The American Dream: The Errors of the Prosperity Gospel

I have been thinking a lot lately about the American society that my family and I live in. One thing that has really been on my mind in particular is the whole concept of the “American Dream.” It’s what almost every American these days seems to strive for. But what exactly is it, and why is it that people try so hard to achieve this so-called dream?

Merriam-Webster defines the American Dream as “an American social ideal that stresses egalitarianism [human equality] and especially material prosperity.”[1] I do believe that God created us all as equal, and I have no problems with that. Unfortunately, the second half is what is driving America these days. It’s all about “keeping up with the Joneses (or Kardashians).”

From my early childhood all the way into adulthood, my parents pushed me to do well in school, play sports (so I could get college scholarships), and then go to college so I could land a high-paying job. Sadly, I followed right along the preformed line, at least until my second year of college. At that point, I realized I had no idea where, or what, I wanted to do with my life. While I can appreciate my parent’s concern with my future, it seems as though society is only making robots. There has been a mold created that everyone is formed in, and if you don’t conform to the mold, society looks down upon you, making your chances of success, at least in their terms, greatly limited.

I see it all the time on the news and even through personal experience. People these days are set on living the “American Dream.” This idea, that they have to be successful materially to matter in the world, has become the focus and direction of every ounce of energy and time they have. Family or no family, they spend every opportunity trying to increase their gain because it is what our society has programmed them to do. There are many stories of those who have done this who are very successful materially and live the American Dream, but sadly realize, sooner or later, that they have spent their whole lives striving for it. If they have family, they realize their family has grown and moved on with their own lives. And for some the reality that they have spent so much time trying to make money that they have missed out on so many other opportunities, only begins to hit them when they get older and realize that the end of their life is rapidly approaching. Of course, there are some who will unfortunately take their money to their graves.

The more I have thought about this, the more I wonder why it is that people’s whole lives are consumed trying to gain material wealth. The answer, I suppose, is really quite simple: they are of the world and this is what the world says you are supposed to do. But as James says, “Whoever wants to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God!” (James 4:4) So this social ideal that has been titled “The American Dream,” puts us against God. Something that can clearly be seen through the change of religious values throughout the country. America has pushed God out and brought money (and success) to the forefront.

In Paul’s epistle to the Romans he states, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what is the good, well-pleasing, and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2). We are to set ourselves apart, not strive to be socially accepted and materially rich like the world tells us to be. By being part of the world, we become consumed with worldly desires and passions. However, as Paul tells us in Galatians, “Those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and lusts” (5:24).

Think also of the Parable of the Sower: the seed that “fell among the thorns is those who have heard, and as they go on their way, they are choked with worries, wealth, and the pleasures of life; and they bring no fruit to maturity” (Luke 8:14). Striving for the material gain and “pleasures of life,” a.k.a. the American Dream, will choke out any attempts at successfully living the Christian Way of life.

So what do we do? Well, the first thing that comes to mind is we have to first evaluate our own lives and make sure we aren’t seeking the American Dream—intentionally or unintentionally. Whether it be with a spiritual mentor, a good friend, or if you feel you can honestly evaluate it yourself, I feel this is the most important first step. I know there are times when I find myself wanting something that I really don’t need. I have to ask myself, do I really need this, or why is it that I am wanting it. I will also always involve my wife in the decision, to get an outsider’s perspective. Usually it ends up being something that I don’t need but really just want, and I can/will go on about life without it. But it’s that programming that is constantly being pushed on us telling us that we have to have things we don’t need. It is the Devil’s way of trying to drive a wedge between us and God, and he will use whatever means necessary to do it.

After we are sure we are traveling down the correct path, then we seek out others and help them find, and stay on, that path as well. It is very important, our duty, to help those who are struggling, or who haven’t even begun their journey, to find their way. There are many American Christians who are struggling with the American Dream, especially with all the televangelists teaching the Prosperity Gospel today. We have an excellent opportunity to share what true faith is all about, and we have a responsibility to be light to the world and by doing so, we can show them how we don’t need material possessions and wealth to be happy. We aren’t here to fulfill the American Dream, but to fulfill the will of God. We are here to share the Gospel of Christ with the world; we are here to strive to gain eternity with God.

Conclusion

So if you find yourself getting caught up in the pleasures of this world, step back and pray; seek out spiritual guidance if you need it; think about what you have and what you need. Usually you end up realizing that it isn’t something that is necessary. And always remember: “Do not store up treasures for yourselves on the earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal. Instead, store for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consume, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).

[1] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/american%20dream

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