Demography drives religious change. That bald comment is too obvious to be worth making, but it’s surprising how little attention demographic factors receive in most histories of religion, particularly of Christianity. That neglect means we miss a very large part of the story.
United for a Fair Economy was started 15 years ago in response to the growing gap between rich and poor in the U.S. Mike Lapham joined the organization in 1997 to head its Responsible Wealth program, which mobilizes the voices of people who want to use their money to create a better society—through their own tax money.
When a child is ignoring basic responsibilities, parents rely on a well-known parenting technique to make a point. Mom looks her ten-year-old in the eye while holding a toothpaste tube in one hand and the cap in the other. “This is called toothpaste,” she says, “and this is called a cap. They go together.” The Lord God is not beyond impatience and remedial instruction when people need a reminder about neglected responsibilities. God held a basket of ripened summer fruit beneath Amos’s nose and said, “Amos, what do you see here?” The prophet, sensing that God was serious, didn’t bother joking. “A basket of summer fruit,” he replied. With that brief exchange, strangely similar to a parent remedially instructing a child, the doors opened to a flood of divine wrath.
An impoverished doctor in an Alpine valley of hearty people, lures a naive country boy into his examining room, shows him frightening anatomical charts of the mysteries within, and awakens fears about hiccups and hair loss, acne and gas pains. According to this old French fable, the boy leaves clutching a bottle of medicine and carrying alarming stories to pass along.
Warren Buffett, the second wealthiest man in the world, likes to project an image of himself as a man who values responsible lending and affordable housing for people of modest means. A different picture is portrayed by Clayton Homes, the country’s largest builder and lender of manufactured housing, which was bought in 2003 by Berkshire Hathaway, the investment conglomerate controlled by Buffett. An investigation led by the Center for Public Integrity and the Seattle Times has discovered that the company engages in predatory loan practices and charges exorbitant interest rates and add-on fees, which trap many owners in homes they can’t afford that can’t be resold or refinanced (Center for Public Integrity, April 3).