Jacob Riis, Children sleeping in Mulberry Street (1890)
In medieval times, the knight considered himself a holy warrior fighting in the name of God. He would justify not only the means of violence and brutal slayings of the so-called infidels, he also strongly believed that God was on his side. Such belief systems that God will be on the side of the victor and punish the opponent was widely held in those times.
When there was a duel or battle between knights, it was said that the one favored would gain victory by divine will and right. The outcome would often be a form of justice and restoration of order ordained by God. Constantine, for example, attributed his victory to the divine aid and interference of the Christian God and, as a result, embraced and promoted Christianity for his kingdom.
Nowadays, many people tend to judge result and outcome on similar criteria. It is based on the simplified karmic belief that if you do good, you will have positive results, but those who do bad, will get their deserved punishment.
Yet when we look at the order of things in the world, we sometimes come to doubt this philosophy. It often seems that evil is triumphing since dictators and charlatans are gaining important positions everywhere. In these cases, religion steps in to create a balance by claiming that no matter what happens in the world, in the end, there will be justice and the good will gain entry into paradise, while the evil will burn in hell for all eternity.
So far so good. I believe in the importance of doing good regardless of personal benefits. At the same time, I embrace the belief that good people tend to get rewarded in life though it is not always as clear-cut as that. Those who commit evil acts I think live in ignorance or have a completely erroneous perception of what life is all about and why values and humanitarian concern are of utmost importance. In other words, they confuse material wealth and power with spiritual advancement.
Nonetheless, the karmic system is often turned on its head in most of Christianity, especially when it comes to its fundamental or radical offshoots. These ideas have their roots in Calvinist doctrines of the “culture of prosperity.” In fact, Luther's idea of following your vocation is transformed into using your talents to make money.
So people who have managed to become successful -- and the focus is on financial success -- are seen as favored by God. People strive to amass wealth because God is said to reward the faithful by giving them access to luxury. If you are rich according to this pseudo-ideology, consider yourself blessed.
If the rich are favored by God, then that would mean that the poor are in such a state because of either a lack of effort, of faith or perhaps even both. This reliance on full personal responsibility completely avoids looking at any socioeconomic or political reasons for poverty. The fact that the “blessed” rich have exploited people driving them deeper and deeper into the abyss of poverty while at the same time increasing their own profits is conveniently overlooked in this way of thinking.
However, the problem is even more complex than that. We live in and are surrounded by a culture of prosperity. The media presents us the lives of the rich, and we are like hungry folks craving a slice of the delicious cherry pie. We are the majority of the people in this world; we are the peasants standing outside of the gorgeous palace not unlike the beginnings of the French Revolution; we are gazing with incredulous eyes and drooping mouths at the glamorous excess and beautiful lavish lifestyle of the rich and famous.
But the ones in power are smarter than before; they have learned their lessons. They envelop us skillfully in intricate webs of rhetoric and logical inconsistencies, absurdities and make believe. One day, this could be you if you only work hard but mostly if you give yourself completely to the power of our power-hungry god. If you accept our conditions unconditionally and do exactly as we tell you then even you can dine with us inside.
The fact that the American dream has come up empty and has ended up as a sham for most people has led many of the powerful elite to use the language of religion. They manage to distort the values and commendable religious teachings to serve their own needs while playing on our desires and insecurities. No, money is not the root of evil; it is considered a blessing in this religion of prosperity.