The Reaganite "Gospel of Prosperity"
(Originally published in 2003 - Latest Edition 9-24-2015)
In 1980 Reaganism was sold to America as being "patriotic and religious," but if you examine it very carefully you can see how and why the richest few now hold 95 percent of the nation's wealth while everyone else is worse off, because it is a very misleading and self-serving partisan right-wing political ideology.
For example, take the idea that "God helps those who help themselves." That’s an idea that is deeply ingrained in the American culture, and, because there is an element of truth in that idea, right-wing partisan ideologues claim it means that if you’re poor, God condemns you because you are lazy and deserve your lot. After all, that what Ronald Reagan told America.
Another example is in the lyrics from the great song, God Bless the Child: "Them that’s got shall get. Them that’s not shall lose. So the Bible says, but it still is news."
That’s based on one sentence in the Christian Bible, which reports that Jesus said: "I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from those that have not, even what they have will be taken away." (Luke 19:26)
The “Christian” Right claims that is the “Word of God,” but in fact Jesus was quoting a greedy rich man in a parable. The context of that sentence is a parable about a corrupt rich man who is accustomed to profiting unjustly from usury (money lending or investment for profit), and Jesus was actually pointing out the error of the rich man.
You see, indulging in “usury” – charging interest on lent money – was forbidden to Christians. After all, Jesus had rebuked the money lenders in the temple who had turned it into a “den of thieves.” And Luke 6:34-36 states: “If you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.”
That is also because Exodus 22:25-26 states: “If you lend money to any who are poor, you shall not be to them as a usurer, nor shall you lay upon him usury [interest].” But Jews ignored that then, just as Jews and Christians ignore it today.
But many Christians misinterpret the sentence about the “haves and have nots,” and when that sentence is taken out of context it is very easily misunderstood. Again they think it is “God’s Word” that the rich shall get more and the poor will get less, and that false idea is now used to “confirm” Ronald Reagan’s claim that the rich are blessed while the poor deserve to be poor, when in fact Jesus criticized the rich and advocated for the poor.
Reagan's claim was and is not true, and it turns Christianity up-side-down. The truth is that the working poor population in America do try to help themselves. Some even work in two jobs working 16 hours a day to support their families. And in about 97 percent of the households of the 69.3 million American children who live in poverty, there is at least one adult working full time. So the problem is not “laziness.” The problem is unfair and insufficient wages.
Furthermore, regarding the “haves and have nots,” the fact is that if we look at Luke 19 in context, it is clear that even though Jesus did mention that we generally reap what we sow, he began the story by specifically talking about the rewards of being charitable. And if we look at what Jesus taught in context, we can see that he also said that it is wrong to reap what you did not sow, or profit unjustly because you were tempted by greed and lust for money.
Of course, that same sentence about the "haves and have nots" was said by Jesus himself according to Mark 4:25. However, Jesus preceded that sentence with what is written in Mark 4:24, which states: “With whatever measure you give, it shall be measured to you, and unto you that hear shall more be given.” So in that instance Jesus was talking about reaping what you sow, because by whatever measure you give, you shall receive, and those who give nothing shall receive less.
That same sentence is written also in Matthew 13:12. However, in that context Jesus was explaining why he spoke in parables. And he proceeded that sentence by saying: “Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.” And that is why those who have been given the knowledge of the mysteries “shall have more,” but those who have not been given the knowledge shall decrease in understanding.
So, in almost every instances where the sentence about the "haves and have nots" is mentioned, the real meaning is the same. It is about reaping what you sow and being generous and charitable.
However, during the last 33 years of Reaganism the idea that those who have a lot of money are good and blessed by God and those who don't have a lot of money are lazy has been distorted into a self-serving ideology that is very convenient for the partisans on the political right, because they use it to justify greed and corruption. They rationalize that we all get what we deserve. And they do it while wearing their religion on their sleeve.
The problem is that they don’t know the purpose of their religion. They are hypocrites masquerading as Christians, claiming that government should not promote the general welfare and that the rich are blessed and that the poor deserve their lot. But they are ignorant of The Universal Divine Imperative to care for the poor, and they ignore what the Bible actually says:
"Is it not [your divine obligation] to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; and when you see the naked, to cover them?" -- Isaiah 58:3-24
“Defend the poor and fatherless. Do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy: take them out of the hands of the wicked.” – Psalm 82:3-4
“He that oppresses the poor reproaches his Maker, but he that honors the Lord has mercy on the poor.” – Proverbs 14:31
“He that has pity on the poor lends to the Lord; and what he has given will be repaid.” -- Proverbs 19:17
“The righteous consider the cause of the poor, but the wicked care not to know it.” – Proverbs 29:7
“Judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy.” -- Proverbs 31:9
“If a brother or sister is naked and hungry, and one of you who are warmed and filled says to them, ‘Depart’ and do not give them those things which the body needs; what does it profit you? Therefore, faith without works is dead, being alone. Yes, a man may say, you have faith, and I have works, but show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” – James 2:14-18
“And all that believed were together, and had all things common. They sold their possessions and goods, and distributed proceeds to everyone as they had need.” -- Acts 2:44-45
“None among them lacked, for those that owned lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds from the things that were sold, and distributed them to everyone according to their need.” -- Acts 4:34-35
“Then [Jesus] said: 'Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.’” -- Luke 6:20-21
“[Jesus] went to the synagogue and stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.'” -- Luke 4:18:
“Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’" -- Mark 10:21-22:
“When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or relatives or rich neighbors, so they may invite you in return to be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid [by God].’" -- Luke 14:12-14
"None among them can be found richer than another. It is their law that all who enter the sect must divide their property among the members of the society, with the result that there is never seen among them either abject poverty nor great wealth, for, since every man's possessions are put into the common treasury, they all have, like brothers, one inheritance.” -- Flavius Josephus
(Flavius Josephus was a Jewish historian writing of the Essenes, the Jewish sect to which Mary, Joseph, Jesus and James belonged or were very familiar with, which is why the disciples of Jesus did the same thing according to the Christian book of Acts).
So, you see, the Reaganite "Gospel of Prosperity" doesn't merely distort the message of Jesus to suit their own self-serving purposes. In fact, their political and global ideology is more like that of preceding religious military industrial empires of Europe and America during the last sixteen centuries, as they plundered the world reaping what they did not sow, while the working poor and the poor suffered.
Amazingly, when a good, conscientious, influential person has brought poverty up as a political issue, advocating for the working poor, the poor, the disadvantaged, and the least of our brethren, right-wing politicians have immediately accused the good person of "trying to start class warfare," and even of being a "socialist" or "communist."
Since 1982, Reaganites, Bushites, Neo-Conservatives and Libertarians have been very successful using such tactics, and they renewed them as soon as Barack Obama won the 2009 election.
They’ve slandered and denigrated good people who have tried to help poor people, just as their counterparts did in the 1920s, ‘30s, ‘50s and '60s. They have accused good people, dismissing and labeling them as "tax and spend liberals" — a deceptive and misleading tactic designed to hide the facts about who created the national debt and who really benefits from their tax cuts, and, even worse, to try to make "liberal" a dirty word.
However, the true meaning of the word "liberal" is: "Favorable to progress or reform; advocating individual freedom of action and expression; advocating representational government as opposed to aristocracies or monarchies; advocating freedom from bigotry and prejudice; open-minded and tolerant; characterized by generosity," etc.
Those are true spiritual values that all fair people of conscience aspire to, including true Christians. But during the last 30 years we have increasingly seen politicians ignoring the plight of the working poor, the poor, the disabled and the elderly, preferring to declare people should be self-reliant while at the same time providing the wealthiest few with great entitlement and privilege, pretending that is the patriotic and Christian thing to do.
In that respect the American society has been pushed very far backward and far away from what America's Founders intended. In fact, it's even gotten to the point where scientific studies of social class based on annual incomes as well as by education-levels have found that wealthy people ranked their social class according to beliefs that:
1) Genetics is more important than environment in explaining social class;
2) Social class ranking was meritorious and determined by a just and fair society and world;
3) A deserving "wealthy aristocracy" would and should naturally govern; and
4) Poor lower-classes tend to claim society is not fair only to blame someone else for their problems.
The problem is that those beliefs are contrary to and in violation not only of the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth and all the other great spiritual teachers. They are contrary to and in violation of the intent of most of America's Founders!
For example, John Adams wrote: “Government is instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, prosperity and happiness of the people; and not for the profit, honor, or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men. Therefore the people alone have an incontestable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to institute government and to reform, alter, or totally change the same, when their protection, safety, prosperity and happiness require.”
In a letter to James Madison in 1785, Thomas Jefferson suggested that taxes could be used to reduce "the enormous inequality" between rich and poor. He wrote that one way of "silently lessening the inequality of property is to exempt all from taxation below a certain point, and to tax the higher portions of property in geometrical progression as they rise." And Madison then said using laws to "reduce extreme wealth towards a state of mediocrity (referring to the middle) and raise extreme indigence towards a state of comfort."
The writings of the Founders make their intent very clear, and they expose and refute the claims made by Reaganites today.
Their self-serving beliefs are the heartless epitome of rationalization and hypocrisy, and yet some wealthy people indulge in them to justify and validate themselves. That's why a minority of Millionaires, Billionaires and Multi-Billionaires across America have increasingly been waging war on the homeless and complaining about them for "aesthetic" reasons. And that has made the banishment and even criminalization of the homeless even worse than it has been since Reaganism began corrupting America.
Moreover, because many Reaganites including Republicans, Libertarians, Tea Party members, sold-out Democrats have been led to believe that they are "good Christians," that wealth is a reward from God, and that the poor deserve to be poor -- they've got a very convenient comfort zone that they think is righteous and protected by "divine right."
The truth, however, is that while some people are certainly deserving of their wealth, the most democratic Founder, Thomas Jefferson, wanted all the people to have equal opportunity to prosper, succeed and live up to their full potential. He wanted all the people to be educated in a quality public school system and be able to go on to a quality public higher education system that would provide equal opportunity to ALL the people, regardless of their family's financial status.
That is the Real American Dream. But America has been sold a phony one instead.
Consequently America and the world are corrupted by money, and we have been and are under the rule of money --- and corruption and malfeasance in the offices of the public and private sectors is rampant because the love of money is the root of all evil because it breeds selfishness and self-interest at the expense of others.
That is the situation we find ourselves in, in spite of the fact that we should be governed by the common sense of promoting the general welfare and using the common wealth for the common good.