For the love of money

Warhol Dollar SignsIt’s always interesting to see how religion beat professionals tackle the big issues of the day. And these days, that means the economy. Recently we looked at a PBS program on the moral and religious dimensions of Wall Street problems. Steven Waldman had an item questioning whether attacks on “greed” were too simplistic. Among other things, he notes that Prosperity Gospel folks have sent some interesting messages about financial rewards from God.

Religion Writer’s Andrea Useem has a timely piece looking at evangelical approaches to CEO compensation. And Reuters has a piece suggesting that worship attendance has ticked upward on Wall Street.

And then the Associated Press’ Eric Gorski has a huge piece marrying religious issues with economic issues — and, of course, the political climate. Democrats are trying to frame the economy as a “values” issue, the story says.

Now, with U.S. financial systems in turmoil and the government rushing to fix it, Democrats sense an opportunity to highlight the economy as a values issue and attract middle-of-the-road religious believers who were central to George W. Bush’s winning coalition in 2004.

Gorski cites survey results from John Green, a political scientist at the University of Akron in Ohio, that show economic issues are significantly more important to voters this year than in 2004:

But despite the seismic changes on ranking the issues, Green found remarkably little movement among faith groups’ presidential preferences. Even with a sour economy and a Republican in the White House, Obama was polling about the same as ’04 nominee John Kerry among faith groups. More recent surveys show the same thing.

The article goes on to cite efforts from pro-Obama political action committees such as The Matthew 25 Network, to frame support for Obama as a Biblical imperative. That effort also got press in the Washington Post story we looked at yesterday. The story is not as tightly written as a normal Gorski offering, and is almost more of an essay than a news piece. Take this, for instance:

Religious appeals on the economy can be made by pointing to Scripture verses in favor of helping the poor, honesty and integrity and criticism of greed and materialism.

More specifically, the evangelical Protestant ethos of individual responsibility leans to market solutions and suspicion of government, while the Roman Catholic emphasis on community and solidarity means many Catholics are more open to government solutions, Green said.

The piece has quite a bit more reportage, including a visit to an Obama Faith Forum in Colorado Springs and a discussion of how issues such as abortion are paramount to many conservative Christians.

To go back to Waldman, he looked at the same survey Gorski cited in his article and pulled out different statistics:

Remember all the talk about how evangelicals are broadening their agenda to include other issues like the environment and poverty? Well, they may be focusing more on those issues – and one survey says they are more green-conscious — but that doesn’t mean they’ve gotten more liberal in their politics on these issues.

A stunning new survey from John Green of University of Akron finds that evangelicals if anything have moved to the right on these non-social issues:

Support for stricter environmental regulation:
2004: 53.2% agreed
2008: 45.3% said agreed in 2008

Those wanting fewer government services:
2004: 34%
2008: 42.5%

There are many more religious dimensions to these stories about the economy. We’ll keep looking at the coverage.

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  • Jerry

    pulled out different statistics

    This seems like a classic example of where we need to know the exact questions that were asked. I suspect that knowing the difference between the questions asked in various surveys would be illuminating and we’d be much closer to understanding what the attitudes are.

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  • David Rudel

    I find it rather unacceptable that “Christian” viewpoints on the current financial crisis and its root spend nary a word on the temptation to borrow money to buy a home you probably don’t need and cannot afford. Especially given that the whole mess can be traced back to credit problems in the housing market.

    The Bible casts borrowing in a negative light, casts lending with interest in a more negative light, and absolutely forbids lending money at high interest, to the poor, or (at interest) to other Christians .

    People are told that buying a house is the “smart” thing, where smart is defined in the mammon-centric context of “making you more money in the long haul.” Since when is that our goal as Christians?

    Why do people buy houses? They buy houses to impress others, to give themselves the illusion of security, and to make money over the long haul. Since when are these Christian values?

    When banks give “sub-prime” loans (modern usury) to people who likely cannot repay them, you have a veritable symphony of sin. It is not mere greed of investors, but (in this case) particular greed of institutions implementing a practice the Bible specifically forbids…and Christians abetting them as they put their trust and interest in worldly possessions.

    But instead of touching on this, which would inculpate the world, the masses, and those who are viewed as “innocent,” these articles safely put the blame on abstractions like Greed and faceless entities like Wall Street and the Government so Christians do not have to take a deeper look at hard truths of Scripture.