Lakshmi: The Prosperity Gospel Revisited


     In chapter ten of my book, Shiny Objects, I talk about the Prosperity Gospel (PG). In its simplest form, the PG argues that tithes and donations given to a church will result in a financial windfall for the giver. Commonly described as the “Name It and Claim it””, or more pejoratively, the “Blab It and Grab it” Theology, the PG has a large following in the U.S.
     Given the long-entrenched U.S. consumer culture, it wouldn’t be a great leap of faith to think that the PG was birthed in the U.S. This thinking, however, would be erroneous. People of cultures and religions that pre-date the U.S. by thousands of years have long looked skyward for a little help with the family finances.

     Take for example, Lakshmi, the Hindu Goddess of wealth and prosperity – both material and spiritual. Since Shiny Objects addresses how our love of money and material possessions impacts our happiness, we will focus on material prosperity in this posting. Lakshmi has existed for thousands of years. A 1,400 year old statue of the Hindu Goddess was discovered and her visage graces coins that date from the first century BCE.

     She is typically seated on a Lotus blossom and holding a Lotus bud that represents beauty and purity. The Goddess has four hands and is usually depicted with gold coins cascading from each hand. The red in her gold embroidered clothes symbolizes activity and the gold, prosperity. Often, two elephants are situated next to Lakshmi spewing water into the air. 1

     I like the elephants because spewing water represents the ceaseless effort needed to achieve material prosperity. So, one must pray to the Goddess Lakshmi for wealth but a little hard work can’t hurt. And, as I mentioned in an earlier blog, when cultures place a high value on something they come up with a lot of names for the particular venerated object. It is claimed that Lakshmi has 108 names and is worshipped daily. October is Lakshmi’s special month, “On a full moon night following Durga Puja …. It is believed that on this full moon night the Goddess herself visits the homes and replenishes the inhabitants with wealth”.2

     In what I think is a fascinating detail regarding money and Lakshmi is the custom (in many areas of India) of apologizing by the use of a hand gesture if one’s foot accidentally comes into contact with money – believed to be a physical manifestation of Lakshmi. The offending person asks for forgiveness by first touching the money in question with the finger-tips of their right hand and then touching their forehead or chest.1
Sources:
1 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lakshmi
2 http://hinduism.about.com/od/hindugoddesses/p/lakshmi.htm

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9 Responses to Lakshmi: The Prosperity Gospel Revisited

  1. kim shimer says:

    I enjoyed your post reflecting on the long history of today’s prosperity gospel. In May, Judson Press will publish Dr. Debra Mumford’s book Exploring Prosperity Preaching: Biblical Health, Wealth, and Wisdom. I’m wondering if you might be interested in reviewing this book and possibly providing an endorsement, assuming you find it deserving. I believe there would be crossover interest in our readership. If you’re interested, please contact me at kshimer@abhms.org. Thanks!

  2. Sarah Chankaya says:

    I always love learning new things about a foreign culture. I find it so fascinating that although at first the custom may seem different(or bizarre even) but once you look into the origin of a custom, you realize that a foreign culture’s custom and our custom aren’t so different after all.

  3. I don’t believe in the prosperity gospel, but I do think trusting God is worthwhile – for he is the only one who is entirely trustworthy. Having been adopted into the family of God by believing in his Son, Jesus Christ, my life is no longer my own, but his. I pray he would show me the way to walk and give me all I need to follow him. I believe God is my provider. I believe all things good and perfect come from above – meaning, they come from God. I surrendered my life to Jesus when I was seven years old, and each day I can choose to trust God – not just say I trust God, but truly trust God. I believe God will keep me breathing until his purpose for me has been fulfilled. Once his purpose for me has been fulfilled he will call me home to heaven. Until then, I trust God will provide all I need as I seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness. God has proven himself sufficient in my life time and time again. Does he promise me prosperity? No. But he has given me life for today – and that’s enough. If he chooses to give me life tomorrow – that’s a blessing I don’t deserve.

  4. I will have to say I agree with Meghan. Growing up in a christian home and believing in the Lord, it’s hard for me to understand other cultures beliefs. I do not judge other cultures and what they believe in even when I don’t agree. I understand they grew up differently. I do find it very interesting to learn about what other cultures believe in.

  5. Jordan Dunnington says:

    I believe the fact that across various religious faiths, there are manifestations of the “prosperity gospel” or beliefs in deities to bring material enrichment means that mankind believes the accumulation of objects is in someway equated with fulfillment, both spiritual and visible. It is interesting to note however, regarding Christianity, that Jesus’ words in Matt 6:31 are often overlooked, “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?”

    Instead, Christ says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” Take this verse and combine it with Paul’s exhortation that he is content in every area of life and it begs the question, will God really let his chosen ones suffer from a “lack of” – If the answer is no, then our stress on a prosperity gospel is selfish, if yes, then maybe we dont understand God like we think we do.

  6. Cameron Bell says:

    I found it very interesting to read about another culture’s view of the prosperity gospel, it was enlightening to see that the U.S. (or the West for that matter) didn’t come up with the idea and that people that predated the Old Testament Jews by hundreds if not thousands of years had this notion that a deity could provide wealth to its followers. I did some digging on the internet and discovered that the Aztecs, who had no knowledge of the Old World, or it’s religions with their deities of prosperity, had one of their own: Chantico, goddess of personal treasure. It’s interesting to see that people whom no one knew about until the 14th and 15th centuries developed deities that shared similar functions as their Old World counterparts, thus showing that we as humans like our personal wealth and prosperity.

  7. jim_roberts says:

    Great post. We (human race) has a long history of asking the Gods for financial blessings. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Tyler Minchew says:

    Good article. It was cool to read about an antient culture’s view on wealth and prosperity. Your right though, if praying doesnt work a little hard work couldn’t hurt.

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