I’ve been down that road before: back in the ‘90s my brother jumped on the pyramid-bandwagon, distributing soap samples and copies of God Wants You To Be Rich to everyone he knew. When his finances flopped, so did his faith.
Call me a cynic, but that’s why I tend to be cautious about literature touting enlightened paths to success or affluence: Jesus said to die to myself and take up my cross. The Gospel is peace, transcendence, and total self-effacement; no mention of that six-car garage.
In Post’s book, I was pleasantly surprised to find a very different message than I expected. From the first chapter, he and journalist Jill Neimark introduce us to a paradigm we have seen before but rarely identified as “natural.” That paradigm is selflessness – goodness – lovingkindness. “If I could take one word with me into eternity, it would be ‘give,’” Post begins on page one. Typical prosperity-fare tells us, you deserve much, you can have much, then you can give… and be justified.
Nowhere in Good Things does Post posit a “get-then-give” dynamic. Throughout the book we are exhorted to be giving, loving, respectful and kind. This is not just a kinder, gentler way of living – according to Post’s extensive research, it’s a healthier, natural way of living.
In 2000, Post launched the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love (IRUL) through Case Western Reserve University’s School of Medicine. It’s a mouthful that may sound a little fluffy at first, but their methods are pragmatic and scientific with a focus unique enough to be quite riveting. The purpose: study love and its impact on physical and mental health and overall well-being.
Some findings on the power of loving behavior:
- Giving reduces mortality. Out of 2,000 individuals, those who actively volunteered had a 44% lower likelihood of dying.
- Giving reduces adolescent depression and suicide risk.
- Fostering personal gratitude has profound health benefits. For example, the more gratitude a recipient of an organ feels, the faster that person’s recovery.
- Generous giving is linked directly to deeper spirituality, especially among teens.
- Forgiveness alleviates depression and lowers stress hormones.
- Loyalty is a buffer against stress. The security of loyal, steadfast caring is one of the greatest inhibitors of anxiety.
- When we listen to others in pain, their stress response quiets down and their body has a better chance to heal.
Good Things is not an overtly religious book (though it regularly references Buddhist and Christian teachings) but throughout the read I could not avoid comparisons to Mother Teresa or Jesus himself. The loving, selfless lives they exemplified have too-often seemed unnatural to me – somehow other than human. After all, human nature is dark, selfish and survivalist…
Post makes a compelling case in these pages for the goodness inherently wired into creation. That is not to say that we always choose goodness, but when we do, we are biologically, psychologically and spiritually healthier. One might dare to argue that Jesus is the most purely natural being to have ever walked the earth: the most perfect man, with perfect love in a perfect life. Here I tread dangerously near an old Christological debate, but when we step in line with the goodness of Jesus (conveniently outlined in the Gospels and neatly supported by Stephen Post, PhD.) we align ourselves with an abundant life intended from the beginning.
Despite my accolade for Post’s thesis, I still cringe a little at the tone from the book’s title that occasionally echoes throughout. “Good things… good people.” Am I hypersensitive? Maybe. But something about advertising “good things” strikes me as potentially dangerous – even if the intentions are pure. There will always be people seeking their “best life.” They look for a yoke that’s easy and a burden that’s light and ignore the parable of the rich young ruler.
On page 15, Post writes, “You don’t have to leap from bed at dawn or dole out sandwiches at the soup kitchen in the middle of an icy winter, or take up the torch of social activism and march in the streets, in order to reap the lifelong benefits of giving. You will find the style that’s right for you.” I’m reminded of Kierkegaard calling Christians a bunch of “swindlers” for contextualizing and deemphasizing aspects of the Gospel to fit our comforts. What if we do have to leap from bed at dawn, dole out sandwiches and march in the streets? What if that’s exactly what God is calling us to? Then this westernized Gospel of Convenience placates us and reorients us back on ourselves. Reap those lifelong benefits!
Why Good Things Happen to Good People is a fast and uplifting read. When I finished, I was inspired to do more for my community, my church, and the people I interact with each day. That’s a very good thing. The added benefit is knowing that by doing those things, I’m becoming a healthier person and contributing to a healthier world. But I pray that I never lose sight of the importance of goodness for goodness’ sake. If forgiveness brought us cancer or kindness risked our sight, would we still model love? Let the Gospel Mission lead us through the hardships of life, not around them, so that any blessings are merely an afterthought.
read more about my thoughts on Christianity in the real world at www.essenceproject.blogspot.com...