Today’s post summarized in one line:
God Wants You To Get Out Of The Soup Kitchen And Move To A Better Neighborhood.
How is it possible for a Christian, or a Jew, or a Zoroastrian, to reconcile the pursuit of wealth with the austerity that’s supposed to be part of honoring God?
Question rejected because of a false premise. Where did God say you’re supposed to be poor?
Let’s focus on Christians, not only because they outnumber everyone else but because their book of faith reads from left to right. Matthew 19:24 is the line about the camel going through the eye of the needle, a line some people use to justify being poor. The problem is that Christ is referencing only the rich in the passage; that is to say, he’s not referencing the poor. His point is that yes, it’s hard for rich people to get into heaven. It’s hard for anyone to get into heaven. You have to resist temptation, not be a douche, not kill people, not even maim them, not cheat and steal, etc. In the same way that while it’s hard for right-handed pitchers to make the majors, it’s not a walk in the cake* for lefties either. Charles Manson makes $1 an hour at Corcoran State Prison.
The ironic thing is that the very next verse in the Bible opens the parable of the workers in the vineyard. The moral to which is that the rich landowner gets to do what he wants with his own money, and the workers he hired should keep quiet and honor their commitments to him (assuming, of course, that he honors his to them.)
It’s easy, actually simplistic, to regard commerce and faith as incompatible. Maybe the mindset stems from people honoring the Sabbath on a day that they don’t traditionally work, except that’s backwards: people don’t traditionally work on a day reserved as the Sabbath. Besides, working on Sunday (or Saturday, if you ever attended summer camp) is not uncommon, nor is it an affront to any deity.
What are you doing when you’re working or otherwise earning money? You’re creating wealth – offering a good or service for remuneration. The buyer benefits from your ingenuity or toil, and you benefit or you wouldn’t be doing it in the first place. Again, money is just an artifice. If we didn’t have it as a convenient medium to represent value, the only difference would be that after our next shift serving lemonade at Hot Dog On A Stick, we’d be receiving movie tickets and maybe a couple of shirts instead of a check.
Yes, Christ chased the forex traders out of the temple. (One chapter later in Matthew, no less.) But only because them plying their trade there was an affront to propriety and solemnity. Like singing karaoke in an emergency room, or playing beer pong at the office. There’s a time and a place. He wasn’t condemning the money-changers’ profession in and of itself.
Still, people use their faith as an excuse for being poor because…
Because people will use anything as an excuse for being poor. “I believe in intangible riches, the kind that don’t inspire jealousy and other bad feelings.” “The smile on my child’s face, that’s better than any amount of money.” “Mo’ money, mo’ problems.” And our favorite, “(The love of) money is the root of all evil.”
Oh, you sanctimonious titmouse. The love of money is also the root of all good. One more time: money is nothing more a medium of exchange. A representation of wealth. The folks who invented Plumpy’nut and the Versatile RT490 combine harvester turned a profit while doing more than almost anyone to fight global misery. And that’s legitimate, 3rd World misery, not the 1st World kind that involves tragedies like having split ends while not being able to find the right conditioner.
The aforementioned industrialists have been rewarded handsomely. The RT 490’s manufacturers made $16 million in net earnings last year. Did they deserve it? How many machines have you sold to Nigerian farmers that help them become exponentially more productive and save them from excruciating labor? Yeah, none. We thought so.
Parse it hard enough, and you can find a financial message in just about any Bible verse. Paul Zane Pilzer wrote a book called God Wants You To Be Rich, and the argument is the same: it’s a bountiful world, and your marketable skills help make it so. You’re not only entitled, but practically obligated, to develop and exploit those skills. And enjoy the concomitant rewards. And save the guilt and unease for your actual transgressions against nature. Material wealth is only sinful if you come by it dishonestly.
(Hat tip to one of our, for lack of a better word, personal finance coreligionists for inspiring this post.)
*Mixed metaphor ⒸControl Your Cash 2013.