David Brooks has a nifty column on the critique of our material excess. It is not surprising when greens and lefties make this critique, but Brooks is citing David Platt, a Southern Baptist megachurch pastor, who says the evangelical church is as guilty of pursuing material wealth, and even, in effect, worshiping it. Platt says we have to choose God or mammon.
Brooks rightly notes, though, that Americans, including American evangelicals, have a counter tradition of disciplining wealth. The Gospel of Wealth that he refers to is not the "health and wealth" gospel that some pentecostal churches preach, that God will reward your faith with riches. Quite the opposite. Rather, the Gospel of Wealth is that the rich - which includes most Americans, compared to the rest of the world - have a religious obligation to use our wealth for the common good. Wealth, though a huge temptation, is not bad in itself. It does impose great obligations.
The Gospel of Wealth was developed by the original Establishment of this country, the Protestant Establishment that E. Digby Baltzell wrote about. Wealth, health, privileges of all kinds are gifts of Providence, as well as connected in mysterious ways to our own work. As gifts, they come with religious responsibilities.