I read Shaun Groves all the time. Normally, he’s not talking to me or trying to change my world, so I leave him be. But today, in his column pondering this prosperity theology, he does turn his attention, briefly, to preaching to people like me.
Here’s what he says:
And you non-Christians aren’t off the hook either. I know you’re reading and smiling, glad this isn’t about you. But it is. I think it could be anyway. It would be harder for you to poke fun at the prosperity preacher too if you’d be honest about why you’re not religious. Religion seem too narrow minded for you? Too unkind? A real God wouldn’t be like the Christian God? One way and all that junk? Well, if there is a God, I mean just imagine there is for minute, why would He have to be the kind of God you want Him to be? Is it possible that there could be a God who said through Jesus "The way is narrow that leads to life" and "not everyone will find it" – is that possible, even though it makes you unhappy? If God is really God isn’t it likely and logical that He’ll do or say something sometime eventually that we humans just don’t like? Don’t think so? Well, I wonder if you’re a prosperity preacher in atheist or universalist clothing.
Groves makes two enormous logical errors in this paragraph; he conflates non-Christian with non-religious (One) which he then conflates with atheism (Two). Clearly, one can be religious without being Christian and one can be non-Christian without being an atheist.
But he asks questions and I’m happy to answer.
Does religion seem too narrow minded for me?
No. I have religious practices I’m quite happy with, so even though I’m no longer a Christian, I see great value in religion (as well, of course, as great danger–but just because something’s dangerous doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done).
I have no idea what Groves means by this. Do I think Christians are too unkind? Well, yes. Do I think this is Christianity’s fault. Not really. I think people in general tends to be assholes and, if they aren’t actively aware of that and trying to be better, no amount of words from a preacher are going to change that. Do I think that’s the Christian god’s fault? No. I wouldn’t hold a god accountable for what His or Her followers do when they’re disobeying Him or Her.
Am I a non-Christian because Christians are unkind? No. Did the unkindness of Christians drive me from the church? Yes.
A real God wouldn’t be like the Christian God?
The Christian God is a real god, so I assume that if the Christian God is a real god then a real God can indeed be like the Christian God.
One way and all that junk?
Unless there’s been some change I don’t know of in the last thirty seconds, I believe that evidence shows that even Christians cannot agree on one way, so, if y’all can’t agree on one way, why should I hold your hope for one against you?
Why would He have to be the kind of God I want Him to be?
He doesn’t. But if I’m going to tie myself to anyone (or Anyone, in this case) and make promises of filiety and fidelity, I expect the same in return. I never expected the Christian God to provide for me materially. I mean, I have dear friends and family I love more than anything and who I know love me to the ends of the earth. They’re not handing me money or great jobs or new cars. I wouldn’t want them to. I want them to be on my side, to be loyal to me, and to tell me the truth.
If they can’t do that, I don’t hang out with them. If the Christian God can’t do for me the bare minimum I’m offering Him–loyalty, faithfulness, and honesty–then why would I follow him?
He can do as he likes; I’ll do as I like; and we’ll both go our own way. But if the relationship isn’t mutually beneficial–and I don’t mean in some prosperity theology way (though I’m disturbed by how Groves conflates material wealth for happiness)–I mean in an "it is well with my soul" way, why would I continue it?
I think prosperity theology is an enormous misreading of the New Testament. Enormous. As we’ve talked about before, if Jesus was about anything, he was about demanding that people reconsider their assumptions and do the very things that scare them the most.
I’m sorry to inform Christendom, but hogging all you can for yourself so that you can feel secure is not actually that scary. In fact, living in the world in a way that makes you feel secure is just about the opposite of the life that Jesus led.
But here’s the mistake I think Groves is making. He’s asking himself–Does Jesus want me to be happy?
Shaun, the answer to that is ‘yes.’
Does Jesus want you to be happy because you’ve finally got all the good shit you think you deserve? Will you be able to tell that you’ve pleased God when you’ve got all the trappings of a good secular life?
No and no.
Jesus wants you to be happy through some real soul-transformation. Hence the reason he’s all the time spouting this crap that sounds like nonsense at first–mustard seeds and eyes of needles. Look at the world differently. Stop measuring God’s pleasure with you through your ability to acquire all the stuff you’d like. Don’t expect God to transform your material circumstances; expect inward transformation.
But here’s the thing, Groves.
If you’re not being changed in a way that makes you feel more whole and more healthy and more connected to the rest of us, if it’s not good for you to be Christian, by the measure you set in consideration with Jesus, there’s no reason to continue to be faithful to that God.
Just a thought.
It’s a big universe. There are plenty of ways to be in it.
If you’re happy, fine. If you’re not, that’s your business. But leave the rest of us out of it. Don’t paint me with your brush just because you don’t want to be the only one standing there covered in it.