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by Arthur Simon
What Was That About the Rich Man?
It may be possible to have a good debate over whether or not Jesus believed in fairies," G.K. Chesterton said. "Alas, it is impossible to have any sort of debate over whether or not Jesus believed that rich people were in big trouble—there is too much evidence on the subject and it is overwhelming." 1
In The Good of Affluence: Seeking God in a Culture of Wealth, John Schneider disagrees. Offering "a theology of affluence for Christians seeking to live with integrity within this culture of capitalism," he finds that enjoying extreme riches is just fine with Jesus. He sees his book as an antidote to Ron Sider's Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. And he states candidly at the outset: "I strongly challenge the widely held belief that the world-shrinking effects of globalism generate strong obligations for any wealthy person in an advanced society to any poor person in an undeveloped one."
I found much in the book to admire, lines worth quoting, some that soar. But a pattern emerged for me as I read. Schneider makes a point that I applaud, then takes it in a direction that invites dismay—mine at any rate.
In his opening chapter, Schneider sketches the emergence of capitalism and explains that in contrast to biblical times, when wealth was usually obtained at the expense of others, current free-market capitalism typically creates wealth and spreads its benefits widely. He presents this well. However, his uncritical enthusiasm for the achievements of capitalism—"the greatest liberating power in human history"—takes over. Despite his acknowledgment that acquisitive desire is sometimes insatiable and spiritually corruptive, Schneider sees mainly a remarkable harmony between modern habits of acquisition and moral virtues. And he disparages the conclusions of a growing body of research that beyond a fairly basic level additional wealth brings little or no more happiness. "People who say that money doesn't buy happiness simply don't know where to shop," he quips in one of 25 citations ...