Material wealth

Why material wealth is a blessing from God, not a curse.

  1. Attitudes towards wealth

  2. Blessed or tested?

  3. One-size fits all explanation

  4. Sensations of reward are created in the mind
Attitudes towards wealth
Many religious institutions have no objection to the pursuit of material wealth by their members. Large, highly visible institutions, in particular, tend to be well funded, and leaders would find it hard to advocate abstention to their followers when signs of wealth are clearly evident within the institution.

At the same time, however, God is supposed to occupy top priority, and any time spent on worldly affairs implies time spent away from God.

This apparent incompatibility between godliness and material possessions causes many believers to feel slightly guilty about possessing above-average levels of wealth, or to feel disapproval towards those who are obviously wealthy.

However, some argue that such reasoning is rather unfair- people cannot help it if they are blessed by God and achieve success in the material domain, as well as in the spiritual.

In fact, one could take signs of material wealth among members as an indication of their closeness to God, and claim that a well-funded religious institution is one with which God is well pleased.

Others, however, might object that instead of amassing wealth, the religious institution should be giving it away.

Indeed, many such religious institutions do just that- they give away large sums of cash and invest the rest, and make even more as a result.

This principle is often preached by religious leaders: the more one gives away, the greater God’s rewards. Some religious leaders are so blessed, in fact, that they command enormous salaries, promote their teachings through books, tapes, and websites, organise large rallies, and are invited and paid to speak at conferences and ceremonies all over the world. All this takes place under the all-seeing eye of God- it could not transpire without God’s tacit approval.
Blessed or tested?
On the other hand, there’s no shame in being poverty-stricken either, or unable to achieve the heights that the most materially successful reach. After all, God works in mysterious ways and often uses the poor and humble to perform awe-inspiring acts.

There is great diversity in the human condition, and God has everyone and everything covered, down to imperceptible details.

For example: If an institution is poor and small, that's simply because it's being put to His test and forced to undergo a period of tribulation. This is part of God’s plan to make its followers completely reliant on God and forgo the vainglories of the world. If their faith stays intact, God will eventually reward them many times over. It's a matter of when, not if.

On the other side of the spectrum, large institutions that are flush with cash are going through a period of plenty and enjoying the blessings they deserve. They’ve every right to revel in their success, as long as they uphold the principles that won them that favour in the first place. Woe betide the institutions that get sidetracked by their own success and drift away from God- their punishment will surely follow.
One-size fits all explanation

You soon realise that people come up with god-driven explanations for any situation and circumstance in life. You may be poor, rich, or anything in between- there is no financial situation that cannot be explained within a religious framework. Disparities in wealth can be explained away and rationalised as one chooses.

Religious organisations and their leaders may truly believe (and teach) that material wealth comes from God, and that material poverty indicates that God is putting the organisation through a healthy amount of stress to strengthen it. A good believer does not question the way in which God decides to distribute wealth- everything is pre-ordained and makes perfect sense in the overall scheme of things.

It’s clear that regardless of the situation, religious teachings can be adapted to justify any level of material wealth, and it is in fact not ‘God’ that determines an institution’s rise and fall, but numerous factors that are bundled together and collectively termed ‘

.’ Factors include the managerial skills of those in charge, the size and devotion of the congregation, the financial climate, and the oratory skills of speakers.

The complex justifications offered to describe the situation are the products of resourceful human minds. If followers believe that God exists and bears full responsibility for resource allocation, and they underestimate the role played by the numerous factors that actually determine the situation, then that’s all the better for the institution, because no one can fault God or accuse God of shoddy or selfish thinking, or unfair favouritism. Regardless of what methods an institution uses to achieve its aims, or how much wealth is obtained, God controls the outcome.

Sensations of reward are created in the mind
Thus far, we've referred to material wealth as though it is a distinct entity from psychological or spiritual wealth. Religion is typically thought to serve people’s spiritual needs, rather than their physical needs. This distinction between the spiritual and the physical is rather contrived- it stems from the inaccurate idea that the mind is somehow physically removed from the body, or exists in a separate plane of reality.

One’s mind, in fact, is embodied within the brain. Thoughts, feelings, emotions, and consciousness emerge from the processes that take place in the brain, and the chemical and electrical interactions between the brain and the rest of the body.

People know that when one talks about the ‘spiritual realm,’ one is referring to thoughts, emotions and beliefs, while the non-spiritual category refers to nearly everything else, so this generalisation, although imprecise, serves its purpose in everyday usage.

This artificial distinction is frequently used in discussions about religion and for the sake of brevity, as I explore the assumptions behind doctrines upheld by religious institution, I sometimes refer to mental processes as that which belongs to the spiritual world, while other entities fall under the domain of the material. Just keep in mind that the widely-held assumption, that the mind is disconnected from the body, is a myth.

Many of us recognise that wealth comes in diverse forms, and that happiness, health, family, relationships, and so on, have tangible value, just as with monetary assets. In everyday life, we use currency to trade physical assets efficiently, conduct business over long distances, and make transactions with strangers. Thus, we tend to perceive money as being somewhat distinct from other objects of value. This perception is simply a product of the way society happens to operate.

Our brains, in fact, experience the sensation of reward via a single, underlying reward mechanism. Regardless of the source of our pleasure (family, money, food), the feeling of satisfaction emerges from the set of brain regions that constitute the 'reward system.'

It feels good to earn money and acquire material goods. It also feels good to engage in self-denial and forgo material possessions if we so choose. It all boils down to our perceptions- if we decide that something is rewarding and valuable, then it becomes so. If we decide to adjust our priorities, then our values shift. Our reward system still works- it's just that we've altered the factors in life that are capable of setting it off.
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