Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Worship of Mammon

When the religious leaders of His day came to Jesus, taunting Him by demanding that He show them a “sign” that would authenticate His claims to be the promised Messiah. His response was curious. He said, “A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.”

Of course Jesus was not implying that all the Jewish people of that generation were adulterers in the sexual sense. He was using the language of the Old Testament prophets who had condemned the people of their day for wandering from the worship of the true God, Yahweh, and serving false gods. The not very subtle implication was that Jesus saw that generation of Jews as worshiping gods other than Yahweh while pretending they would offer their devotion to Yahweh if only Jesus would give them a sign significant enough to convince them that He was the true Messiah. His searing rejoinder was, “none will be given . . . except the sign of Jonah.”

The sign of Jonah! As Jonah was in the fish three days and nights and impossibly returned to life, so Jesus would lie entombed in the earth three days before miraculously emerging whole and alive. If that “sign” were not enough to turn a generation from its petty gods to worship the true and living God, there would be no hope for it.

Lets face it: we live in a wicked and adulterous generation. Only the willfully blind can deny that. Those who wish to deny it, point to the good that is done – sometimes by people who are otherwise not “good” – as evidence of the basic goodness of mankind. We must thank God for all the “good” that is done in the world; all “good and perfect gifts” come from Him. But a sober assessment of the world we live in reveals a different situation. Even the world's greatest living “saints”, when examined honestly, are deeply flawed in ways that should embarrass the human race. We all sin, even the best of us, and fall short of God’s plan for our lives. But worse, the world is filled with devotees of evil; worshipers of power, violence, money, sex-for-sex’s-sake, physical and sexual abuse, drugs, alcohol, and more . . . so much more.

Too bleak, you say? If only it were. In most of the world one can see the results of the worship of the gods of this world on display: war-torn bodies strewn in the streets; prostitutes lurking in sleazy neighborhoods; children begging for food or dying for lack of it; crime and violence and drugs on open display; dictators cruelly crushing their subjects under an iron heel; powerful holders of wealth denying even the crumbs to masses. It would be impossible to paint those pictures too bleakly.

But in America we have sanitized our gods, made stars of our adulterers, lionized our billionaires, legalized our addictions, rationalized our wars, trivialized infidelity, hidden our poor, and when they cannot be hidden, labeled them “lazy” so we can safely deny them the fruit of our wealth.

America has elevated monetary success to the status of “National God” and then declared, “In God We Trust.”

Mr. Romney– himself the epitome of the American $dol –  recently chose as his Vice Presidential running mate, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan. Ryan has made no secret of his devotion to the economics of Ayn Rand, the author of Atlas Shrugged.  Mrs. Rand’s materialistic philosophy has become the anchor for Paul Ryan’s vision for the American economy. Mr. Ryan thinks so highly of Rand’s work that he gave each of this staff a Christmas gift of her book. The Ryan/Rand economic philosophy cements the acquisition of wealth as the supreme good in human existence, ignoring the words of Jesus that “man shall not live by bread alone.” Ryan’s and Romney’s philosophy flaunts the Biblical warning that “the love of money is the root of all evil.” In their rush to protect and enhance their wealth and that of their friends they are willing to “grind the face of the poor” reducing or eliminating programs designed to protect the vulnerable poor in our society.

Next to Mrs. Rand’s casket, during her funeral, stood a six-foot high floral arrangement in the shape of a dollar sign. Whether that “tribute” to her life’s philosophy was of her own choosing, or devised by her admirers, it nonetheless summarizes the hedonistic – and truly godless – aim of her work and her writings.

Our politicians – at this time in history, the conservative ones, especially – like to portray America as a God-fearing, God-loving nation and themselves as the High Priests serving at His altar. And that we are; and that they are. But not as they believe. When America is finally laid in its casket – as all nations eventually are – and its final history is written it will have to be noted that the god it feared – the god it loved – was not Yahweh-God, as revealed by His Son, Jesus the Messiah, but rather the great god, Mammon. And the eternal symbol of our devotion to our god will be the dollar $ign.

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