I’m considering a three day course with the Guru in LA. The eleven hundred dollar fee is just for the Guru’s teaching. It does not include room and board. You have to stay in an LA hotel for that. I’m assured that the money benefits “poor people in India,” but as far as I can tell the ashram over there is full of techies from India’s nouveau-elite dot-com cast.
Am I that rich? Am I that needy?
In my limited state of awareness, I can’t help thinking of Jesus, who hung out with yom ha-eretz, “people of the land” – the homeless, the blind, lepers, “fallen” women and of course, fishermen. Once he went to a feast in a rich man’s home: he told his host to open the gated community and invite the poor.
“That was a past age,” I’m told. “Now things are different.” Are they?
The more successful a modern guru becomes, the more he sells out to rich yuppie Brahmins, cutting himself off from the juiciness of working class people. After all, ordinary folks lack the good karma to receive such high teachings in this lifetime.
Though no one wants to admit it, New Age movements thrive on the assumption that the rich are simply better people that the poor. But if they work hard at minimum wage jobs, serving corporate Brahmins, poor people can be reborn as yogis. Then they can afford courses in Pasadena.
Such thinking is not new. It’s the basis of India’s cast system. Ancients in Greece and the Near East also entertained the fantasy that wealth was a sign of blessing, which Jesus thoroughly rejected. The Gospel of Prosperity does not represent the real Gospel or the Prophetic line of Old Testament ethics. Yet it is wildly popular with New Age “coaches” who share The Secret for a fee, and with mega-church evangelists who seem to forget what Jesus actually said: “Blessed are the poor… It is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” If Jesus showed up in today’s mega-church or yoga studio, they’d accuse him of preaching class warfare.
The mock Gospel of Prosperity spikes the Kool-Aid of all right-wing ideologies. One of the most important books ever written about our national culture, “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” by Max Weber (1905), analyzes our peculiar tendency to regard wealth as a sign of spirituality. As we rise in economic status, Americans easily slip into the unexamined assumption that rich people are blessed by God, and God proves it to them by making them rich: an absurdly circular argument. Once we buy into this little conceit, we can ignore almost any call to social justice and justify almost any extravagance to please ourselves.
The truth is, almost all of us have roots among the poor. How many of your ancestors, not so long ago, were wanderers, immigrants, share croppers, brown-fisted tillers of the dust? We forget that America was founded on the notion of a “covenant community,” which became the secular idea of a social contract between haves and have-not’s. In the early American colonies, the wealthy understood their contract with the poor because it was clearly defined by Jesus, the Jewish prophets, and the oldest verses of the Torah.
The Torah tells land owners to glean their bounteous crops in a rather sloppy way, leaving the edges of the fields unharvested. You wouldn’t learn such counter-productive economics at Harvard Business School. Why are the fields left so inefficiently harvested? So that yom ha’eretz, the alien poor and the homeless stranger, may have some food.
If we want to be a human community, a true sat-sang, we must not forget our unbreakable atavistic connection to the poor: “You too know the heart of a stranger; for you were once aliens and strangers in the land of Egypt.”
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The Theory of the Leisure Class