The Bible and the critique of more

“America isn’t just a nation, it’s also a system. A system shaped by capitalism and democracy and corporations and convictions and a particular spirit that from the birth of America has been whispering in her ear – more. More land, more expansion, more wealth, more power…”

That’s US author and former pastor Rob Bell, in the conclusion to his book What is the Bible? He goes on to say that:

More is not always better. More is not always good. Sometimes more is bad. Destructive. Wrong. And sometimes it’s downright evil. Which takes us back to the Bible, because one of the central themes of the Bible is the critique of more.”

This critique runs through the stories of the kings and their quest for riches, territory and glory. It’s there in the psalms and the prophets, scriptures often written by people who were oppressed by the powers of empire. It comes up in Jesus’ teachings, and in the early church’s vision of generosity and contented living.

When we read the Bible today, Bell suggests, we can easily miss these themes. Why? Because for those of us in the West, we don’t read the Bible with an underdog perspective. We are the empire. The cry for justice doesn’t resonate with us in our places of comfort and safety.

assyriaYesterday I was in the British Museum. Among the many treasures there are stone murals and cuneiform tablets from Assyria and Babylon. One sequence of carvings fills a whole room, and details the sacking of a Jewish city. We see the siege, the people trooping out of the gates and being led into exile, captors brought before the throne of the conquering king. Here is the story told by the victor. The same story is found in the Bible, in 2 Kings 18, from the other side.

The Bible was written by the oppressed, by a nation repeatedly harassed by wealthier and more powerful empires. It’s a book from the margins, full of anger at greed and the misuse of power. With our nuclear weapons and our consumer Babylon, it might be hard for us to read it that way.

The Joy in Enough project aims to build a bridge between theology and economics. That means looking again at the Bible, learning to see that critique of more, and sharing that perspective with others.

Do you agree? Is a critique of more a theme you see in the Bible? What passages or stories come to mind? Let us know in the comments.

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