A recent study lends support to the idea that other things are added to those who seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. In the study, Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist Jonathan Gruber argues that going to church makes people wealthier. Specifically, he claims that a doubling of church attendance will raise a household's income by 9.1 percent.
Mr. Gruber isn't alone among economists. The idea that a person's or a society's material prosperity may have non-material causes is beginning to gain traction in the dismal science. "Traditionally, the focus [of economists] was on resources," writes Arnold Kling for TCS Daily. "Increasingly, we appear to be moving toward a focus on beliefs."
Forests, oil, and other natural resources are only a small part of a nation's real wealth, these economists argue. "Intangible assets"-strong families; a positive view of work, money, and education; institutions and laws that support property rights and free trade-form the largest component of a nation's wealth. Since religious belief affects attitudes on many of these matters, the thinking goes, it must also affect personal and societal prosperity.
A study two years ago by Harvard economists Robert Barro and Rachel McCleary found a specific causal link between belief in the afterlife and a nation's economic growth. Fear of hell, they claimed, produces economic growth at a faster rate than any other religious idea, including belief in heaven.
How should Christians respond to these studies? If it's true that believers are working hard out of a fear of hell, then we should pray for better teaching in churches. No amount of work will keep any person out of hell; only faith in Christ can do that. The biblical reason to work hard is out of gratitude to God for the free gift of salvation and love of neighbor.
And if it's true that church attendance and religious belief lead to higher incomes, then we should pray for grace. For while the Bible teaches that money and prosperity are good things, it also warns about the spiritual dangers of wealth (Mark 10:23-25) and how a church full of prosperous believers can become complacent and begin trusting in its riches (Revelation 3:14-22).
The stress is on using money (and any other gift from God) as a means to serve God and others, not only oneself. The temptation is to do otherwise, and historically many Christian leaders have noted the challenges that wealth raises for church and society. (Cotton Mather: "Religion begat prosperity and the daughter devoured the mother.")
Driving home the point that money does not produce true well-being even in this world, a survey released last week by the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center found that unhappiness increased in the United States between 1991 and 2004, a time when the economy boomed and personal incomes grew.
The poll of 1,340 respondents found that people have more troubles now than they did in 1991. "The anticipation," researcher Tom Smith told Gannett, "would have been that problems would have been down."
Want to speak to 88 million people, with many of them anticipating and closely listening to what you say? You can do it, but it will cost about $2.5 million and you'll only get to speak for 30 seconds.
Still, businesses are lining up to buy that much commercial time for that much money from ABC during this year's Super Bowl on Feb. 5. As of last week, the network reportedly had sold about 85-90 percent of the ad time available during the game, with total ad sales expected to reach $150 million.
NBC, meanwhile, is also briskly selling ad time for the Winter Olympics, averaging $700,000 for a 30-second commercial that will reach about 60 million viewers. Expected total sales: $900 million.
Both events hold attractions for advertisers. The Super Bowl has more viewers, and many tune in as much to watch the unique commercials as the game itself. The Olympics give advertisers more than two weeks to send a message to the same viewers.
"The Super Bowl is a huge, rocket shot of creativity for a day with a tremendous amount of viewership," Bill Cella, CEO of Magna Global, told USA Today. "The Olympics are more of a promotional platform. . . . It's the drama that goes on for 17 days."