The Cost of Heresy is Going Down – In Religion, and in Plenty of Other Realms Also

End of PowerIndeed, in a recent Pew survey of religious attitudes in the United States, where 50 of the largest 260 churches are now prosperity based, 73 percent of all religious Latinos agreed with the statement “God will grant financial success to all believers who have enough faith.”
The cost of heresy is down.
Moisés Naím, The End of Power


(I’m not sure I am clear enough in this post. But I want to give it a try…)

In a middle-chapter of Moisés Naím’s The End of Power, I read the excerpt above. It is about the decline of “traditional” religious power – the established hierarchies – and the rise of alternatives, like the “prosperity gospel.” And it is a part of his overall premise that traditional “power” is not as powerful as it has been; the powerful are losing power…

It is clear that a whole lot of people, a very big group of people, have bought into this “prosperity gospel” — that “God will grant financial success to all believers who have enough faith.”

This specific example is what in the past would have been labeled “heresy” — a “heretical” view. My view: it goes against what the Scriptures actually teach. (I realize that many will disagree).

Maybe the most famous quoting of Scripture in my lifetime was on August 28, 1963, when Martin Luther King, Jr. quoted Amos: let “justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.” From Amos 5 (read the full chapter from Amos), it is a reminder that a person with means who is not compassionate and attentive to the poor is a person who will be “rejected” by God. His worship will be rejected until he changes this behavior — God will not accept such worship from one who is indifferent, uncompassionate, unhelpful to the poor.

For the full context of Dr. King’s use of this scripture text, here’s the paragraph from the I Have a Dream speech:

i-have-a-dream-speechThere are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: “For Whites Only.” We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until “justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

But what struck me about the passage in The End of Power is the idea that we live in a world where believing a “heresy” comes with little cost. In fact, the “heresy” can spread far and wide with acceptance of many, and “traditional power” is powerless to stop the spread. Fascinating…

(Don’t make the mistake of thinking that wide-spread acceptance of any view equals “rightness;” legitimacy… Many “wrong” views have been held by the many over the years/centuries. Consider – the treatment of slaves in the United States; the treatment of Native Americans… I’m not equating the “prosperity Gospel” with such dark truths about our own past. But, if a Pew or Gallup had asked the opinions of people in an earlier era, the majority would have approved of such treatment of slaves, and Native Americans, and…)

This is not quite a post about the flaws of the “Prosperity Gospel.” It is more this – this is an era where people can believe, and do, almost anything they choose. The power to regulate belief and action is declining all around us. It is signaling the “end of power.”

Just this morning, I read this: Ford CEO: New business models threaten all carmakers. In other words, the big three automakers are not as powerful, as “untouchable,” as they were earlier. Their power is…shaky. Their new competitors may come out of nowhere – and they have little power to stop them…

Yes, the cost of heresy is down. And not just in the realm of religion. The potential profits from heresy keep going up.

It is a strange new world indeed.


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