Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Positive Thinking and Love

Americans love Positive Thinking - in the late 19th Century, Acres of Diamonds by Baptist Minister, Russell Conwell (a fitting last name), then on to Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, a Methodist Pastor who served for years at Marble Collegiate Church in New York City, known for his The Power of Positive Thinking.

From Peale to California's Robert Schuller and his Possibility Thinking, and then, as of late, Joel Osteen, who seems to have but three sermons in him: all of them based upon, 1) God wants you to be happy. 2 ) God wants you to be without disease. 3) God wants you to be rich.

What they all have in common is a high regard for wealth and the wealthy, and how the wealthy love them.

In A People's History of the United States, historian Howard Zinn comments on Conwell's Acres of Diamonds that the message was anyone could get rich if he tried hard enough and suggests that Conwell held elitist attitudes by quoting the following from his speech:
"I say that you ought to get rich, and it is your duty to get rich.... The men who get rich may be the most honest men you find in the community. Let me say here clearly .. . ninety-eight out of one hundred of the rich men of America are honest. That is why they are rich. That is why they are trusted with money. That is why they carry on great enterprises and find plenty of people to work with them. It is because they are honest men. ... ... I sympathize with the poor, but the number of poor who are to be sympathized with is very small. To sympathize with a man whom God has punished for his sins ... is to do wrong.... let us remember there is not a poor person in the United States who was not made poor by his own shortcomings. ..."
Theologically, they're all Anabaptists, in that they teach human action as the prerequisite for divine favor ... if you do such and so, then God will do so and such!

Such thinking is, in fact, pagan: the gods are remote and not particularly interested in humanity, but if you say it right, do it well, and use the formulae suggested by the oracle, priest or preacher, you, too, can have what you want.

All of this has created a self-serving motif in American Christianity, built upon snippets from the Bible, told with amazing stories of health, wealth and happiness.
The self-centered message fits well with American Evangelicalism which has always taught self-concern - "Here's what you need to do, say, believe, to go to heaven and escape the fires of hell."

Going forward at a crusade to save your own neck, or doing such and so to get wealthy - it's one and the same for Americans, who seem to love, above all else, themselves.

Tragically, self-love is a hideous tyrant.

Self-love has no room for other-love.

In fact, others are often seen as wanting in character, or deserving of their sorry lot in life. Charity may be indulged, but the kind of changes needed to make for a healthy society are resisted.

Self-love allows no room for real love.

And must drive out real love in order to survive.