A college history professor I once had believed that the Protestant Reformation may have helped in the development of capitalism.
Apparently some religious thinkers of the day equated God's love with the accumulation of riches. The reasoning went something like this: The more gold you had in the vault, the more property you acquired - in short, the more "stuff" you had - the more God loved you. So to show to others that you had God's love, you needed to show your possessions.
Very quickly the prosperity, riches, and profits, which brought creature comforts, became the goal. The capitalist system evolved to help support achieving that goal, the professor argued.
I don't know whether current thinking about the history of ideas would support that professor's remarks. As I grew up in the baby boomer generation, though, it seemed that the accumulation of "stuff" was what life was all about.
I had grown up in gritty neighborhoods that today people call disadvantaged or even the ghetto. I was a hard worker and was determined to escape poverty and shortages. Even in graduate school on scholarship, I was able to live in a stylish neighborhood and drive a series of nice cars. While there's nothing wrong with entrepreneurship, technological advances, or the desire to do right by our families, I found I was beginning to have doubts about some of my preconceptions about life and success.
As I found myself thinking more about God, I believe my thinking was evolving spiritually, and one day I came face to face with this startling question: Does God measure me by my stuff? Does having a great salary and a lot of grown-up toys make me a successful man?
I think the best measurement for us all is found in the standard Jesus set. God's only begotten Son, the man who revolutionized the world, didn't have much "stuff." He didn't have a salary of any kind, let alone commissions or bonuses. He didn't even have a fixed address. And in one familiar passage, he didn't have a high regard for worrying about accumulating things. According to the Gospel of Luke, he said, "Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothe the grass, which is to-day in the field, and to-morrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith? And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind. For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things. But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you" (Luke 12:27-31).
Jesus' goal, it seems to me, was a spiritual consciousness instead of the accumulation of material wealth. This spiritual consciousness was as radical in that first-century outpost of the Roman Empire as it is in today's globalized society, but turning one's thinking from "stuff" to God is still relevant. Mary Baker Eddy, who founded this newspaper, commented, "Jesus gave the true idea of being, which results in infinite blessings to mortals" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," page 325). Another radical statement - a spiritual idea results in infinite blessings.
This is practical counsel. As I have turned my thinking to this model, I have discovered a number of things. First of all, I'm not craving that new car or new computer so much, and I feel released from a treadmill.
Second, I find that praying first to God has resulted in my family's needs being met in all kinds of unexpected ways. This includes scholarships, ideas for better money management, and more intelligent consumption of goods and services.
Third, I have found an increased sense of well-being, and I have lost a lot of money-related anxiety. It's been replaced with a sense of confidence in the infinite blessings of God. I wouldn't trade this increased trust in the Divine for anything.
Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt ... But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.
Matt. 6:19, 20