Is Christianity a lower-class religion? There is an increasing plurality of belief in our culture today, but if you examine the religious stratification it becomes apparent that the farther up the socioeconomic scale you go, the less likely you are to identify with mainstream religion, especially Christianity. Why is it that following Jesus holds so little appeal at the higher levels? Is it really a religion for the uneducated and impoverished–an “opiate of the masses,” as Marx famously quipped? Is it something we grow out of as we mature and progress through our academic and professional careers? Or is there a deeper dynamic at work?
“Brothers and sisters, look at what you were when God called you. Not many of you were wise in the way the world judges wisdom. Not many of you had great influence. Not many of you came from important families.” (1 Corinthians 1:26 NCV)
In her book “White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America” Joan C. Williams explains what’s going on at the higher socioeconomic levels:
“Among the elite, we proudly announce we are ‘spiritual but not religious’ and invent some unique blend. Developing one’s own personal melange of world religions reflects our taste for novelty and our penchant for self-development. Conventional religion? So down market.”
This upper class mentality is attracted to the unconventional and avant grade, but this is merely a manifestation of our human pride–something God understands well. It is, in fact, the fate He foresaw for the Ancient Israelites after He would bring them into the land He promised:
“…when they eat their fill and thrive, they will turn to other gods and worship them, rejecting me…” (Deuteronomy 31:20 NIV)
Let’s examine the entire passage surrounding today’s verse (this is St. Paul writing to the Corinthian Christians):
“Christ did not send me to baptize people but to preach the Good News [forgiveness through faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross]. And he sent me to preach the Good News without using words of human wisdom so that the cross of Christ would not lose its power. The teaching about the cross is foolishness to those who are being lost, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. It is written in the Scriptures: ‘I will cause the wise to lose their wisdom; I will make the wise unable to understand.’ Where is the wise person? Where is the educated person? Where is the skilled talker of this world? God has made the wisdom of the world foolish. In the wisdom of God the world did not know God through its own wisdom. So God chose to use the message that sounds foolish to save those who believe. The Jews ask for miracles, and the Greeks want wisdom. But we preach a crucified Christ. This causes the Jews to stumble and is foolishness to non-Jews. But Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God to those people God has called—Jews and Greeks. Even the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. Brothers and sisters, look at what you were when God called you. Not many of you were wise in the way the world judges wisdom. Not many of you had great influence. Not many of you came from important families. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and he chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose what the world thinks is unimportant and what the world looks down on and thinks is nothing in order to destroy what the world thinks is important. God did this so that no one can brag in his presence. Because of God you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God. In Christ we are put right with God, and have been made holy, and have been set free from sin. So, as the Scripture says, ‘If people want to brag, they should brag only about the Lord.’” (1 Corinthians 1:17-31 NCV)
So why is Christianity looked down on? Why isn’t it thought upscale? It is because God offers nothing the prideful human soul wants–no great wisdom or spectacular miraculous signs–only the seemingly nonsensical message of the cross. Yet that is exactly what we need. But why does it seem that His message is more readily embraced by the less educated or prosperous?
Again, it is because of pride. The more I have the less I think I need, and it becomes harder to recognize my desperate need for the forgiveness that is only mine through Christ. “You say, ‘I am rich, and I have become wealthy and do not need anything.’ But you do not know that you are really miserable, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.” (Revelation 3:17 NCV) Human nature is such that we tend to recognize our material needs more readily than our spiritual, and those who have need will at least cry out to God for physical provision.
So, what must WE do? The same as St. Paul advised Timothy:
“Preach the Good News. Be ready at all times, and tell people what they need to do. Tell them when they are wrong. Encourage them with great patience and careful teaching, because the time will come when people will not listen to the true teaching but will find many more teachers who please them by saying the things they want to hear. But you should control yourself at all times, accept troubles, do the work of telling the Good News, and complete all the duties of a servant of God.” (2 Timothy 4:2-3, 5 NCV)
Help me do the work of telling the Good News! Amen.