Stewardship of Life

Live the REAL ‘Prosperity Gospel’

Posted in It's Personal by Robert Blezard on January 20, 2010

Move over, Creflo Dollar and Joel Osteen. The “old fashioned” prosperity gospel is back in town — the one actually described in the New Testament — and it’s got a kickass new sidekick: Science!

You see, before everyone started falling for the heresy that giving is God’s sure-fire investment tip that will make God’s people rich (or richER), there was a humbler expectation associated with Christian charity.

It holds that self-sacrifice and giving will bring you a wealth of personal satisfaction, social respect, happiness and divine blessing, although not necessarily money (just treasure in heaven).

All of this may register a collective “duh” to those who have taken the leap of faith and tithe to their church; or those who volunteer regularly at a soup kitchen; or those who teach Confirmation classes to junior-high-school youth (God bless ‘em!). These folks and others like them have discovered the truth behind their Savior’s teaching, quoted by Paul in Acts 20:35: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

But now scientists have found something to it.

Medical researchers discovered that when people give to others or even have generous thoughts, it activates the same pleasure center as do selfish acts of hedonism, such as eating, having sex or making lots of money. (You can read the whole report, entitled, “Human fronto–mesolimbic networks guide decisions about charitable donation,” reported in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, or you can read Nickolas Kristof’s column about it in The New York Times. Kristof’s is easier to get through.)

“The most selfish thing you can do is to help other people,” Brian Mullaney told Kristof. He should know. He left a super-high-income career in advertising to found Smile Train, which helps kids born with cleft palates and split lips.

Now the secular skeptics may argue that the scientific discovery pulls the veil of “religious mystery” off the words of Our Lord and shows that the Christian understanding of charity is just a sham. “It isn’t that God blesses donors with happiness,” they might say, “it’s just a natural neurological reaction!”

Ah, but who created the human brain to respond positively to acts of kindness and altruism in the first place?

And although charity and selfish hedonism both ignite a pleasure response, why is it that greed and selfishness are the norms for our world, rather than generosity? In every country, except maybe for Canada, altruism fights a seemingly futile battle against personal and corporate self-interest. The predominance of evil and selfishness in our world proves that, as Lutherans say in confession, “we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves.”

Faith, which is a gift of the Holy Spirit, unmasks self-interest for the evil that it is and teaches us the truth of God’s Sovereignty, where the first are last and the last are first, and where the greatest is servant to all.

Invited into God’s Reign, we live the true “prosperity gospel,” where selflessness and sacrifice bring a wealth of peace, satisfaction and healthy relationships with our neighbors. In keeping with God’s design, our neurons and synapses may jump for joy, but do our hearts and souls.

What has been your experience of generosity? Does goodness have its own rewards? Are altruistic people happier than self-centered people?

One Response to 'Live the REAL ‘Prosperity Gospel’'

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  1. Rich Stewart said,

    Thanks for a shakeup article.


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