Ross Douthat’s book, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, brings further context to this semester’s focus on how we’ve arrived here – a postmodern, disconnected, do-it-yourself faith constructed in our own image – a heretical, even shameful, deviation from orthodoxy. Begin with Bebbington’s foundational review on British evangelicalism, continue with Weber’s Protestant Ethic, enrich with Hunter’s To Change the World, and top it off with Bad Religion, and you have a rather unappealing portrait of Western Christianity in the beginning decades of the third millennium, and a multilayered description of how we got into this mess.
Douthat’s book is pessimistic, but strangely, I found it inspiring and a call to renewed orthodoxy – to a mysterious, often incomprehensible, faith that discovers life in death, and hope despite suffering. In identifying where we’ve meandered into heresy on both the right and the left, in both Catholic and evangelical streams, Douthat demonstrates that our Christian response to five catalysts affecting our faith has been lacking. We have responded to overarching trends in politics, sexuality, globalization, the economy, and class with two divergent approaches – accommodation, favoured by the progressive left, and resistance, where conservative culture warriors have dug in their heels. The author demonstrates the deficiencies of both pathways.
As you might expect, given my emphasis on philanthropy, I’ll focus here on the economic discussion, where Douthat focuses on “the refashioning of Christianity to suit an age of abundance, in which the old war between monotheism and money seems to have ended, for many believers, in a marriage of God and Mammon”.
It’s easy to critique the loopy caricatures and egotistical indulgences of Benny Hinn, Creflo Dollar, Joel Osteen, and other proponents of the prosperity gospel, and Douthat does. But more interesting is how he unveils evangelical attitudes toward money in more mainstream leaders such as Larry Burkett, Bruce Wilkinson and Rick Warren. For example,
“[Burkett] preached a doctrine of ‘radical’ financial surrender, but this surrender turned out to be entirely spiritual: the money ‘belongs’ to the Almighty, but it stays safely in the individual Christian’s bank account or investment portfolio.
Even more than the pure prosperity gospel, this turns out to be a religious path ideally suited to an upwardly mobile society. It disciplines believers against excess and folly by insisting that they always tithe, think of the poor, and keep God uppermost in their minds. At the same time, it frees them to be as ambitious and acquisitive as their secular neighbors, so long as they put their ambitions in the service of Christian faith…. where it translates into … a theology of ‘more money, more ministry’.” 
This phrase arrested me. I’ve heard variations on this theme frequently in my work with philanthropists. Even though vast amounts are impressively given away, they still live at upper echelon levels. The saying “more money, more ministry”, seems to ignore the morality of how wealth was generated, and assumes all portfolio growth is attributed to God’s blessing. It may be true that more money can thankfully lead to ministry expansion, but one must allow orthodox beliefs regarding the corruptive nature of wealth to hold in tension rising income streams. Traditionally, ascetics in both Catholicism and Protestantism acknowledged that hoarding wealth could destroy one’s soul. Jesus’ metaphor of the camel and the eye of the needle affirms this.
Reviewer Paul Baumann wonders if even Douthat is surrendering ground to Mammon.
“Great concentrations of wealth are seen to be inimical to the health of society. But while [the author] exudes confidence in the truth of Christianity’s teaching about sexuality, he is less certain about its condemnations of capitalism. Bad Religion goes so far as to venture that economic inequality may be salutary. “Perhaps the uncertainties of the capitalist economy make us cling more tightly to the promises of God,” Douthat writes; “perhaps the absence of a cradle-to-grave welfare state encourages us to rely on the networks of family and community instead.” Indeed, “the understanding that capitalism is the economic system best-suited to man’s fallen nature” may indicate the need for “some kind of Christian compromise with Mammon.” One has to wonder, why is Douthat so doubtful on this subject?”
Growing wealth in Western society has impacted the church, and as income levels have risen and one’s own comfort has become akin to a right, traditional attitudes by the church toward wealth have modified into this heresy that Douthat exposes. We need to resist the subtle perversion to own our wealth and take credit for its increase. The contents of one’s wallet do not belong to the owner.
William Cavanaugh, in Being Consumed, shows the mystery of the eucharistic economy. “[T]he gift relativizes the boundaries between what is mine and what is yours by relativizing the boundary between me and you. We are no longer two individuals encountering each other either by way of contract or as active giver and passive recipient…. [W]e cease to be merely ‘the other’ to each other by being incorporated into the body of Christ.” This eucharistic economy differs markedly from capitalism’s survival of the fittest, dog-eat-dog competitive landscape where wealth today is generated.
Philanthropy may be the best option within our late capitalist world to deal with wealth in a Christian way. Embedded within this context, perhaps the best we can do is to give it away well. Once given, we pray it will lose its stranglehold on our lives.
 Douthat, Ross. Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2012), 65-82.
 Douthat, 183.
 Douthat, 197.
 Baumann, Paul. “Losing our religion: Ross Douthat rightly asserts that religious faith is essential to America’s understanding of itself. But his own understanding of religion is suspiciously selective.” Washington Monthly, May-June 2012, 55+. Academic OneFile (accessed March 22, 2018). http://link.galegroup.com.georgefox.idm.oclc.org/apps/doc/A290292899/AONE?u=newb64238&sid=AONE&xid=6843e349.
 Cavanaugh, William T. Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 2008), 97