Home National Politics The Destiny Gospel vs. The Prosperity Gospel and Why It Matters

The Destiny Gospel vs. The Prosperity Gospel and Why It Matters

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by Josh Chernila

When I was a junior in high school, my European History class first encountered the doctrine of Calvinism. After wading through the dates and major figures and events, we settled into a discussion of the doctrine itself. In itself, the Calvinist doctrine has quite a lovely inspiration and is quite nuanced, but in practice it comes down to a fundamental argument that the wealthy are the most favored of God.

As a progressive thinker and American patriot, born and bred, I found this doctrine profoundly repellent. Were the European kings, against whom our forefathers waged revolution, the favored of God, even as they ground centuries of peasantry beneath the boots of tyranny? How must this Calvinist “God” have wept as King George went mad and Marie Antionette’s alluring curls were cast into a bloody basket amidst cheering, jeering crowds.

For me, this was obviously a way for despots to use superstition to justify the “Divine Right of Kings.” But looking around my classroom, I could see that I was nearly alone. A few enlightened schoolmates were clearly turning green as the sickening realization dawned, but we were in the scant minority. Around the room I saw the faces of my classmates come alight. I saw religious fervor meet greed in a critical mass moment that created sneers of self satisfaction, and a dawning, fundamental belief that as they and theirs were to progress into greater and greater wealth, regardless of the means or method, they would always have God on their side.

In the intervening years, I have seen the conservative movement catch fire, aided by the core precept of Calvinism and abetted by a particularly nefarious “greed is good” modernization which has come to be known as “The Prosperity Doctrine.” Megachurches cash in on concepts like “seeding,” as they bilk the poor, tired, huddled masses of middle America of their wealth, wages, and power, all in the desperate belief that wealth shows God’s favor. Mega pastors live in massive mansions, buy yachts and private jets, all to show the their followers precisely what it means to serve this Calvinist God. All this, despite the fact the success of a pastor should not be judged by his net worth, but by the personal fulfillment of his parishioners. How can we have gone so badly wrong?

Just as was the case back in high school, today the progressive movement has remained largely silent against this ascendancy of mammon worship, ignoring a generation’s worth of political and economic fallout, as the bounty of America has been siphoned off to the ultra-wealthy, all in “God’s” name.

By the reasoning of the “Prosperity Gospel” folks, as long as God’s purpose is to create material prosperity, the purpose of government is to protect and empower the wealthy. And furthermore, the bounty of American productivity should not be shared among those whose labor and creativity have made it, but rather with the capitalists who risk their Divine Worth, aka Capital, to increase their own net worth. Taxation and regulation on the wealthy and powerful business interests must be reduced, lest government punish God’s chosen. The poor and working class must be increasingly burdened and punished. Protections against all of life’s risks, from age and sickness to unemployment and hunger, must be eliminated, so that those sadly not in God’s favor might suffer for their obvious disfavor.

This is our America. This is our true American religion, in practice. This is where we have chosen, as a result of the Prosperity Gospel, to direct the fruits of America’s bounty.

Progressives hold a different perspective of divinity. Progressives hold a different relationship with God. Progressives have faith that each of us — every man, woman, and child — has a destiny that exists in the world, independent of wealth. Progressives believe that the purpose of government is not, as the Prosperity Gospel dictates, to enforce the domination of society by an aristocracy of dynastic wealth, but rather that the purpose of government is to serve the people as each seeks to fulfill his or her own potential.

How can our poorest children fulfill their potential as the funds that could have been directed to their schools are redirected to vanity development projects, religious or private schools? How may seniors enjoy the bounty of their wisdom, experience, hard work and love of family when the Social Security they paid for all their lives and their Medicare are siphoned off for Wall Street and insurance company executive pay? How can working families prosper when educational, food support, and retraining funds are sacrificed at the altar of corporate socialist giveaways?

The Destiny Doctrine is the progressive refutation of Calvinism and the Prosperity Doctrine that has made our republic an oligarchy, and now threatens to replace freedom of conscience with theocracy and to replace widespread opportunity with an increasingly disciplinary caste system. The Destiny Doctrine is the moral justification behind the protection of civil rights, and the reassertion of the primacy of the American people at the heart of government, rather than the top 10% of wealthy individuals and organizations.

In the Progressive vision, every man woman and child has a right to fulfill his or her own destiny, his or her own potential. It is thus the obligation of government to safeguard the institutions that protect individual freedom and opportunity. After a generation of singular domination in the American dialogue, it is time for the Prosperity Gospel to get some competition. It is time for the widespread assertion of the Destiny Gospel to put the American people back at the heart of our national purpose.

  • galatians328

    ACTUALLY, Calvin said (see long quote below below and highlighted points here):

    … This will be clearer if we think of how believers behave when times are good. If God sends them peace and prosperity, they will give him [ God the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer] the praise; they will use his -God’s – gifts soberly, endeavouring always to live an upright life. They will not want to squander such gifts, but they will recognize them as blessings from God

    … That, I repeat, is how believers will behave. They will live soberly, tightening their belts if that is necessary; they will be self-controlled, telling themselves that though they may rise to eminent rank and enjoy untold pleasure, they must set their sights on higher things. The good things given by God are but a path to lead us to him – God -, a ladder to ascend on high, not a tomb in which to bury ourselves.

    We present a more complete idea of Calvin to show that your simplistic use of Calvin as a ‘puppet, straw man, idol to be overthrown’ is incorrect and unproductive.

    From reading the long quotation from Calvin we see that Calvin’s idea AGREE with much of what you say about liberty! The long quote shows that Calvin described human nature in ways consonant with John Locke’s idea of ‘natural rights’ which were later enshrined in the Declaration! God, in Calvin’s view, is engaged with one’s life. Each one is to live to fulfill God’s purposes. We do not believe that Calvin would disagree with your idea that governance should allow as much liberty and opportunity as possible!

    So Calvin’s ideas support your ideas, to that extent, which is your major point, isn’t it.

    BUT,
    where you two will differ will be about the how to define the aims of liberty.

    Calvin says about the well-off/affluent/as you say the ‘top 10% wealthy Americans’: “Prosperity goes immediately to their heads, fills them to bursting; they are so befuddled that not once do they spare a thought for God or the spiritual life. In time they grow hard, and when misfortune comes they grind their teeth and blaspheme against God.”

    That sounds like something you might say if not just the same way. But you do not have the same aims of liberty. And we hope that you will review and re-write your article to discuss more fully what you mean by the aims of liberty and constraints on liberty.

    Because you say:
    “… every man woman and child has a right to fulfill his or her own destiny, his or her own potential. It is thus the obligation of government to safeguard the institutions that protect individual freedom and opportunity”. Yes that sound nice but you you’ve arrived at a place where most Democrats don’t want to go: discussion of the constraints on autonomous liberty. Plain speaking requires you to continue: what destinies that some man, women, or child wants for themselves is UN-acceptable to Democrats? how do Democrats decide what are the unacceptable choices and behaviors of Americans? Who will enforce Democrat’s decisions that some choices and behaviors are unacceptable? what are the sanctions? who will pay for them?

    Calvin has an answer: that our liberty and opportunity are part of God’s design as are constraints on our liberty. Democrats have a very hard time discussion constraints on liberty and you show that by not even mentioning that! Democrats are very weak with plain-speaking discussions about liberty and constraints on liberty – in the languages of ethics and morality: personal and social responsibility, individual and organizational accountability, As we’ve learned from the past election many common sense – “non-deplorable” – Americans did not believe Ms Clinton was plainly speaking but was, rather, a untrustworthy voice of a “deplorable elite who wants to continue cultural imperialism’ against their common sense, working class, values.

    Ain’t that so?

    Since you are discussing things in the realm of values – which is great! Democrats have a very hard time plainly speaking ‘what are our values’ – you are required to discuss the bias enshrined in your values, and to discuss the boundaries or limitations of the values you prefer over others’ value. YOU simplistically criticize the millions of Americans who have religious beliefs rooted in Calvinism but you fail to discuss critically the boundaries and limitation of the values your prefer. Shame on you! You’ve proved Kellyanne Conway’s point: that Democrats make stuff up just as much as Republicans make stuff up, but that Trump was more plain spoken and therefore believable to many Americans (in the case of the Electoral College Americans who REALLY REALLY did get counted!).

    When, oh when, will Democrats learn to how to speak plainly …. at all! …. but learn to speak plainly about their values! About the boundaries/limitations on those values? About who sanctions crossing the boundaries and limitations? About who is required to pay to enforce, pay to sanction, and pay for the consequences of exceeding boundaries and limitations? These are very common sense questions that deserve common sensical plainly spoken responses.

    FULL QUOTATION FROM CALVIN:

    “Someone might ask whether it is right for God’s children to be rich, to employ the good things which God so generously gives and to derive pleasure from them. After all, our text says “Woe to you who laugh. Woe to you rich. Woe to you when men speak well of you.” “What’s this?” you say. “Is it wrong to lead a good and virtuous life and to be well spoken of? Doesn’t St. Paul urge us to do good in the sight of all? Don’t we read somewhere else that every mouth should be stopped and that men should glorify God when they see us walking in his fear?” We might, then, think it harsh and puzzling that the rich, the comfortably off, and the happy should be condemned.

    “Now that is not what our Lord is saying here. What he is condemning is the attitude of those who, intent on living well in this world, as so stupid and senseless as to forget there is a heavenly kingdom. This will be clearer if we think of how believers behave when times are good. If God sends them peace and prosperity, they will give him the praise; they will use his gifts soberly, endeavouring always to live an upright life. They will not want to squander such gifts, but they will recognize them as blessings from God. Or again, if someone possesses a rare gift of God’s Spirit, he will not pretend he doesn’t have it, for that would be mere hypocrisy. So whether believers are rich, or in robust health, or wonderfully endowed with the Spirit’s gifts, they acknowledge that God’s favour is its only source. Their joy is real, and so is their thanksgiving. That is how they will use the good tings of this present life.

    “Nevertheless, while life for believers may be easy today, they will be ready tomorrow to endure whatever afflictions God may send them. He may, perhaps, take from them the goods he has given. They are prepared to surrender them, since they know they received them on one condition–that they should hand them back whenever God should choose. The believer reasons this way: “Rich today, poor tomorrow. If God should change my circumstances so that ease gives way to suffering and laughter to tears, it is enough to know that I am still his child. He has promised to acknowledge me always as his, and in that I rest content.”

    “That, I repeat, is how believers will behave. They will live soberly, tightening their belts if that is necessary; they will be self-controlled, telling themselves that though they may rise to eminent rank and enjoy untold pleasure, they must set their sights on higher things. The good things given by God are but a path to lead us to him, a ladder to ascend on high, not a tomb in which to bury ourselves. We should not cling to happiness or greet its passing with a hollow laugh, for it is fleeting. Nor should we exult when men applaud us, as if we had already attained our reward for a virtuous life on earth. No, we are determined to press on through good report and bad. Such is the measured and moderate path pursued by the believer. We do not get drowsy, still less intoxicated, when times are good. And we are always willing to abandon everything if God requires. This is not how it is with unbelievers. Prosperity goes immediately to their heads, fills them to bursting; they are so befuddled that not once do they spare a thought for God or the spiritual life. In time they grow hard, and when misfortune comes they grind their teeth and blaspheme against God.

    “This is how we are to interpret the woes spoken against the rich, the satisfied, those who laugh and are glad. Remember Job, who amidst his suffering proclaimed: “If we have received good things from God’s hand, why should we not also receive the bad?” There is no doubt that this was something which Job had thought hard about–a treasure, so to speak, to be disclosed at the right time and place. We see then that although God may spare us and give us reason to rejoice, we should expect to receive both good and bad from his hand. Not reluctantly or because we are compelled, but meekly and cheerfully, obedient to his will. For he must rule us, not according to our own likes but according to what he knows is best and most expedient for us. We are confident that all things will work for our salvation: that is our motive for rejoicing.

    “That is the sense of Jesus’ teaching in this passage. To be rich, to be glad, to be satisfied is to be drunk on prosperity and to live the life of senseless beasts. If we are comfortably off, it is not so that we may cover ourselves with gold and silver, or boast of owning fields and meadows, like those whose goal in life is to have everything they want. Those kinds of people are as good as dead: they bury themselves in their perishable possessions and are incapable of seeing heaven above. As for us, we must take heed to ourselves lest the Son of God condemn us with his own lips: only by looking to him for continual blessing can we escape the misfortune promised here. We are taught, then, to pass through this world as strangers, convinced, as St. Paul says, that those who have should be as those who have not. No one would deny that those who have plenty to live on meet many more temptations and run more risk of falling. They need, therefore, to turn constantly to God, and to learn that his gifts are meant to draw them closer to him, to quicken their love and to encourage their obedience. The good things they receive must never bewitch them to the point that they become captives to the world.

    “In the midst of plenty we must guard against greedy excess, lest we choke ourselves and bring this curse upon us: Woe to you who are filled. If we are to be filled, it is in a different way–by contemplating God’s face, as we read in Psalm 16. We should regard material possessions simply as props to help us, until we see the Father face to face. He is our bliss and happiness. By all means let us laugh, but in the manner of those who are ready to weep should that be God’s will. Our joy should be joined with sadness, and with compassion for those who suffer. No one should live apart from others, and all should rejoice whenever God’s name is honored. Yes, rejoice, even when we have reason to feel sad and gloomy. Conversely, it may be that we are fine, in the best of spirits. But supposing there is some dire trouble in the church, or God’s name is blasphemed, held up to shame or ridicule–that should give us cause for grief, grief deeper even than the joy we felt. At such a time we ought to moderate the happiness which earthly blessings bring. We ought, as the proverb says, to mix water with our wine.”

    John Calvin, Sermons on the Beatitudes (Banner of Truth), pp. 77-80.