Love of Money

Here’s a challenge: how many biblical phrases must an evangelical Christian ignore in order to justify supporting Donald Trump?

I know–you have a life, and you are too busy to compile them all.

My personal favorite is the admonition that “Love of money is the root of all evil.” (Note: it isn’t the money–it’s the love of money.) Next time your pious neighbor explains that Trump’s riches are evidence of his worthiness, you might ask him about 1 Timothy 6:10.

I thought about that verse when I read a recent column summarizing research on the moral effects of wealth. It was written by Charles Mathewes, a Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia, and Evan Sandsmark, a PhD student in Religious Studies at the University, and it touched on several issues with which this blog has recently dealt.

The authors note that people with great wealth used to be viewed as morally suspect (“The idea that wealth is morally perilous has an impressive philosophical and religious pedigree.”) but that such attitudes have changed. (As I’ve previously noted, I attribute the change to Calvin…)

We seem to view wealth as simply good or neutral, and chalk up the failures of individual wealthy people to their own personal flaws, not their riches. Those who are rich, we seem to think, are not in any more moral danger than the rest of us.

Recent research suggests otherwise, however. As they explain:

The point is not necessarily that wealth is intrinsically and everywhere evil, but that it is dangerous — that it should be eyed with caution and suspicion, and definitely not pursued as an end in itself; that great riches pose great risks to their owners; and that societies are right to stigmatize the storing up of untold wealth.

After quoting historical figures like Aristotle and religious books (including Hindu texts and the Koran), they quote Pope Francis, who has waxed eloquent on the subject, and then segue to current social science research.

Over the past few years, a pile of studies from the behavioral sciences has appeared, and they all say, more or less, “Being rich is really bad for you.” Wealth, it turns out, leads to behavioral and psychological maladies. The rich act and think in misdirected ways.

When it comes to a broad range of vices, the rich outperform everybody else. They are much more likely than the rest of humanity to shoplift and cheat , for example, and they are more apt to be adulterers and to drink a great deal . They are even more likely to take candy that is meant for children. So whatever you think about the moral nastiness of the rich, take that, multiply it by the number of Mercedes and Lexuses that cut you off, and you’re still short of the mark. In fact, those Mercedes and Lexuses are more likely to cut you off than Hondas or Fords: Studies have shown that people who drive expensive cars are more prone to run stop signs and cut off other motorists .

The rich are the worst tax evaders, and, as The Washington Post has detailed, they are hiding vast sums from public scrutiny in secret overseas bank accounts.

They also give proportionally less to charity — not surprising, since they exhibit significantly less compassion and empathy toward suffering people. Studies also find that members of the upper class are worse than ordinary folks at “reading” people’ s emotions and are far more likely to be disengaged from the people with whom they are interacting — instead absorbed in doodling, checking their phones or what have you. Some studies go even further, suggesting that rich people, especially stockbrokers and their ilk (such as venture capitalists, whom we once called “robber barons”), are more competitive, impulsive and reckless than medically diagnosed psychopaths. And by the way, those vices do not make them better entrepreneurs; they just have Mommy and Daddy’s bank accounts (in New York or the Cayman Islands) to fall back on when they fail.

The authors note studies suggesting that great material wealth actually makes people less willing to share.

All in all, not a pretty picture–although we should remember that statistics don’t necessarily describe individuals. (Not every rich guy is a Koch brother or a Donald Trump; there are the Warren Buffetts.) Nevertheless,

So the rich are more likely to be despicable characters. And, as is typically the case with the morally malformed, the first victims of the rich are the rich themselves. Because they often let money buy their happiness and value themselves for their wealth instead of anything meaningful, they are, by extension, more likely to allow other aspects of their lives to atrophy. They seem to have a hard time enjoying simple things, savoring the everyday experiences that make so much of life worthwhile. Because they have lower levels of empathy, they have fewer opportunities to practice acts of compassion — which studies suggest give people a great deal of pleasure . They tend to believe that people have different financial destinies because of who they essentially are, so they believe that they deserve their wealth , thus dampening their capacity for gratitude, a quality that has been shown to significantly enhance our sense of well-being. All of this seems to make the rich more susceptible to loneliness; they may be more prone to suicide, as well.

Given all this, I’m trying to work up my sympathies for our unhappy, morally-malformed President–but his sheer awfulness keeps getting in the way….


  1. The one I love is in Matthew – “Peace on Earth, good will to men!”… in the NT Greek if one parses it properly – you will find it really says: “Peace on Earth to men of good will…” big difference that one…
    – (Rev.) Manuel Colunga-Hernandez

  2. While I pity the rich with all of their problems, I still wouldn’t mind having a couple of million of those problems for a little while.

    Here’s another from Matthew and Mark: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven.”

  3. Lest all readers begin to think that the rigid and puritanical John Calvin was the arbiter, the father of all Christian Protestant thought in the US, let’s consider the wide and benevolent influence of John Wesley, an Anglican/Church of England cleric who along with his brother Charles Wesley spent considerable time in the Colonies, especially in the more rural areas, where they hoped to bring a modicum of civility and morality to a largely unruly group of newcomers. Because Wesley was a methodical person, his philosophical and religious influence soon became known as Methodism; however, he never left the Anglican Church.

    John Wesley spoke frequently about money, spoke about money in practical words. Wesley’s sermons are archived by the United Methodist Church, and his sermon #50 is relevant to today’s topic. One of his quotes stands out, “Make all you can, save all you can, give all you can.”

  4. Many believe that heaven is available not in the ether but here on the earth and that it is a state of mind and not a resting place somewhere as described by medieval monks. Whatever your belief, and however reliable or unreliable statistics are in measuring the social sciences, there does seem to be more than correlation between great wealth and arrogance. There does seem to be a sense of those in the Mercedes that the peasants should get out of the way since those motorists in their old Fords are obvious losers and moral misfits as though the only game in town is the pursuit of assets. By such monomanic pursuits, as Shelia has suggested, it is the people in the Mercedes who are the losers – they just don’t know it since they are not open to other pursuits in the human experience. I have often blogged that the truly rich among us are such as Gandhi and Mother Teresa, both of whom are on my First Ten List, a list that Rockefeller and his ilk and other Gilded Age greedhogs will never make. I think that we need a new definition of “rich” that transcends the mere acquisition of assets, especially those acquired at public expense, such as political giveaways via tax cuts which have no connection to the public good. What is “rich?” Is Trump “rich?” Is he happy? Has his single-mindedness of life’s purpose paid off for him? I think not. He is a loser in life whatever balances and wherever his bank accounts may be, and has now positioned himself to where even signing a tax cut for the rich can fairly be interpreted as a conflict of interest, which is one of the things that happen when we have an oil and water admixture where private greed collides with representative common good. Given his mindset and a layer of narcissim to boot, he does not have the capacity to do good for the rest of us, and perhaps, thus encumbered, he is fundamentally incapacitated to act in anybody’s representative capacity other than his own. In words of the street, maybe Don can’t help being Don, the plunderer.

  5. I have been told the plurality of Christ’s sermons dealt with money in one context or another. I have heard my pastor make this remark (generally during the annual pledge drive) and have often wondered if it is true. Anyone of the cloth reading this who can confirm or deny this for me?

  6. I’m always a little suspicious of glib, facile TED talks, but Paul Piff of UC Irvine has a great one entitled “Does Money Make You Mean?”

    In my experience a significant minority of the rich are wealthy *because* of their psychopathology, but most behave badly because they can get away with it. It’s as if they’re exempt from the normal daily human give-and-take due to the freedom (or solipsism) their wealth grants.

  7. @indygaffer, I’m not a person of the cloth; however, I can locate a listing of sermons ‘attributed’ to Jesus. Whether you can confirm any contextual evidence of his sermons/parables directly relating to money is up to your interpretation.

    @Ron Skurat, I’m always left wondering just exactly how ‘rich’ is defined in dollar terms. ‘Rich’ is a term frequently tossed around with no definitive meaning.

  8. I can say that this meanness and love of money are a couple of the reasons I left the church and decided to divorce myself from these “holy” christians.

    Today, my view is TAX THE CHURCHES, Tax the Rich, Tax the Corporations and knock these people off of their pedestal. I’ve evolved.

  9. @AgingLGrl, when you say “Tax the Rich”, do you have an objective baseline dollar amount that defines ‘the rich’?

  10. BSH: I don’t because our tax code is so complicated. Those that are millionaires get more tax deductions than us ‘middle class’ filers. Remember Romney’s 75k tax deduction for his wife’s horse?

    Also, I guess my issue is that if you’ve ever lived abroad, you have to file tax reports to the IRS every year no matter what. And the banks, especially in Europe don’t want American clients or customers because they don’t want to report bank statements to a department (IRS) in a foreign country. Because let’s get real, the people like my husband and myself lived abroad and lived pay check to pay check. We didn’t have thousands or millions of dollars hidden away in Swiss banks. We were just trying to survive. We had our bank account FROZEN for 3 weeks because of this law so it’s not only a mess, it’s embarrassing to not be able to get a bank account or access to your money because of this IRS law that only hurts the peons like us.

    I am all for the Buffet rule that Warren Buffet proposes. He says that his tax burden (%) should not be lower than his secretary so that’s where I stand. I hope that makes sense.

    I mentioned a few days ago that I was a dreamer because “What If churches, corporations and rich people Paid their Taxes? What would our country look like if that was the reality?”

  11. I read the results of a study recently that basically said that people who have the appearance of being superior to others in their field [in this case, it was about lawyers generally– who get the high approval ratings, get nominated to commissions and boards, get named as partners], live in mortal fear that it will be discovered that they really aren’t superior at all: just clever enough to appear successful–to get their name out there, to mingle, rub elbows and talk the talk. They live in fear that they will be exposed by truly diligent, hard-working people who are genuinely superior and who really deserve the praise they are receiving.

    I think this applies to Trump: one comment of his that I’ll never forget is that he said that President Obama was the stupidest person ever elected President. Every single day, he proves that he tops anyone else ever elected to the Presidency on the stupid scale. Obama, and Bill Clinton, for that matter, both have much higher approval ratings. A recent People Magazine article reports that Trump’s children are bewildered by all of the negative attention they and their father receive daily. They honestly believed that the public would embrace them, like the Kennedy family, because all of their lives they’ve been told that they are beautiful, amazing, wonderful and vastly superior to mere mortals.

    All of which brings us back to the subject of money. Trump claims to be a multi-billionaire. If you look at the properties with his name on them, this might be feasible, but what we don’t know is the amount of debt he owes. This is one reason why, according to sources, he is so upset with Mueller looking into his finances. In addition to possible tax evasion and proof that his companies are actively doing business with foreign governments, the records just might show that he’s nowhere near as wealthy as he has bragged about. His persona is tied to his allegedly enormous wealth, which may also be a myth, so what are we left with: a bloated, lying, arrogant, debt-ridden emotionally immature 71 year old with historically low polling numbers and who can’t keep any of the promises he made to get elected. His supporters believed that he has been enormously successful in business, and that these successes would translate into success for the country. They are about to get a rude awakening.

  12. @AgingLGrl, in other words, and after reading your personal account of living abroad and your anecdotal evidence, much like the rest of us, you have no objective baseline dollar amount for defining the rich.

  13. heres a known fact, rich people look upon us as economic slaves to their own needs,workerbees in a colony, they the WASP. last week i got my daily thenation news stories, 8/4/17 heres a fascinating story to start with, Bob Dreyfus, what did trump and kushner know about russia money laundring and when did they know it, follow the story line down to, James Henry, american interest on, trumps world and private connection with russia.. this is a detailed investigation on known associates who have been around the trumps or,their money. it has a lot of reference points. but makes ian fleming lame compared to the facts mentioned in this journal. Ive been following manafort around since the ukraine elections, and crimeas demise. this really talley ups the greed these people will stop at nothing to obtain wealth.

  14. @jack smith, you wrote “heres a known fact, rich people look upon us as economic slaves to their own needs”…

    Seriously, jack smith, how do you show documented proof that rich people look upon you or anyone as economic slaves? How do you prove this bold proclamation? C’mon, a known fact or simply your supposition??

  15. Great wealth concerated among the few is not necessarily a bad thing. If it wasn’t for them there would be no tourists in Europe.

    Consider Bill Gates and Warren Buffet and many other who invest as much effort in doing good with it as gathering it. Hooray for them.

    So concentration of some wealth in the hands of those who’s interest is in redistributing based on the needs of the people of the world is good. Redistributing to buy government power is a bad thing.

    Here’s an idea. Tax the wealthy appropriately to fund the work of government but shut down their ability to use it to buy power by eliminating campaign donations.

    I can’t take credit for the idea though. It’s the way America was built.

  16. So BSH, what’s your threshold for “rich?” You never offered a figure either.

  17. @AgingLGrl, not intending to be flippant with my response; however, there’s something that seems a bit off to me, something that lacks concise documentation when a term such as ‘the rich’ is tossed around so freely and so frequently without any clear cut definition that is accepted across partisan boundaries, that is generally accepted by our government as a cut point.

    We all can locate the most recently documented definition of poverty as per the US Dept of Health and Human Services annual update via the Federal Register/The Daily Journal of the United States Government. And, admittedly, I find the annual update regarding accepted guidelines for poverty to be subjective and to be relative to an individual’s particular geographic location. But, at least, it is a guideline, a base from which to speak.

    On the other hand, like you, any definition I might offer for ‘the rich’ is subjective and is based on my personal experience and anecdotal evidence, both of which are worthless.

  18. BSH: recognizing “rich” is rather like recognizing “porn”, you can’t describe it but recognize it when you see it. Everything is relative to one’s personal situation in this instance; to a millionaire it is the multi-millionaire who is rich.

    Years ago, Indianapolis had a City Prosecutor who had to watch the movie “Deep Throat” 7 times before making his decision that it was indeed porn. Of course the fact hat he was in his 30’s and still lived at home with his mother, the problem could have been naivete…ya’ think?

  19. @JoAnn, I hear everything you are saying.

    Nevertheless, when we, when any of us, speak about the rich, there really does need to be a baseline, a cut point that defines ‘the rich’ in dollar amounts.

    Who knows what is considered ‘the rich’…perhaps the IPS School Superintendent is considered rich by some, perhaps two Indiana classroom teachers’ combined salaries place them into the category of ‘the rich’.

  20. Didn’t President Obama use the annual income figure of $250,000 for the increase in tax rate? His biggest mistake was NOT allowing Bush’s tax cut for wealthy to expire on Bush’s cutoff date of January 1, 2010; that his caused a multitude of problems.

  21. BSH, thanks for your response. I think that if a family’s combined income of say 250k, that I would consider them rich. But is that income or capital gains rich? I don’t know anybody that makes 250k in income from their job. I don’t know anybody that is worth 250k from inheritance either. I am a child of blue collar factory workers so my definition of rich maybe different than yours or my neighbors. I grew up in a house with one bathroom so anyone with two bathrooms was rich. And I have two bathrooms now myself but that is a necessity now and not what I consider rich.

    I think the definition of rich would be this phrase “Where do you summer?” Because if you can afford a second home somewhere else and ask another ‘friend’ where they spend their summer, (summer being a verb) then those people are rich and above my pay grade.

  22. @AgingLGrl, I do believe the two of us are reaching a personal common denominator for ‘the rich’.

    Not that our personal common denominator for ‘the rich’ is a widespread common denominator, but I’ve always figured that any person who maintained two residences – a summer place in the cooler northern climate and then a winter place in a warmer climate such as Florida – was among ‘the rich’.

  23. That’s great BSH. I’m glad that we can agree on what defines rich. Have a great day. Cheers!

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