A few years ago, I was a member of a church that dedicated an entire month’s worth of sermons to talking about money. While our pastors did not share budgeting tips or discuss the importance of saving for retirement, they did encourage us to consider how we thought about our finances in the context of our spiritual life. The focus of each Sunday morning was generosity — and they were sure to acknowledge the ugly history of churches that have manipulated their congregations into tithing more money than they could afford. In that sense, it was a stark contrast from the prosperity gospel that dominates late night television or the Christian section of the bookstore.
The prosperity gospel is the philosophy popular among Christians who believe that material wealth and physical health are part of God’s will for their life. On the surface, it doesn’t sound too problematic; after all, we all want to be healthy and have financial security. The prosperity gospel, however, promises that if you give away money, pray enough, and have enough faith, God will bless you with loads of cash. In short: being a “good Christian” leads to being successful. Poverty and sickness, on the other hand, are signs that you are being punished for your sins.
It’s somewhat comforting that those who preach the prosperity gospel have received a fair amount of backlash, and some have even admitted that preaching it was wrong. But in the age of Instagram-worthy spirituality and late capitalism, the prosperity gospel persists. It’s just dressed up in a different skin.
It’s no secret that millennials are leaving organized religion. In its place, many of us have turned to New Age spirituality, or at least certain aspects of it. I’ll readily admit that I’ve downloaded a few tarot card apps and looked up my astrological chart (and in case you are wondering: I’m a Cancer sun, Scorpio moon, and Sagittarius rising). And just as we turn to the universe for guidance about our relationships and careers, we incorporate money into the mix.
A quick Google search will basically suggest that the financial forces of the cosmos are not difficult to manipulate. Bloggers advertise courses on wealth and abundance. Podcasters declare that money is an energy, a vibration. And who could forget when The Secret and the law of attraction was all the rage? According to these spiritual influencers, your finances will simply reflect your attitude about money.
We all certainly have mindsets about money that we need to change, and old wounds that need tending to. Spirituality can influence all of this, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. But there is a fine line between recognizing we need to do the emotional work and implying that a fulfilling spiritual life will miraculously fill your bank account. It may not be Christianity, but it is the prosperity gospel. And the message of the prosperity gospel — in whatever form it takes — is that you are not wealthy because there is something wrong with you. Having trouble building your business? You just have to change your relationship with money. Need more funds for an emergency? Ask the cosmos, and you shall receive. What about paying off those student loans? There’s a ritual for that, too. Money is energy, after all. Once you fix what is wrong on the inside, money and happiness will manifest on the outside.
But when we step back from the warmth of this promise, we can instantly recognize that wealth is not some kind of cosmic reward. There are plenty of horrible people who are considered successful — do we really think they attracted the right energy? Do we believe that our friends working three jobs are, in contrast, attracting the wrong energy? The problem isn’t our bad money vibes or lack of faith. The real demons are more complicated: student debt, the rise of the gig economy, wealth inequality. To suggest otherwise disregards privilege and blatantly ignores reality. Sure, we can tap into the power of positivity or prayer or whatever zodiac sign rules this month. But we literally cannot afford to ignore the material world in which we live.
There are, of course, promises that the universe will always manage to keep. Bills and taxes never end. As for our part of this cosmic arrangement? We can make better, wiser decisions with our money every day. Educate yourself about finance. Stick to budgets and initiate those awkward, difficult conversations about money. Acknowledge privilege and face it head-on.
That’s the kind of energy I want to attract. I think my future self will be grateful for it.
Katie Gilgour is a twenty-something writer, tea addict, and cat lady. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband and their cat. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram, or visit her website at katiegilgour.com.
Image via Unsplash