higher dictates of the Kingdom of God.

As differing Christians undergo the transformation that accompanies our primary citizenship, it sure would be nice if...
1. Neither side would be so confident as to label their particular position, "God's Politics."
2. Both would remember that cartoons are for children - especially cartoons of one's enemies.
3. Neither would claim to have "the prophets" exclusively on their side. (Biblical prophets exhibited conservative tendencies at least as much as progressive ones).
4. Neither would claim to have "the poor" exclusively on their side. Serious Christians can't debate God's preferential option for the poor because it's a given. What they can debate is how to best care for them. Here is an example of two Christians thinkers doing just that (I think it gets interesting at 50 minutes in). We should listen and decide for ourselves which position is more soundly thought through, or if necessary, forge another.
I'm not getting my hopes up for any of these four suggestions, but there they are.

The chief concern of Christians is not movement on the horizontal spectrum between the statist and libertarian poles, but a vertical one that offends Marxist and rich young ruler alike - by offending Mammon. In a volume containing a nice assortment of some of the best theologians writing today, R.R. Reno gets the idea:
"We can celebrate the dynamic and wealth-generating economies of democratic capitalism as providential gifts, or we can rally in the streets to smash capitalism and establish a social system in which it will be impossible to be greedy. In both cases, like the idol worshiper and the iconoclast, we want our decisions about political parties or social policies to be spiritually pure. In both cases, we raise the god of the world life - Mammon - to the level of God of heaven and earth, either to insure comity or initiate combat" (231).
For an alternative, Reno combs early Christianity for torches that can kill the many-headed hydra of Mammon. He finds there contemptus mundi and wanton charity. This involves being wary of the "spiritual danger of progressive preachers who bring us to serve Mammon by using the Sermon on the Mount to critique American society rather than the hearts of Christians" (231). It means not only the prudent transfer of funds between one's own and a given charity's stock options, but also a more foolish sort of giving. "For the well-meaning and philanthropic American Christian, an act of charity that has no promise of bearing worldly fruit may be a very important way of escaping form the subtle insinuations of avarice" (235).

Finally, it means engaging in politically subversive acts such as wearing your Che t-shirt... I mean prayer and Bible study. "The discipline of prayer is the stick in the eye of worldly necessity... Pile up the lexicons and commentaries. If we will exhaust ourselves in the study of Scripture, then nothing is left to be consumed by Mammon (236).

Such counsel brought to embarrassing light how many times Mammon (i.e. wordly necessity) has convinced me to do neither. No surprise though - Mammon's big around here.