Prostitution of Prosperity

Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

– Luke 6:38

What does this verse really mean?  Personally, I’ve taken it to mean a few things, namely that if we give to others, God is faithful to provide for our needs and that what we give will be given back to us in like form.  For instance, if I tithe 10% of my income, I can trust that God will make up that 10% in other ways, either through sending us money (in the form of monetary gifts, a raise at work, etc.) or the equivalent thereof in goods or services. I mean, I never really sat down to dig to the bottom of my interpretation quite that way before, but somewhere inside of me where I often don’t even think to pay attention, that’s what that verse has always meant to me, and what it probably means to most people I know.

I was recently introduced to a book written by a man named Mark Boyle, who lived completely without money for at least two and a half years (I think he’s since continued to live without money, but I can’t find anything concrete to verify that.)  The book opens by exposing our need for money as a myth…

Why is the need for money a myth? Take a minute to look around you. Try to find one thing you believe hasn’t been provided by money. My guess is you can’t. Even if you’ve grown your own food, I would imagine you’d be thinking ‘well, I paid for the seeds, and I paid for my tools’.  And that is the power we have granted money – we have come to believe that we need it, that we depend on it to survive. The fact we’ve designed this impersonal and destructive economy of ours around it only serves to perpetuate such delusions. The cultural narrative that is money has such a powerful grip on our minds today that we have come to believe that we could not possibly ever live without it. Through observing humanity’s actions, it would appear that living without clean air, fresh water and fertile soil is considered a more moderate challenge in comparison.

As I read his book, I started to see – really see – the ways that I’ve viewed money and the power I’ve given it over my life.  1 Timothy 6:10 says “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evils.”  In what may be one of the best expositions I’ve ever heard of this verse, Mark Boyle writes: “I believe that prostitution is to sex what buying and selling is to giving and receiving.”

Think about the contrast between making love to your partner – and I mean really making love and not just ‘having sex’ – and paying for sex with a prostitute. The difference is palpable. One is an act where two supposedly separate beings merge in the most glorious of unions, one of our few remaining pathways to experiencing oneness with all of life. The other is an orgasm, for the punter that is. Physically, there can be little difference in the two acts, but the post-coital feeling of two lovers embraced tightly in each other’s arms in blissful oneness is polarised to that experience which the buyer of sex feels as he walks out into the cold of the night, having turned love-sharing into just another service to be consumed, in a similar way that we’ve turned the care of our young and elderly into services. If you stopped paying your child carer, would he or she still continue to care for your child? Is the care that is conditional, really care? I suspect that, at our very cores, we consciously or subconsciously know it’s not, and the psychological and emotional trauma from that deep understanding is unquantifiable.

This, I must add, isn’t a philosophical discussion about whether prostitution is ‘good’ or ‘evil’. On appearance it doesn’t seem a particularly healthy or fulfilling way to live, but who am I to judge and, regardless, the same could be said about almost all livelihoods today. Every day we all sell our bodies for money in one way or another. We charge people to prepare food for them, to accommodate them, to heal them, to mind their children or elderly parents – things that some previous societies couldn’t even conceive of asking for something in return for. How many of us would still go into work every day if we had no financial or economic imperative to? Not many. Of course we have to pay the bills, but then again, so does the prostitute.

It may be that the prostitute really is the only honest one amongst us…

As I read this book, several things became clear to me.  First, I saw clearly (or at least more clearly,) the power I’ve given money over my life.  The fact that I view it as necessary goes to prove just how much power I’ve given it.  Second, I realized that I have a pitiful, shallow, miserable understanding of what blessings really are.

‘Charles Eisenstein notes how “nitrogen fixing bacteria don’t directly benefit from doing so [fixing nitrogen, that is], except that the nitrogen they give to the soil grows plants that grow roots that grow fungi, which ultimately provide nutrients to the bacteria. Pioneer species pave the way for keystone species, which provide microniches for other species, which feed yet other species in a web of gifts that, eventually, circle back to benefit the pioneer species.’(29) …. So it could be with us, in a gift economy.

When I consider nature functioning the way God created it to function… when I consider that nitrogen fixing bacteria don’t benefit from fixing nitrogen, but benefit from the “organic flow of life” that eventually turns what the bacteria give to the soil into something the bacteria can use, I recognize that in the same way what we give is not necessarily given back in the same form (be that money or goods or services) but in what will truly bless us…

I give away a portion of my income.  And I am given a child, a friend, a neighbor in return.

Our pastors preach a “prosperity gospel.”  We’re told that God wants to bless us “exceedingly and abundantly.”  We’re told to “ask and receive” and so we fold our hands, turn our faces to the sky and, full of faith and love for the creator of the universe, ask for little green pieces of paper.

We stand before the throne of God as children of the King and bride of the Son, begging for peanuts.

We have no understanding of what it means to be “rich.”

And I see C.S. Lewis’s words in an entirely new light…

If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

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