Robert Minor, professor emeritus in Kansas University’s religious studies department, 1300 Oread Ave.:
Worldwide, the relationships of religions and an individual’s economic circumstances show much versatility. Historically religion has sanctified every economic state in which devotees find themselves.
I was reminded of this years ago while living in India. An Indian Christian leader and friend explained: In south India where Christians tend to be poorer and lower caste, the message from pulpits is that God especially loves the poor and suffering; in churches in Calcutta, where Christians tend to come from the upper classes, the message from the pulpit is that God rewards the truly faithful with economic prosperity.
Religious expressions support people’s current economic circumstances. They help them feel that they have hope, here or hereafter, against overwhelming economic circumstances when they’re in need, or they justify the great disparity between their wealth and others’ need when they’re among a society’s rich and powerful.
Religions have been used to support the earnings and inheritances of Hindu rajas, Buddhist kings, Muslim shahs, Christian rulers, and Chinese emperors known as Sons of Heaven. In such cases one hears of the many ways not to take literally each religion’s equivalent of verses such as: “It’s harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.”
Concepts such as karma have been used to argue that the wealthy deserve to be rich if not because of what they’ve done in their current lives then because of good deeds supposedly performed in previous births. But the prophetic voices within many of these same religions have also stood up for the dignity of those who find themselves in economic straits, and even at times condemned “the rich” who look down upon the poor.
Whether rich or poor, people regularly gravitate to religious teachings that comfort them economically.
— Send e-mail to Robert Minor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Rev. Kent Winters-Hazelton, senior pastor, First Presbyterian Church, 2415 Clinton Parkway:
I read an article recently with a provocative title: Is the recession good for your soul? While the sharp economic downturn has increased the stress in many households, for others there is a discovery of spiritual growth.
The wisdom of spiritual and religious traditions throughout the ages has taught that we do not receive our personal value and worth from our possessions, riches or power. That worth is drawn from what is within each of us, how we integrate into our community and in our service to others. This bad economy has helped many recognize that the trappings of material wealth are not necessary for a full, rich life.
Previous generations have often looked back and discovered that what they perceived as hard times often lead to spiritual growth. Studies have shown that during the Great Depression, congregations made up of the poor, the underemployed and the working class gave a higher percentage of their income to their houses of faith or to charity than did their more affluent neighbors. Perhaps they understood more deeply the pain of poverty as experienced by their neighbor and wanted to provide a degree of comfort and care. When they came across someone who was worse off, instead of thinking, “There but by the grace of God go I,” they thought, “There connected by the grace of God go I.”
Like many religious communities, the congregation I serve has seen its financial support decline in the past three years. At the same time, the gifts our members give to the funds that help others, and the total percentage of our church’s budget that assists social services in Lawrence, has increased dramatically.
As small step, perhaps, on the pathway of recovery for us and for our community.
— Send e-mail to Kent Winters-Hazelton at email@example.com.