The Accommodation Of Hedonism


From what I read, Christopher Hitchens, the renowned atheist who passed away from cancer a few years ago, would not have shied away from the label hedonist. After all, Wikipedia notes that he referred to himself as an Epicurean.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines hedonism as “the ethical theory that pleasure (in the sense of the satisfaction of desires) is the highest good and proper aim of human life.”

Not many people would quibble with the idea that it’s right and proper for a sane person to go about finding satisfaction of desires. I mean, are we supposed to look for unhappiness instead? Are we supposed to search out opportunities for slavery or deprivation?

Actually the fact that so few Americans would find fault with a life lived in pursuit of pleasure clarifies the guiding philosophy of our day. We are, quite frankly, hedonists.

I shudder at the thought because I remember studying hedonism in school in connection to ancient Rome where toga-wearing Caesars were fed grapes by scantily-clad slaves, where they would gorge themselves then throw up so they could continue “enjoying” the feast, where orgies were routine. Drunkenness and debauchery seem the most appropriate words to describe what I thought of in conjunction with hedonism.

And now, hedonism is us.

Little did I realize back in those school days that in my lifetime young girls would binge and purge, that drunkenness and debauchery would describe a lot of college life, that “threesomes” would become a TV joke, that “dating” would be replaced by one-night stands and marriage by “relationships.”

As if all this isn’t bad enough, I look at the Church, and I see many professing Christians accommodating hedonism. Some do so in an unapologetic, aggressive way, saying that God has promised His children good gifts so we ought to be holding Him to His word by naming and claiming what we want.

Others are more circumspect, involving themselves in political movements that would ensure a continuation of the privileges of living in a wealthy, capitalistic society.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not an advocate of socialism in any form, but neither do I believe the Church should take up the fight to preserve capitalism. The truth is, one system is built on laziness and the other on greed, so it’s a little like picking your poison.

Except, with our hedonistic beliefs these days, not so many people recognized the poison of greed—unless, of course, it’s corporate greed. Corporate, that great nameless monolith that we can blame for all the ills of society, because goodness knows, Man certainly can’t be to blame.

In a round about way, this brings me back to my beginning—that innocuous definition of hedonism in the dictionary, the one so few people would mind being associated with. It’s hard to call someone greedy when they are simply trying to satisfy their desires, the same as everyone else.

There’s an unspoken understanding that people should play fair in the process, and those who don’t such as Fanny Mae and Bernie Madoff, deserve our wrath. But those racking up millions by playing baseball or basketball in Southern California? Glad to have you here among us. And wouldn’t we like to be just like you!

The problem for the Christian in accommodating this attitude, even in our subtle ways, is that we no longer imagine satisfaction without the pleasures of life, as if somehow God isn’t enough to satisfy us—just He, Himself.

How ironic when Paul says that to live is Christ. In a short passage to the Colossians he refers to knowing Christ as wealth, riches, and treasure. I wonder what we the Church in America would name as our wealth, riches, and treasure.

Published in: on August 12, 2015 at 6:00 pm  Comments (7)  
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What God Says About Wealth


Worship the dollarFriday, because of a verse in Scripture I’d been thinking about, I wrote my post here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction about greed. Then Sunday my pastor, Mike Erre, preaching from Luke 6 talked about what Jesus meant when He said those who are poor are blessed. Today I reviewed a portion of 1 Timothy which contains some pointed words about wealth.

I tend to think, when God brings the same topic to me from various sources, He’s trying to get my attention. Often I can figure out why, but not this time. So in all honesty, I’m writing this post (as I do a number of others—I just don’t usually announce it) to explore the things I’m learning about wealth. I have no end game in mind, so this article could come to an abrupt end at any moment. 😉

As I look over 1 Timothy 6 again, I’m reminded that the passage about wealth is part of a warning against false teaching, something Paul brought up in both his letters to “his son,” the young pastor he was instructing. People who advocate for a different gospel, one not in agreement with the words of Christ, are conceited, Paul says, but are raising up controversies and stirring up strife for one main reason: they “suppose that godliness is a means of gain” (1 Tim. 6:5b). The implication seems to be, financial gain, as if these false teachers could preaching godliness as a means to get rich. That idea is born out by what comes next:

But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

But flee from these things, you man of God (6:6-11a)

Contentment, Paul says essentially, should replace the desire to get rich. If we have food, if we have “cover”—clothes and shelter—then what’s to keep us from being content? After all, we came into the world with nothing, and we’ll leave the same way. So if our needs are met right now, why do we work so hard to get rich?

Here’s where my pastor’s sermon kicks in. I can’t trace the path through Scripture he took us, but the conclusion he brought us to is this: Poor and poor in spirit are not the same thing. Those poor in spirit are the contrite, the humble.

Zaccheus, a chief tax collector, was undoubtedly rich, but when he encountered Jesus, he humbled himself and repented. The rich young ruler, on the other hand, went away in sorrow.

Both men were rich, both sought Jesus out. One was changed, the other unchanged. The issue was not their money. It was their heart. One released his riches, the other hung onto them for dear life.

Pastor Mike’s point is that wealth can become the thing some people look to as that which makes life work. Instead of God.

Paul picked up the thread about wealth again in his letter to Timothy:

Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed. (1 Tim. 6:17-19)

Clearly Paul is implying the rich can become conceited and can fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches rather than on God who gives us what we have for our enjoyment.

But they don’t have to.

Being rich doesn’t equate with ungodliness, and poverty isn’t the answer to an inappropriate dependence on wealth. News flash: poor people can be greedy too.

I saw a short clip on a TV show, something about What Would You Do or something like that. They had an actor go to a place where pizza was served and move from table to table, asking if he could have a slice of pizza. Not a person gave him a slice. Then he went to a homeless person who had a pizza (I wonder how that man got a whole pizza!) and the actor asked him if he could have a slice, and the homeless man gave it to him at once.

The conclusion the show wanted us to draw was that people with little are more generous than people with much.

Except, that isn’t necessarily true.

Poor people can be generous, surely (see the widow who put her last coin into the temple offering), but so can rich people. Poor people can be greedy (see Elisah’s servant who lied to get money from Naaman the Syrian Elijah healed of leprosy), and so can rich people.

Money, riches, wealth, then, is not the problem. Rather, it’s our attachment to it.

I wonder if any of us can know what riches would do for us. Or to us. We can think, Money won’t change me, but is that true? How can we know? How do we know how strong our love for God is, how deep our trust, how great our commitment, how total our dependence?

Have we ever stripped down to the bare essentials and walked forward in obedience to God, saying as Queen Esther did, If I die, I die. Or do we have to hedge our bets, have a fall-back position, craft a Plan B?

Paul had two options: to live is Christ and to die is gain. His attachment in both was to God, not to “fleshly lusts that wage war against the soul.”

That last is from Peter in his first letter. Interesting that his focus was also on the heart attitude—the fleshly lusts.

But back to the pizza story. If I’m right, the TV producers gave the homeless man a pizza. He was willing to share what he’d been given because all of it was an unexpected, happy provision he didn’t deserve. So of course he was willing to share what he didn’t actually perceive to be his.

That, I think, might be the place God wants His children to come to in regard to wealth. Whatever we have isn’t ours. It’s a gift from our good God, so of course we should freely share what we’ve been freely given.

Published in: on July 15, 2014 at 5:11 pm  Comments (1)  
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Idolatry Masquerading As Greed


Durga_idol_2009“Consider your earthly members as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desires, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.” So said Paul in Colossians 3:5. But as I read that verse this week, I saw a little footnote next to “amounts to” I’d ignored in the past—a simple, terse statement, actually: “Lit., is.” The literal translation of the Greek which appears in the NASB as “amounts to” is, “is.”

The verse, then, would read “. . . greed which is idolatry.”

So I started thinking, in what way is greed, idolatry?

Well, that didn’t take long. Idolatry is putting something or someone in the place God alone holds. The people of Israel coming out of Egypt worshiped God, but they also held onto the gods they’d been bowing to for the last several hundred years. Even after they got the Ten Commandments that said, No other gods, no idols, they did not put away those false gods.

They worshiped God, no mistake. But they did not hold to Him exclusively as the One True God.

Hundreds of years later, Jesus told the crowd of people listening to Him, You can’t serve both God and wealth (Matt. 6:14). His statement was a reminder of the requirement of exclusivity God demands, but it also revealed the nature of idolatry. Serving wealth puts it in the place of God in the exact same way the Egyptian gods had taken God’s place earlier.

For some reason, western Christians don’t seem too concerned about greed and its true identity: idolatry. Just this summer I read an article in my alumni quarterly magazine in which the author referred to himself growing up as a greedy little kid. Granted, he called himself greedy in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek way, and the point of the article was how to teach kids NOT to be greedy.

But I can’t help but think, we would not be so cavalier about other sins: I was a snarky little racist growing up or I was a spoiled little baby killer at age five. Such admissions of sin would not be great opening lines for a cute little childhood anecdote.

But greed is?

It ought not be. Not if we truly understood it to be idolatry.

Honestly, it’s pretty much the perfect idol for a capitalist society.

We Christians have Biblical admonitions about being good stewards and working with our hands that fit nicely with the concept of earning more to make more to earn more. Consequently we can be greedy and believe we are doing what we ought to be doing—investing wisely and saving for our children’s education, for the down payment on a bigger home, for a second honeymoon, for retirement.

All the while, we’ve also accumulated a second car, two or three TVs, a laptop computer and a tablet and an iPhone, closets filled with clothes, rows and rows of shoes, a collection of DVDs, books, games, and music. In fact, most of us have so much stuff, we have to store some of it in a garage or shed or basement or storage facility.

And yet we want more.

When the next cool techno gadget comes out, we want to be in line. When the newest style replaces what’s in vogue today, we’ll shop til we drop. When the upgrade becomes available, we have to have it.

In fact, our entire economy is built upon “consumer confidence”—the idea that people feel secure enough to keep spending money on stuff they may not need.

In what way, then, are Christians choosing to serve God and not serve wealth?

Don’t get me wrong. God has placed us in the culture we’re in, at the time when greed is rampant. I don’t think the solution is for Christians to sell all and move to the desert. Not unless God calls someone to make such an extreme move. I don’t think He’s done that in His word, surely.

I do think we need to see greed for what it is: idolatry. We need to unmask it, shine the light of truth on it, see it as the tool of the enemy intended to unseat God from the throne of our hearts. We need to hate it—as much as we do racism, murder, child abuse.

We need a little holy jealousy on God’s behalf—we should be angry that loving stuff has wormed its way into our lives so that our first love, our love for God, isn’t as strong as it once was.

Most of all, we should repent.

Then we should lay our wealth before God. We should give it all to Him. All of it. Every dime. Then we can ask Him what He wants us to do with His stuff.

Published in: on July 11, 2014 at 6:36 pm  Comments Off on Idolatry Masquerading As Greed  
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The Accommodation Of Hedonism


From what I read, Christopher Hitchens, the renowned atheist who recently passed away from cancer, would not have shied away from the label hedonist. After all, Wikipedia notes that he referred to himself as an Epicurean.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines hedonism as “the ethical theory that pleasure (in the sense of the satisfaction of desires) is the highest good and proper aim of human life.”

Not many people would quibble with the idea that it’s right and proper for a sane person to go about finding satisfaction of desires. I mean, are we supposed to look for unhappiness instead? Are we supposed to search out opportunities for slavery or deprivation?

Actually the fact that so few Americans would find fault with a life lived in pursuit of pleasure clarifies the guiding philosophy of our day. We are, quite frankly, hedonists.

I shudder at the thought because I remember studying hedonism in school in connection to ancient Rome where toga-wearing Caesars were fed grapes by scantily-clad slaves, where they would gorge themselves then throw up so they could continue “enjoying” the feast, where orgies were routine. Drunkenness and debauchery seem the most appropriate words to describe what I thought of in conjunction with hedonism.

And now, hedonism is us.

Little did I realize back in those school days that in my lifetime young girls would binge and purge, that drunkenness and debauchery would describe a lot of college life, that “threesomes” would become a TV joke, that “dating” would be replaced by one-night stands and marriage by “relationships.”

As if all this isn’t bad enough, I look at the Church, and I see many professing Christians accommodating hedonism. Some do so in an unapologetic, aggressive way, saying that God has promised His children good gifts so we ought to be holding Him to His word by naming and claiming what we want.

Others are more circumspect, involving themselves in political movements that would ensure a continuation of the privileges of living in a wealthy, capitalistic society.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not an advocate of socialism in any form, but neither do I believe the Church should take up the fight to preserve capitalism. The truth is, one system is built on laziness and the other on greed, so it’s a little like picking your poison.

Except, with our hedonistic beliefs these days, not so many people recognized the poison of greed — unless, of course, it’s corporate greed. Corporate, that great nameless monolith that we can blame for all the ills of society, because goodness knows, Man certainly can’t be to blame.

In a round about way, this brings me back to my beginning — that innocuous definition of hedonism in the dictionary, the one so few people would mind being associated with. It’s hard to call someone greedy when they are simply trying to satisfy their desires, the same as everyone else.

There’s an unspoken understanding that people should play fair in the process, and those who don’t such as Fanny Mae and Bernie Madoff, deserve our wrath. But those racking up millions by playing baseball or basketball in Southern California? Glad to have you here among us. And wouldn’t we like to be just like you!

The problem for the Christian in accommodating this attitude, even in our subtle ways, is that we no longer imagine satisfaction without the pleasures of life, as if somehow God isn’t enough to satisfy us — just He, Himself.

How ironic when Paul says that to live is Christ. In a short passage to the Colossians he refers to knowing Christ as wealth, riches, and treasure. I wonder what we the Church in America would name as our wealth, riches, and treasure.

Published in: on January 5, 2012 at 6:51 pm  Comments (9)  
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CSFF Blog Tour – Lost Mission by Athol Dickson, Day 2


Yesterday was a great start for the CSFF Blog Tour featuring Lost Mission by Athol Dickson. In discussing the obedience theme touched on in the book, I brushed against the second major theme, so I think I’ll go ahead and begin discussion of it today, saving my review for tomorrow.

The theme I’m referring to is wealth and the Christian. Athol explored the subject from two angles—Christians who had an abundance and Christians in need.

One group, the wealthy gringos living in Blanco Beach, had cushy church facilities and were blind to the needs of the poor. As a body, they funded projects, but as individuals they didn’t consider how their decisions affected actual people. They seemed callous to others, not loving. The church leaders operated their organization more like a business than a ministry, and they personally lived opulent lives while nearby children died for lack of medicine.

At best, the people in this group were clueless Christians. At worst, they were nominal Christians living Pharisaical lives and corrupting the true church in the process.

In the other group were the poor Mexican workers and their self-sacrificing white young pastor. These were people living in Wilson City who worked hard, sent money back to Mexico, lived simply, and suffered great need. They prayed for what they lacked, but God didn’t intervene to change their circumstances. So their pastor did. In the face of his people’s suffering, and the unseemly wealth of the uncaring, close-fisted Christians in a position to help, he determined to play Robin Hood.

Within the pages of Lost Mission we find Christians loving money, using money to accomplish an evil purpose, stealing money to accomplish a greater good, giving money away generously, investing money, and withholding money.

One of the things I like about this book is that no one—author or character—says, Pastor, you should stop stealing. Or, Wealthy tycoon, you should love your neighbor and give to the poor. Rather, through the actions of the characters and the events of the story, change occurs and the characters themselves come to realize their weaknesses, sins, mistakes.

The reader, meanwhile, is left to make of it all what he wishes. As I often say here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction, we need to read with discernment. A book like Lost Mission requires that of us.

Possibly some cheered when Tucker, the young pastor, took the money to buy medicine for the critically ill child. Certainly any caring person would feel for the mother, the friend, the pastor who stood by helplessly as the little girl grew worse and worse. But discernment for the Christian means to look into God’s Word and see what our Heavenly Father says about life. Are the characters reflecting Biblical standards? Do they come to agree with the Bible at some point?

The Bible actually has a lot to say about the money issue. Here are a few key principles:

  • serving God and money at the same time is impossible
  • generous giving isn’t about how much but how self-sacrificially a person gives (see the story about the widow’s mite)
  • the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil
  • God provides abundantly beyond what we ask or think
  • the goal should be contentment, whether in plenty or in want
  • giving should be cheerful
  • stealing is against God’s law
  • giving is a function of loving our neighbor (see the story of the Good Samaritan)
  • storing up treasure in heaven is profitable
  • storing up treasure on earth may lead to losing it (James 5:1)
  • building a bigger barn to keep all our stuff is foolish

I’m sure there are others, but this sampling gives us enough to hold up as a standard by which to measure the actions and attitudes of the characters in Lost Mission.

For those of you who have read the book, here’s a question:

And now, take a look at yesterday’s post and check out what the other bloggers on the tour are saying about *Lost Mission.

*In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.

Published in: on April 13, 2010 at 10:29 am  Comments (6)  
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