The Common Good

Greed is God: Exporting the Values of America's Prosperity Heresy


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America, dominating the global economy, imports more goods than it exports. What is less tangible, but possibly more important, is how America exports its values to a rapidly interconnecting global society.

Arguably, most wars that America has fought aim to export U.S. values of freedom and democracy. However, a major lesson from Vietnam reveals that military intervention as a means to change values and political ideology can often backfire with indefatigable resistance. Today, we see Islamic extremists using terror as a means to communicate their values in opposition to Western ideals. However, if terrorism is fundamentally a form communication, what values do we represent when we respond militarily? We have chosen to speak their "language" of violence, and only time will tell if we will dominate the conversation.

Changing global values through the economy, however, is a completely different matter. We are winning this fight; we are changing how the world fiscally relates. What economic credo are we exporting to the rest of the world, you might ask?

Jim Wallis names that credo, "greed is good," in his new book Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street-A Moral Compass for the New Economy. Wallis rightly assesses the current global financial crisis as primarily a moral crisis with severe economic consequences.

But McDonalds, Nike, Coca Cola, along with all other major U.S. corporations, have not been alone in the trenches winning this global values shift. I am particularly embarrassed to say that they have received significant help from one of the very establishments that should confront this immorality -- American Christianity.

Perhaps one of America's biggest exports of the 20th and 21st centuries is the prosperity gospel. Growing like wildfire internationally, this brand of Christianity says that every believer is entitled to any material possession they desire -- if prayed in the name of Jesus.

The prosperity gospel has such transnational appeal because it taps into the universal self-interest of the human heart. However, when repackaged in a theological context greed is not merely good, it's God.

Ironically, the prosperity gospel has found its most fertile ground in developing nations, where conspicuous and bloated consumption is the least realistic. Poorer nations are more susceptible to this lie not out of greed per se, but because of its inherent germ of truth: God does want us to be prosperous. God's emphasis, however, is on us, not just me. Probably the most quoted Bible verse among Evangelical Christians is John 3:16. It says, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only son

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