Category: current affairs

The Housing Bubble and Megachurches: It’s Connected!

The housing bubble and megachurches are connected.

The housing bubble is one of the social evils of Australian society today. The baby boomers are largely to blame. Not all of them, of course. But as a generation, they have pushed up house prices to insane levels, to the point where houses are not affordable. This has happened through speculation, media infatuation (property shows), negative gearing, and an obsession with property.

John Howard is partly to blame too. He and his government loved making Australia’s middle aged middle class feel incredibly wealthy because their houses were ballooning in value. It was part of the reason for his electoral success. Rudd’s government introduced the first home buyers’ boost just when property was correcting, and all that money went into the hands of real estate agents and baby boomer investors.

The outcome of this situation is that nobody has any time. Two incomes are the norm, and working hours are long. The average house price is something like seven times the average annual income – while historic averages are more like three. So everyone is so very busy paying off ridiculous mortgages making some other people feel wealthy.

A colleague commented the other day that the death of volunteerism in churches has led to the rise of the megachurches. I say the death of volunteerism is surely linked to the busyness due to the housing bubble. (Volunteerism, of course, is not entirely dead; but it’s not as flourishing as it once was. The reason for this is not simply the selfishness of Gen X and Y.)

So with no time to volunteer or help, people need/want churches which do it all for them, with a large paid staff to do all the things which the ‘laity’ once had the time to do. My colleague’s theory, then, is that this situation means megachurches work best for the busy lifestyle of today.

I feel angry and disenfranchised by the way things have gone. I hate this obsession with property; I hate that I have ended up spending a lot of time thinking about it. I think we have a huge house of cards, and there is this part of me which longs for it all to come crashing down. The other part of me dreads the pain this will case so many people, the overly-indebted Gen X and Y, particularly.

But the society which will emerge in the aftermath of the coming financial crisis has to be better than the one we have now. In hardship and humility, we may just reconnect with each other. We may have time for each other. We may lose the Australian obsession with property and wealth.

Osama and Jesus: Rumours of Escaping Death

A middle eastern bearded man who was a threat to the empire is summarily executed, while rumours quickly spread that the man did not really die.

Conspiracy theories about Osama Bin Laden’s death are already appearing days after it happened. Was he really killed? Where’s his body? Why won’t the president release the photograph? If this is the case days later, what will the stories be in a few decades time? In a couple of thousand years?

How does this situation compare to the aftermath of Jesus’ death and resurrection? Does it lend credibility to sceptics who would see the empty tomb and resurrection stories as the conspiracy theory of an extremist group?

I think the questions are valid ones for sceptics to ask. (Not that I’ve heard them asking them, but the sceptical side of my brain was weighing up the comparison this morning.) But I see a number of important differences.

1. The source of the conspiracy theory is not Bin Laden’s inner circle. It’s people who are much more removed, people without the facts, Americans who are used to seeing conspiracy theories in everything and Muslim extremists who don’t trust anything the West tells them.

2. Jesus’ execution was very public while Bin Laden’s was not. Jesus’ resurrection was also public, with many of his disciples testifying to seeing him in the days after the resurrection. (Of course, the sceptic will ask why only believers saw him, and insist that the empty tomb tradition of Mark is the earliest account, while the resurrection stories are a later fabrication.)

3. The early church responded in a way consistent with Jesus’ resurrection: they grew quickly, motivated by a deep love and hope and performing acts of service and compassion. They did not seek revenge and they did not go through a crisis. I expect both of these could be the outcome within Al-Qaeda. Of course, Al-Qaeda is a group with a very different ideology to the first Christians and they may go through a resurgence stirred up by Bin Laden’s martyrdom. I am not sure what I would make of such an event in relation to the early church.