A brief history of American Christianity and money. Lehmann starts with a consideration of the contemporary religious phenomenon of the “prosperity gospel”, or the notion that “God wants you to be rich” (despite that thing Jesus says about the camel and the eye of the needle), and then claims that it’s too easy to just dismiss it as a cynical exercise in money-making, and that modern American Christianity’s fascination with money isn’t actually new by any means and is a phenomenon worth exploring. Which he then sets out to do, to trace how America’s got where it is now, from the early Puritans’ concern for communal welfare to the increasingly individual and kind of anti-social behaviour of the new evangelicals… it’s an interesting angle from which to explore the history of religion, though I’ll confess that I was frequently unable to actually envisage how the various theological positions evolved throughout the book necessarily translated into economic terms (with the notable exceptions of the Mormons’ attempt to create their own currency). That’s probably my fault, though, since economics is admittedly not a strong point of mine and also I’m not that well acquainted with the finer details of America’s religious history which Lehmann goes into; maybe 18th/19th century divines just weren’t as blatant as the modern prosperity mob. Either way, it’s a good read, and although Lehmann insists we don’t just dismiss the phenomenon unthinkingly, that doesn’t mean he’s not critical of the situation, both towards mainstream Protestantism for retreating from conflict and letting the evangelicals take the lead, and towards the evangelicals for their own fear of deep theological thinking and the harshness underlying the logic of success (i.e. if your success is because God loves you, presumably that means he hates the less fortunate). And really, his extended excoriation of the Left Behind series—which he clearly and categorically despises for its shitty theology as well as its shitty style—in the last chapter is, in all its hilarious brutality, worth the price of admission by itself.
The Money Cult (Chris Lehmann)