Gabriel Osamwonyi OmozuwaMonday, July 28, 2014
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he ongoing effort by some religious leaders to idealise the opulent lifestyle has done society more harm than good. It indicates a failure to appreciate the fact that idealism and materialism hardly coexist. Anyone engaged in the single-minded pursuit of material prosperity can hardly live by high ideals. Where materialism rules, awe-inspiring pietism is bound to be sacrificed on the altar of hedonism. The core values of Good Samaritans will be thrown into the bin of exploitative capitalism, and hawk-like dispositions will be Christianised.

The grace-to-grass story of the former Roman Catholic Bishop of Limburg, Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, suspended by the Vatican in March, speaks about the ruinous nature of materialism. His opulent lifestyle made the German press to nickname him "gold-plated bishop" and "bishop of bling." The saga teaches these lessons: There is a correlation between uncontrolled pursuit of luxury and corruption. No one is immune to materialism. Not even those called to exude the splendour of puritanical frugality. Darkness falls on our souls when we make accumulation of luxury goods our prime pursuit.

The inspirational lyrics of Janis Joplin's satiric song, "Oh Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes-Benz?" are telling portrayal of the deep-seated materialistic longings of wealth-besotted churchgoers in Nigeria. Particularly, of those who mistakenly think that next to the Great Commission in terms of significance and urgency is to prove to the world that "our God is not a poor God".

The unreasoned quest to demonstrate to the world that "our God is not a poor God" has made us to internalise the principles of a thing-driven life. Its underlining philosophy tacitly says; "A man's life consists of what he owns. So, get things or die trying." Ironically, a thing-driven person owns nothing, he is owned by anything that tickles his fancy.

I know close to nothing about demonology. But one thing I know very well is that, if you see a posh car and start speaking in tongues, it is a valid indication that demons have taken over your life. That's about the only time I will enjoin you to see your next-door deliverance minister. Let him cast out boys-with-their-toys spirit from your life.

The 21st century is witnessing a shift in the meaning of slavery. Slavery now describes a binding love for things that lead to hatred of principles, process and delayed gratification. This creates gap between belief and behaviour. Our credibility is eroded when our belief-behaviour consonance is weakened. When we say we are Christians, what we mean is not exactly clear to people, because our Christ-likeness is more of profession, and less behavioural. Gone are the days when people knew the core values Christians uphold. Today, how many people can lend a character loan to a Christian, just because of his faith orientation?

The thing-driven life has greatly distorted our perception of God. We now see God as a supernatural Santa Claus, a gift-giving divine being susceptible to bribe. We tend to woo His blessings by protracted fasting, not for self-discipline and spiritual alertness. We give to induce His favour, not because we want to honour Him.

Our disposition to treat God like ATM, a cash dispenser has its root in the gospel of prosperity. It makes our relationship with God more transactional, than father-son intimacy. Transactional relationships are like prostitution. Faith-based prostitution gives us a sense of godliness, but denies its power. Prostitutes are not inheritors. They enjoy castoffs and instant rewards. One drawback of the prosperity gospel is that it is conditioning us to live like the guy who sold his father's orchard to buy mangoes. It makes us to forget that when we ask God for oaks He gives us acorns.

Another dark side of the thing-driven life is that its accent on the rich-kid-of-a-rich-King lifestyle is a bad imitation of celebrity culture. It makes being in the sphere of the superrich a mark of spiritual enlightenment, and possessing luxury goods an indication of divine validation of the ministerial credentials of clerics. Hence, a pastor of a "mega church" without a private jet is seen as a "non-proof producer."

It is my suspicion that our desire to tell the world that the church is not a community of riffraff, penniless dropouts from society's high echelon has heightened our desperation for wealth. As a result, some churches decry only one "sin." That is, the sin of being seen as poor. We condone the poor, but cannot stand his trappings of poverty. So, we teach "fake it, till you make it." Pardon me. We teach how to activate the miraculous: The 21st century miracle of remodelling the penniless to look like a CEO of a Fortune 500.

Let's tell ourselves some home truths. The skewed accent on material prosperity is blocking the ethical path to lifelong fulfilment and progress. It is making us plastic. Apparently, plastic people struggle in the web of meaningless existence. Thinking that the essence of life is to have a perfect body-image, assets and wardrobe that pique people's appreciation; they invest fortunes into their looks and appearances. Its snag is that it causes many to ignore nursing their inner beauty. If we live as if nothing is worth caring about but our image, superficiality will rob us of life's best.

There are many inherent fallacies in the pop gospel of prosperity. Let's look at a few. One, it covertly extols the belief that money is everything. This implies money is worth worshipping and dying for. Hence, we say Jesus is Lord, but live in ways that say money is lord. Two, wealth gives your life a meaning. But the rich and poor do struggle with inner emptiness, and no sense of purpose in life. Three, wealth lends credence to the proclamation of the good news to the poor. It is faulty to assume that the richer you become, the easier soul winning will become. Rich Christians are not necessarily effective soul winners.

Freedom from materialism is the bedrock of true spirituality. The thing-driven life is not worth living. It is anti-spiritual, anti-social, and self negating. Hustling to acquire more and more things could make you thing-like. Treating yourself and people like useable, disposable, sellable things will become your second nature. Objectifying people is a biblical taboo.

Let's shun the rat race. Otherwise, it will make all of us rats; some, church rats, others, young-rich-and-famous rats. Recall, one of the dictionary meanings of a rat is someone unworthy of trust. I am not by any means advocating that we should develop a downright carefree attitude to money. This is the point: Awaken the genius in you. Don't allow materialistic norms to wedge your font of inspiration. Only tiny people need things to validate their humanity.