Pew Foundation recently studied the correlation between religion and average income. They published their results. Anyone religious dropped whatever they were doing to check just where they stood on the list. I know I did. Toward the top, hopefully. That's where I wanted to be. I mean, nobody wants to be in one of those loser religions at the bottom. If you're not making a lot of money, then....let us not mince words here.....what good are you?
But as I checked my ranking, I did so with trepidation. I was hopeful, but still I had my heart in my mouth. See, as one of Jehovah's Witnesses, I knew very well I wouldn't rank at the top. Maybe middle of the pack. Surely I must rate higher than the …....OH NO!!! DEAD LAST!! Well, almost. Right down there with the Pentecostals, who are slightly lower.
Oh, the dishonor! I tell you, I was absolutely mortified. I pulled the shades down, turned off the phone, and didn't leave the house for a month. How could I face anyone? I thought and thought and thought, but couldn't work around the disgrace.
But then I thought some more and I could.
If members eschewing Christianity actually apply the Bible in their lives, will that not, in itself, put them at the low end of the spectrum? Any number of passages advise living simply. For example, from 1 Tim 6:7-8
"For we have brought nothing into the world, and neither can we carry anything out. So, having sustenance and covering, we shall be content with these things."
Seen in this light, it's almost a badge of honor to be on the low end of the spectrum. It's evidence that your group really is content with sustenance and covering, just like Paul said. Yours is a faith that doesn't just shunt aside such verses so as not to distract from what's really important: making money. Just the thought that religious folk get smug when they see themselves at the top of the scale steams me. Ought they not be embarrassed to be there? At least, if they profess Christianity? And yet, for the most part, the blogosphere had it 180 degrees backwards: with writers chest-thumping for those at the top, and hoo-hawing those dopes at the bottom.
But again, it's not the Christian pattern:
“Stop storing up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break in and steal. Rather, store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Matt 6;19-21
“No one can slave for two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will stick to the one and despise the other. you cannot slave for God and for Riches." Matt 6:24
"For all these are the [material] things the nations are eagerly pursuing. For your heavenly Father knows you need all these things. Keep on, then, seeking first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all these [other] things will be added to you." Matt 6:32-33
Other than Jehovah's Witnesses, is there anyone who actually does this? “Seek first the kingdom,” instead of “eagerly pursuing” material things, trusting that “your heavenly Father "knows you need all these things” and will "add them to you"? I've no doubt there are individuals who apply such counsel, swimming against the tide of their own churches. But are there entire religions who apply such counsel, other than Jehovah's Witnesses? I tell you, it makes me proud to be a Witness. We're all about seeking first the kingdom.
But if your main goal is advancing in your secular career, using religion mostly to put a smilely, softening face on that quest, you won't be attracted to Jehovah's Witnesses. That's not us. We “seek the kingdom,” acting upon such verses as Matt 24:14:
“And this good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.” Obviously, the good news of the kingdom will be preached by those who believe in it. Who else is going to do it? So we adjust our lives to have such a role, rather than chase after money.
And Jesus approached and spoke to them, saying: “All authority has been given me in heaven and on the earth. Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you. And, look! I am with you all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.” Matt 28:18-20
You don't make yourselves wealthy doing that. You're not going to be at the high end of the Pew spectrum. Money's going to be a tool for you, not an end in itself. You're deliberate in your choices. You don't want your work so low-paying that no time' s left over for the ministry. But neither do you want work so engrossing and demanding that no time remains for the ministry. You maneuver yourself to get into that position. Believe me, it's a great balancing act, especially for one with a family. It's not easy. It requires planning. Some have even come to regret decisions they've made. But we don't just blindly chase after maximum income, putting material things above all else, which is the pattern of the Western world, if not all humanity.
For example, the Watchtower recently (3/15/11 issue) advised
…...Of course, God does not want you to be imprudent or irresponsible, especially if you have a family to care for. (1 Tim 5:8) but he does expect his servants to trust fully in him – not in Satan's dying world – Heb 13:5
Consider the example of Richard and Ruth, parents of three young children. ….“I had a comfortable life but felt that I was just giving God my surplus, as it were. After praying about the matter and counting the cost, Ruth and I agreed that I would ask my supervisor for a reduced work schedule of four days a week – even though the country was in the middle of an economic crisis. My request was approved, and I started working the new schedule within one month.” How does Richard feel now?
“I get 20 percent less pay than before,” he says, “but now I have an extra 50 days a year to be with my family and train the children. I have been able to double my time in field service, triple my number of Bible studies, and take a greater lead in the congregation.”
He's not worried about lousing up the Pew spectrum, is he? Talk about “counting the costs!” This fellow has counting down to a fine art. Does anyone other than Watchtower publish such counsel? You know religions embrace, if not sanctify, the pursuit of career...if for no other reason that they know they'll get a percentage of the lucrative income. But who actually encourages their people to live simply, besides Jehovah's Witnesses? Even our wealthy ones.....for we have some...the Pew figure is merely the average on a bell curve...are not gushed over and boasted about, as is typical in religion today. Like this fellow in “Never Forget the Door to Door Ministry,” who I mentioned in the post “The New Cool Mormons.” I know him. I've been to his house. His work has prospered. He became (I assume) a millionaire. Yet when the Watchtower features his colorful life story, it doesn't even mention his material success. It's not what's important. Probably the next guy written about didn't have two nickels to rub together. The focus is purely spiritual.
So, it's not so shameful to be at the bottom of the Pew list, after all. Rather, for a Christian, it's shameful not to be there.