Wealth Trumped Jesus in the American Pantheon

Ancient literature once chronicled the history of Mammon, a conniving god whose allure of wealth concentrates power and inspires devotion, but few speak of it as openly as Jesus or Milton[1] — at least in this area of the world since its invisible hand took hold of a fledgling nation.

The Worship of Mammon | Evelyn De Morgan 1909

This last election, however, was revealing. Wealth had several horses in the race, with one telling Wall Street bankers it’s important to be two-faced, yet none were as ardent or thoroughbred as Donald John Trump, the Trump brand being synonymous with immodesty.

That the “make a lot of money… don’t run for politics” president pays homage to Mammon above all else is hardly a secret; it’s the fervor with which his Evangelical base cast its lot for him, whose leaders continue their unpopular support for him, that truly surprises. Those who otherwise follow the “you can’t serve God and Wealth” Jesus backed Trump hoping he would be good for the economy and make America wealthy again. Not economically just, mind you, wealthy.

America is already a wealthy nation. The lie that the United States is poor, repeated at rallies and press conferences in myriad different forms, helped elect a “business-savvy” billionaire to right the ship. But it is precisely that: a lie, spun by the servants of an insatiable demigod whose mouth never intones the word “enough.”

Worshiping Christ ought to have protected us against such false deity. Worshiping Christ ought to have translated into resistance against the politics of scarcity and inoculated our religious affections against infection.

But we American Christians have forgotten our first love — the one who taught us to be so modest our own left hands wouldn’t know what our right hands give. Tragically, and I mean tragically for millions of people, our first master was trumped again in the American pantheon of gods by another.

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be loyal to the one and have contempt for the other. You cannot serve God and Mammon (wealth).

 

– Jesus (Matt 6:24)

I choose to tell myself that this service is largely unwitting and that “every god has its day,” because the other option is utter despondency and that’s a lot less fun. I tell myself to hope, because I do believe in Jesus, the breaker of chains, and I’m inspired by an entire generation (both Christian and not) working together to make America *good* again, heaping scorn on this godlike inequality gripping us.


[1] Or possibly early church thinkers like Cyprian, Jerome, and John Chyrsostom, or the late 19th century muck-rakers.

Allen Marshall O'Brien

Allen Marshall O’Brien is the pastor of a UCC church in Northern California and co-host of the Irenicast. He believes in the importance of education, peace, and ecology, throws things to his border collie Sonata, and writes for multiple platforms.

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