Is It Reasonable to Expect Christians to Practice What They Believe?
The Eye of The Needle
Perhaps one of the more attractive aspects of many religions has been the notion that with wealth and power comes a responsibility to the less fortunate. Christ, along with those who first wrote about him, emphasized that wealth was a great impediment to spiritual growth and made no bones about telling the rich and powerful that they were naïve to believe that they should expect any kind of reward for either greed or abuse of power. Jesus consistently points out that not only are there great perils in striving for these advantages but the mere possession of them is perilous in itself.
As religions or, for that matter, many ideas evolve, they're usually in lockstep with a hierarchical system with all the attendant power and wealth. It's clearly the height of irony that a religion that quickly came to glory in the splendors and trappings of worldly power was founded on the ideals of someone who had turned down these very temptations.
Christ’s three temptations are often regarded in metaphorical terms.
The ability to turn rocks into bread clearly suggests that Christ's ability to perform miracles of this order would have allowed him to live without any physical hardships; further, the ability to transmute physical objects would've given him the Midas touch, as it were, and limitless wealth.
If Jesus had jumped from a pinnacle where many could witness it, he'd have been able to win followers effortlessly. This temptation is perhaps the most insidious since part of the temptation is to do the wrong thing to achieve a good outcome. Show your powers and effortlessly win converts is part of Christ's temptation; however, it goes further because it offers a rationale or excuse for the wrong act. These are the times when we excuse our bad actions by rationalizing our base motivation. We justify wrong behavior by rationalizing that our reasons are good or even noble.
There's little subtlety to the Devil's third temptation for Jesus to establish his power over all the kingdoms of the world including Rome who had absorbed Israel into their Empire. But Jesus resists having it all and one has the sense that he is able to go forward on a clear path that would lead to Calvary having settled self-doubt.
There are many other instances in the various accounts of his life given by each of the apostles where he saw the poor as his main audience. In fact, Jesus often emphasizes that lepers, prostitutes and those considered society's outcasts deserve to be treated with both dignity and love. The Sermon on the Mount is another instance when he clearly views his constituency as largely consisting of the poor and downtrodden.
I have extracted these impressions from a fair amount of study at one point in my life, and they have always seemed to me some of the most important to be drawn from Christianity. However, the institution of religions requires money to sustain a clergy, churches and, in time, palaces and even larger excesses.
Many religious men seemed no different to others – most men seem to delight in earthly pleasures and the trappings of wealth and power. Other sources confirm that Chaucer's many all too venal religious characters were representative of the church at that time – too frequently they served their own needs rather than emulating Christ's example. Where we might hope otherwise, the large number of sexual predators among members of one church in particular would not have surprised Chaucer. It suggests that both the behavior of a number of priests and the cynical methods used by the church to conceal wrongdoing has not changed a great deal since the Middle Ages.
Certainly one of the most troubling aspects of an institutionalized Christian Church is that it accumulated a great deal of power and wealth over time. The embarrassment of riches was so great and apparent and, also, in seeming contradiction to all the strictures of Christ's teaching regarding both wealth and possessions that the church itself, as well as particularly wealthy god-fearing Christians, had to justify or rationalize their great wealth.
The usual justification given by Christian churches and individuals is that the wealth belongs to God and is merely being held in trust for him by the church or individual. Less sophisticated rationalizations popular among recent celebrities include the idea that God intercedes in the ways of humankind to reward a particular sportsman or businessman, say, in recognition of something or other that has won the Lord's favor or approval. But it is difficult to see how a reading of the New Testament can ever justify an accumulation of either wealth of power as a gift from God.
Quite rightly, when religions practice the opposite to what they preach, it proves troubling for both their adherents and those who wish to understand them. To accumulate great wealth while preaching that the poor shall inherit the earth smacks of hypocrisy. Other than a few orders that take vows of poverty seriously, the troubling gulf between what is taught and what is practiced becomes increasingly apparent to today's better educated congregations. What's somewhat reassuring is that Christ made his feelings quite clear when he saw synagogues abused and, in uncharacteristic anger, said that the money lenders and other sellers had turned his Father's House into a den of thieves.
Although nearly all religions and churches founded on Christ's teaching seem to operate in complete contradiction to many of his teachings, particularly regarding his views on wealth and power, it doesn't alter the truth or insight of his message. The Bible seems quite clear on these points, and it's why I find it puzzling that so many continue to attend church when the churches often fail to practice what Christ taught – particularly regarding the accumulation of wealth and power.
In nearly all instances outside of religion, a valid test of individuals' professed beliefs is to ask if their actions are consistent with those beliefs. For instance, anyone emphasizing and preaching the importance of leaving a small carbon footprint who buys a Hummer for transportation would be seen as behaving in contradiction to his or her beliefs and lead to a valid questioning of the sincerity of those beliefs. Why aren't Christians held to these same standards? Isn't it reasonable to expect Christians or, for that matter, all religious adherents to practice what they believe and sometimes preach.
Much the same question as appears in this article's title was posted to garner some viewpoints prior to publishing this Hub; however, it was taken down by the moderator. It was posted in the wrong section since it tended to inspire debate rather than simple responses – my fault. I apologize for any comments posted that I wasn't able to reply to and hope that their authors will find this article and be able to post their comments, questions or observations again. Also, I hope that the article will stimulate as many interesting comments and discussions as the original question! Peace.
While in the wilderness, Christ is tempted by the Devil. The story is told in Mark, Matthew and Luke (Matt. 4:1; Mk. 1:12; Lk. 4:1).
The account of Christ driving the money lenders from the temple and admonishing bird sellers to "Get these out of here! Do not make My Father's house a house of merchandise!" [Jn 2:13-16] Or in the words of the less accurate but far more poetic King James Version: “It is written, My house is the house of prayer: but ye have made it a den of thieves.” [Lk 19:46]