The Ordinary Need and Desire for Money
The lyrics to the song “Money,” by Pink Floyd, read, “Money, so they say, is the root of all evil today.” Similarly, the lyrics to “For the Love of Money,” by the O’Jays, say, “I know that money is the root of all evil.” The lyrics of popular music filter into the psyche of many Americans who conclude that money is evil. However, that is a misconception, which may be traced back to a misreading of the Bible.
Nowhere in the Scriptures does it say that money is evil. In itself, money is neither good nor bad; rather, money is morally neutral. It is a means to an end of purchasing material goods and, thus, a precondition to a meaningful life. Since humans are body-spirit entities, they need money to purchase material goods in order to live.
A human being, then, needs things in order to have a decent human life. It is not befitting of human dignity, an honorable human life, to lack the means of purchasing the basic necessities of life, such as food, clothing and shelter. One must be able to maintain a certain standard of living, that is, make enough money, to “pay the bills every month.” In fact, it is a source of stress, an emotional burden, not to be able to meet one’s monthly expenses.
The Inordinate Desire for Money and Possessions
However, “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (I Timothy 6:10, NIV). The love of money is a desire out of control. It is the disordered, that is, an excessive or inordinate (out of the ordinary) desire for wealth. It is usually associated with greed, which is the inordinate desire to have more and more possessions.
The love of money and greed, in turn, manifest themselves in inordinate consumerism, which is the excessive buying or purchasing of things. One can become consumed by consuming things for oneself. Instead of one controlling the things one has, one becomes controlled by them. In short, one becomes possessed by one’s possessions. In other words, one becomes a slave to them. Morally, then, one can be caught-up in the cult of having, which is the “worship” (from the Latin word cultus) of money, things or possessions. It is a form of idolatry, which is divinizing or making into gods things that are not, in fact, God.
Confusing Being with Having
Scripture says, “[L]ife does not consist in an abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15, NIV). However, many Americans attach their worth or value to what they have. They suppose that the more they have, the more valuable they are. For example, if John Doe possesses more things than his neighbor, John thinks that he is a better person than he or she. Such an attitude confuses being with having. Philosopher Harold Blackham summarizes the confusion, saying,
“ I tend to identify myself with what I have and to reflect that when I no longer have anything, I shall no longer be anything.”
On the contrary, the value of human beings is rooted, primarily, in being persons: They are God-like creatures or “made in the image of God.” God-like creatures are persons and, thus, are worth more than anything in the world. Their worth, therefore, does not depend on how much they have.
Attempts at Filling “the Existential Vacuum”
The love of money, greed and inordinate consumerism are really meaning-substitutes or misdirected attempts to find meaning in life, resulting in an “existential vacuum,” which is a person’s inner void or emptiness. However, it can be filled by more worthwhile pursuits, such as loving others, giving away some of the excess wealth and possessions to help poor or needy persons. No price tag can be placed on such acts of human love and generosity. Their value is literally inestimable.
I suggest that the reader think about the following soul-searching questions and give his or her answer to them: How much money does a person need to earn in order to have a good life? How much does he or she really need in order to be content? Can things reallymake a person happy? Is not one house, maybe two or three, enough for a person? Must he or she have four, five, six or even more? Isn’t an excessive amount of money a waste of wealth that could be used to help others?
H. J. Blackham, Six Existentialist Thinkers (Routledge, 1959, reprinted 2002), p. 80 .