Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Theodicy of the middle and upper class

The theodicy of the middle and upper class has turned Christianity on its head. It is a perversion of what Jesus of Nazareth taught. Here are some of the characteristics:

The theodicy justifies the privilege and good fortune of the wealthy and explains why others are not as blessed.

Religious affiliation is based on socio-economic status

Economic prosperity is a sign of God's favor.

There is high value on individual initiative and accomplishment.

Sin is an act or deed of individual failure.

The world is not fallen and unjust and therefore needs no change or transformation.

Worship services are orderly and controlled and highly ritualized.

This theodicy does not accept the inerrancy of the scripture, and science and technology are accepted.

There is moral relativism.

Sermons and teachings are usually saccharine and emphasize positive thinking and support for the current political and social order.

The religious world view promoted makes the middle and upper classes happy with who they are and justifies their privilege.

The primary denominations in the United States for the Middle and Upper Class are Episcopalian, Presbyterian, and Unitarian Universalist.

While George W. Bush claimed to be born again he repeatedly claimed that God had called him to become President of the United States which became a justification for his policies and actions as well as his "right" to be President.

Upper and Middle Classes often use their religious affiliation to pursue their secular goals. Their use of privilege to oppress and subjugate others is often justified in terms of the articulation of a nomos and cosmos that legitimizes and makes plausible their preferences and right to rule. They often seek out the legitimizing association with popular religious celebrities like Billy Graham, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Rick Warren, etc.

Religion as a social construction has tremendous political and secular power to manipulate people and promote and sustain social order. It is in the understanding of how it works that we are able to use the religious impulse for constructive purposes instead of oppression.

Unitarian Universalism is a very small denomination in the United States and yet historically is broadly represented by many leaders from Presidents to social activists.

In our current society, Unitarian Universalism appeals primarily to upper middle class, well educated, liberal people who affiliate more for social reasons rather than out of any religious commitment.

Most UUs are not Unitarian Universalist by birth but rather people who have affiliated with the church by choice hoping that the cost/benefit ratio will be in their favor. UUs will come to church as long as it meets their preferences and needs, but there is no abiding or deep covenanting in spite of the discussion of the desirability of covenantal relationships.

One of the criticisms of Unitarian Universalism made by people like Michael Durall and others is that Unitarian Universalism has low appeal not because it asks too much from its adherents but because it asks too little. Consequently, Unitarian Universalism may continue to be a religion of self justification for people of privlege who are looking for ways to assuage their middle class guilt rather than as a means for personal and social transformation.


  1. I partly agree with your observations. What you described in your first few statements sounds like what is generally called the Protestant work ethic.

    From the UUs I've known, many come to UUism because of the hurt they had experienced in their former churches. Many could no longer endure the hyprocracy. I don't think that many of the UUs I have known seek self-justification.

    Of course, there are a number of reasons that make UUism attractive to seekers. Some seek a acceptance, sanctuary, a place to be with like-minded people, etc.

    I think that UUism makes strong demands on those who are sincere. We aren't given answers to the questions of life and death. We are not guaranteed a place in heaven. Only those who are able to handle ambiguity will remain UUs. Therefore, UUism will never attract a large following.

  2. Dear Anonymous:

    You are absoutely right that the perversion of Christianity in the United States came with Calvanism which deveoped and advocated the so called Protestant Work Ethic and transformed Greed from a sin to a virtue. Calvanism supported the rise of Capitalism and human values were shunted aside in favor of profit. Calvanism promoted Mammon as the God of favor and individual sin was seen as resulting in poverty and social stigma. Thus the rich were rich because of God's favor and the poor got what they deserved. This theodicy has seen a new revival in the Regan and Clinton and Bush years wherein the poor are blamed for their own poverty and the rich are to be rewarded beyond any rational basis but justified as a sign of Beneficience to which all should aspire as if it could be achieved if one were only smart, hard working, and deserving of such blessing.

    This upper class theodicy which is interdependent with Capitalism leads the poor and working class to vote against their own interests (What's The Matter With Kansas by Thomas Frank) and to be easily manipuated by the Upper Classes with discriminatory prejudicial attacks on mariginalized groups such as gays, immigrants, the poor, and women.

    The Upper classes have used attacks on Gays and Liberals and Arabs (terrorists)like the Nazis did on the Jews to manipulate the working classes to do their bidding.(Suppor the troops and God Bless America). When you catch on to the schtick it is quite illuminating. Religion has been used in the U.S. the last 30 years just like the Naxis co-opted the Christian churhes in the first half of the twentieth century.

  3. David,

    I agree with what you say in your essay.

    Tom Beall

  4. Dear Tom:

    Thank you very much for your comment. While I don't write so that people agree with me, it is reassuring that some people see the same things that I do and that I am not all alone.

    All the best,

    David Markham