Blog / 2022 / The Secular Prosperity Gospel

September 1, 2022

It’s that feeling that you’re only truly worth something if you’re worth something financially. It’s the confidence money gives you. When you’re getting paid or when you have generational wealth, it’s easier to feel like what you do and who you are matter.

That’s the secular prosperity gospel, distinguished from the religious version only by the latter’s emphasis on a deity. According to the Christian prosperity gospel, money is proof of Jesus’ love, so the wealthy must automatically be better people. According to the secular prosperity gospel, money is proof that you work hard or that you were born lucky, both of which automatically make you a better person.

And somehow I thought I’d inured myself to this way of thinking. I thought that after years of living simply and making a small but adequate living with my art, I’d rid myself of the “money = goodness” mentality.

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The lie of that confronted me only recently, when I received a large payout—the single largest payout I’ve ever received for my art. It was bigger than any grant I’ve been awarded and bigger than my payment for public art projects.

On the one hand, it felt great. I’d been really struggling with anxiety because of a bad housing situation, and the money soothed some of my stress by making our decision to move again less scary, financially-speaking. But it was more than that too. The large payout also relieved some of my anxiety by giving me a sense of being important or right, like a good little worker bee.

And it’s that last bit that forced me to see that I’m still seeking validation in the form of money, despite this self-satisfied video from 2020 in which I claim the opposite.

tri-colored bumble bee painting, insect illustration in acrylic on canvas by Gwenn Seemel
Gwenn Seemel
Tri-colored Bumble Bee
acrylic on unmounted canvas
9 x 12 inches

I don’t want to be too hard on myself: some of the “money = goodness” mentality is bound to creep in when our whole ability to live in this world depends on cash. And, for the most part, I’m already really good at detaching other people’s financial situations from their worth as human beings. Certainly, I never assume that people with lots of money are automatically good. If anything, I tend to watch them closely, noting all the ways their money makes them oblivious to how they occur in the world.

But when it comes to myself, it appears that I’m still a little stuck on the idea that if I made more money with my art, I’d be a better artist and person. One day, I want to get a big payout for my work and be happy about it without thinking it means anything more than bit more security.

bumble bee painting from Gwenn Seemel
detail image of Tri-colored Bumble Bee

If money’s role as conferrer of goodness is something you’ve never thought too much about, I recommend Annie Lowery’s Give People Money as a primer on rethinking the whole system.

And if you love Tri-colored Bumble Bee, there are prints and pretty things of it here in my print shop. The original already has a forever home because it was made as a gift for one of my supporters on Patreon.

Maybe this post made you think of something you want to share with me? Or perhaps you have a question about my art? I’d love to hear from you!


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