Did Christianity Cause the Crash?

This month’s feature story in the Atlantic is a classic case of great article, horrible title! It’s a great story insofar as Hanna Rosin carefully makes the appropriate connections between the sort of hyper-consumerist, greed-induced, Mcmansion sensibility that fueled both the housing crisis, and the explicit and implicit messages of the prosperity gospel in America. The latter is indeed an important ideological cog in a larger culture of American optimism, excess and indulgence that dates back to the late 19th century.

Yet the title of the article, “Did Christianity Cause the Crash?” is inappropriate to the point of irresponsibility.

Sure, I get it. Everyone loves a provocative and sexy title. But what happens when the shock value of the title obscures the substance of the actual article? What’s more, one has to wonder if the Atlantic’s title choice places on the defensive the very Christian faith communities that would most benefit from Rosin’s superb analysis concerning the confluence of a larger culture of greed and the sort of theological entitlement found in prosperity ministries. Herein lies the problem. This title contributes to the kind of evangelical defensiveness and victimized posture that prosperity adherents are all too willing to embrace. Thus, rather than challenge their myopic morality and gilded spirituality. Such articles will only increase their sense of martyrdom at the hands of an antagonistic “world” that despises “their God.” Sigh….

jonathan.walton@mac.com'

Jonathan L. Walton is assistant professor at Harvard Divinity School. His lastest book is: Watch This! The Ethics and Aesthetics of Black Religious Broadcasting (New York University Press).