The Ascetic American Dream

David Matzko McCarthy, author of The Good Life: Genuine Christianity for the Middle Class, talks about the wealth and the poverty of the American middle class.

In The Good Life: Genuine Christianity for the Middle Class, David Matzko McCarthy applies to the middle class Jesus' command in Matthew 6: "Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." He advocates for a holistic asceticism that puts people, money, and possessions into proper relationship with Christ's command. McCarthy is assistant professor of theology at Mount St. Mary's College in Maryland. He is also the author of Sex and Love in the Home: A Theology of the Household.

Your daughter came home one day and asked, "Are we rich?" Are you?

I don't think of myself as rich. And this was the great quandary with my daughter. I don't think of myself as poor either, and so I didn't know what to answer. In a sense that's the plight of the middle class. The Scriptures talk about rich and poor often, particularly in the New Testament. But where do we fit?

I admitted to myself I do have the dream of being rich—not enough to actually go out and buy a lottery ticket—but it's just kind of there. In the book, I was really trying to think about our ambitions and how they should take shape or be transformed by the gospel.

We are rich, particularly by comparison to the rest of the world. It seems that we then have to identify with the rich young ruler of the gospels.

In thinking about rich and poor, I thought the burdens of the poor are imposed on them. And, in a sense, the rich young man imposed burdens on himself. He was his own worst enemy. He was unable to give up or let go. It was his own choice. That is partly what I was trying to think through: How do we middle class Americans, in our desire to have one lifestyle or another, impose burdens upon ourselves? And how can the ...

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The Dick Staub Interview
Dick Staub was host of a eponymous daily radio show on Seattle's KGNW and is the author of Too Christian, Too Pagan and The Culturally Savvy Christian. He currently runs The Kindlings, an effort to rekindle the creative, intellectual, and spiritual legacy of Christians in culture. His interviews appeared weekly on our site from 2002 to 2004.
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