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Mayfield: God’s work?

by Rich Mayfield

I still can’t decide if Lloyd Blankfein, multi-multi-millionaire and CEO of Goldman Sachs, was just being amazingly arrogant or distressingly stupid when he claimed last week to be “doing God’s work” as his company continued its reportedly ruthless reign at the top of America’s troubled financial institutions. I suppose his thinking is somewhere along the line of former General Motors’ CEO, Charlie Wilson, who, back in 1953, said, “… what was good for the country was good for General Motors and vice versa.” As long, that is, as huge corporations continue to make huge profits, allowing whatever change is left over after paying even huger salaries to the staff to trickle down to the rest of America that manages to eke out an existence with a $50,303 per household median income. Mr. Blankfein’s eking involves a $30 million apartment in Manhattan and an equally elaborate weekend place in the Hamptons. But, after all, he claims to be doing God’s work and the disciples must be paid.

As my wife will quickly tell you, my expertise in money matters is limited to pushing the correct PIN code into an ATM, so I will refrain from further financial criticism. However, I think I can fairly claim a certain expertise in the theological field, and so I am not hesitant to examine Mr. Blankfein’s statement in terms of its religious validity. After four years of post-graduate study and 30 years on the front lines of congregational life, I feel it only fair to wonder aloud about the God to whom Mr. Blankfein is employed. From my study of both Hebrew and Christian scriptures, the God of Judeo-Christianity seems emphatically concerned with the welfare of society’s lower strata. Indeed, if there is a prejudice on the part of the divine, one would have to concede it is against the rich. Despite what some “prosperity preachers” claim, the God of the Bible is overwhelmingly opposed to wealth in the hands and pockets of the few. Of course, Mr. Blankfein may be worshiping some other God than the one described in Judeo-Christian tradition, which is his right, but someone should remind him that the holy practice of zakat, the fair distribution of wealth, is a fundamental principle of Islam, as well. And anyone even slightly familiar with Buddhism knows the acquisition of great wealth can be a great impediment to true happiness.

Recently, we found out the Centers for Disease Control sent out significant quantities of H1N1 vaccine to Goldman Sachs to distribute among the executives and some of the employees. As everyone knows, this vaccine is in limited supply and has been designated primarily for the very vulnerable: young children, pregnant women and those with severe respiratory problems. One can only assume that Mr. Blankfein’s God is disturbingly devoid of any hint of compassion toward these threatened populations. That – or there are truckloads of toddlers at Goldman Sachs pulling in some very big bucks.

After so many years in the religion business, I’ve grown more than a little weary of claims made on behalf of the Lord. Wearing a collar makes you an easy target for those wishing to share the most bizarre examples of God’s beneficence. Everything from winning ball games to bullying children have been set before me as proof of divine delineating, but nothing is more repugnant in my mind than the quite common assumption that one’s wealth is proof of one’s piety.

I have been fortunate in my life to know some very wealthy people whose understanding of their social responsibilities have made them sensitive to the plight of people whose situations are dramatically different than their own. They have used their wealth in a myriad of ways … from funding self-sustaining micro-businesses to building hospitals, from training budding Third-World entrepreneurs to running orphanages in Asia … and, as best as I can recall, not a one of them ever bragged that they were “doing God’s work.”

Rich Mayfield is the author of “Reconstructing Christianity: Notes from the New Reformation.” E-mail comments about this column to editor@summitdaily.com.


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