Breaking Glass

The Revolution of Greed

Do you remember Gordon Gecko in the film Wall Street proclaiming that “Greed is good”?  Unwittingly, he may have formulated a law about how religions rise and fall.  Worldwide, the churches that succeed and boom, that win and retain members, tend to be the “greedy groups”—greedy, above all, for your time and commitment.  They don’t leave you alone for long, and in consequence, you rarely leave them.  Recent changes in our technological landscape mean that our religious culture is about to become much greedier and vastly more demanding.  We are on the verge of a radical change in our religious behavior.

Over the past 50 years, some American churches have declined sharply, while others have boomed.  These changing fortunes have attracted plenty of different explanations, including demographic factors and the appeal of simple, orthodox doctrines expressed without compromise or apology.  Most convincing, though, is what we might call an investment theory of religion—namely, that the groups that demand the most of their members also give the most back, thereby securing the loyalty of their followers.  If you attend church for just an hour every week or so, your attachment to that institution is not likely to be too profound.  On the other hand, imagine a “greedy” church that demands long hours of...

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