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Having a humble view of money in a world full of greed

Money as a false god is nothing new. Judas was a thief, and the chief priests knew how to manipulate greed. Let’s consider a few contemporary ways we make money a god.

(Image: Alexander Grey/Unsplash.com)

The teaching “You cannot serve God and mammon” (Mt. 6:24) encourages us to take a humble view of money. Money is not equal to God, nor should we worship it. However, we must not lose sight of the noble purpose of money. We can use our money to give glory to God.

Judas was in charge of the treasury of Jesus and the Apostles, and — minus his greed — his duties were noble. He managed the Lord’s cash box. Others provided financial support for Jesus and the Apostles. His entourage included Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna “and many others, who provided for them out of their means.” (Lk. 8:1-4)

Their money had value because Caesar’s authority and treasury backed its nominal value. Money is efficient. Cash replaces barter. Try paying your employees with Costco chickens for a week. Economic efficiency also accommodates friendly competition, keeping prices low for consumers but high enough to provide financial support to owners and employees.

Years ago, a young man visited Mexico City and traveled across the town to shop in a cluster of small stores. He asked for the price of some handmade merchandise. The kindly proprietor said, “Fifty pesos.” Reaching into his billfold, she interrupted and said, “Now you say ‘forty pesos,’ and we’ll agree on forty-five pesos.” The young American needed some training in the free market.

Before globalization in a small town, a neighborhood paint store proprietor marked up his merchandise by 40%. He took 10% or 20% off the price for contractors. He despised pricing gimmicks. He posted the purchase price at $20 a gallon, not $19.99 because the twenty bucks post was more honest. He reduced postings only to rid the store of old inventory and labeled it as such. He went out of business when Sears opened in a mall with a paint department selling at $24.99 a gallon and holding sales at $19.99. But the man had a good run and supported his family for a time.

His good friend, Russ, owned a Sylvania TV store up the block. He had a friendly competitor across the street selling Zeniths. When times were tough for the Zenith guy, he’d send a couple of customers his way. Money wasn’t everything because everyone knew businesses supported families and neighborhoods. An electronics chain drove Russ’ Sylvania establishment and the Zenith store out of business.

Prizefighter Jimmy Braddock knocked out Max Baer for the heavyweight championship in 1935. The Hollywood movie Cinderella Man — for the most part — depicts him. Fact-checked (after speaking with a nephew): He paid back the government welfare authorities for the money given to him and his family during the Depression.

We need not treat money as our reason for living.

Money as a false god is nothing new. Judas was a thief, and the chief priests knew how to manipulate greed. Let’s consider a few contemporary ways we make money a god.

Scam phone calls are annoying and often successful. A TV investigative journalist interviewed a phone scammer in Jamaica. The producers disguised his face and voice, and he explained his success in obtaining money from the elderly in the United States. The Jamaican said, “Caucasians like free stuff.” (Whatever happened to multiculturalism?)

Few of us are innocent. We constantly demand free stuff in the marketplace and from the government. (The friendly neighborhood garage sales that remind us that “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure” don’t count!) We abuse money through excessive spending: personal and governmental. Credit card debt is at an all-time high. Remember when “sound as a dollar” was a happy cliché?

Many of us are cogs in the machinery of big business that usually abuses money with cutthroat competition, brutally and unfairly driving others out of business. Decades ago, big beer companies deliberately ruined local breweries for reasons that continue to mystify. Why not make money here, but not over there? Spread the market share around. Allow a friendly competitor to have his niche.

When the dollar was sound, a virtuous, frugal person could save for retirement in a credit union without much planning. Now we have no choice but to play the stock market with our savings, hoping others will lose so that we will win. Wall Street has become the gambling center of the world.

We’ve surrendered municipalities to leaders who have impoverished the cities. Free stuff. No worries. People who benefit from voting them in can move to another state if a city (like Detroit) goes bankrupt. Federal spending is now out of control, with inflation, economic dislocations, and devaluing of the currency. Where is Caesar — and his gold — when we need them?

We all seem to want free stuff at the expense of others. Many use the power of money for influence peddling in various forms. According to reports, insider trading is rampant. Pork barrel government spending has been out of control for decades. The national debt is ominous, approaching double the annual GDP.

Money loses value when we treat it as a false god. But money itself is not the root of all evil. Saint Paul writes, “The love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs” (1 Tim. 6:10). Unjustly seeking free stuff is costly for individuals and society.

Individually, we can do little to modify modern economic machinery. But our money attitudes affect our faith in God. We need the correct perspective on the things of this world that honors justice and recognizes the sovereignty of God. Money has many noble purposes if used honestly and humbly, taming our appetite for financial exploitation and greed.

Job helps: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).


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About Father Jerry J. Pokorsky 27 Articles
Father Jerry J. Pokorsky is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington. He is pastor of St. Catherine of Siena parish in Great Falls, Virginia.. He holds a Master of Divinity degree as well as a master’s degree in moral theology.

11 Comments

  1. Some good reflections, Father, but you need to do some better fact-checking. Braddock defeated Max Baer by decision, not a knockout. Regarding the most important point of your reference, Braddock did indeed pay back the borrowed money,…which is also a lesson for all those people who believe it will be morally okay for them to have any part of their academic debts “cancelled” by Biden et al. Actually, both the government and people who cooperate with the government in “cancelling” debts violate basic Catholic Morality by doing so. For a more detailed analysis of the moral principles involved, see https://vlogicusinsight.wordpress.com/2022/08/25/the-immorality-of-debt-forgiveness-relief-by-the-federal-government/

  2. Senator Everett Dirksen (d. 1969) quipped: ” “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money.” Now its in hundreds of billions at the drop of a hat. President Nixon took the U.S. off the gold standard in 1972 when gold was $32 an ounce. Today it’s 1,677.72. Largely devaluation of the currency. But, hey, votes cost money.

  3. Sadly, I didn’t notice a single word of how this matter of “greed” is applied most often in an evil sort of way, as a phony eighth commandment defying false charge by slothful deceitful arrogant hypocritical leftwingers, often ordained men and religious women, towards anyone who works hard.

  4. Some good reflections, Father, but you need to do some better fact-checking. Braddock defeated Max Baer by decision, not a knockout. Regarding the most important point of your reference, Braddock did indeed pay back the borrowed money,…which is also a lesson for all those people who believe it will be morally okay for them to have any part of their academic debts “cancelled” by Biden et al. Actually, both the government and people who cooperate with the government in “cancelling” debts violate basic Catholic Morality by doing so. For a more detailed analysis of the moral principles involved, see Word Press’ 8/25/2022 “The Immorality of ‘Debt Forgiveness/Relief’ by the Federal Government.”

  5. There are some interesting points here, but the analysis embodies a fundamental misconception about money, that it is itself a commodity instead of a means of measuring value and a medium of exchange. In reality, money derives its value not from some authority, but because it represents something of value; money has no value in and of itself. (Currency, or “current money,” may have an intrinsic value, but that is not, strictly speaking, essential to its functioning as money.) When we view money as a commodity, we make the mistake of assuming value comes from money. This distorted view of money leads in turn to love of money as a thing to be valued for itself, not as a tool to be valued for what it can do.

    Perhaps the lawyer-economist Louis Kelso, renowned as the inventor of the ESOP, said it best. As he put it,

    “Money is not a part of the visible sector of the economy. People do not consume money. Money is not a physical factor of production, but rather a yardstick for measuring economic input, economic outtake and the relative values of the real goods and services of the economic world. Money provides a method of measuring obligations, rights, powers and privileges. It provides a means whereby certain individuals can accumulate claims against others, or against the economy as a whole, or against many economies. It is a system of symbols that many economists substitute for the visible sector and its productive enterprises, goods and services, thereby losing sight of the fact that a monetary system is a part only of the invisible sector of the economy, and that its adequacy can only be measured by its effect upon the visible sector.” (Louis O. Kelso and Patricia Hetter, Two-Factor Theory: The Economics of Reality. New York: Random House, 1967, 54-55.)

    • >I think this main article, by Father Jerry J. Pokorsky, is simply using the term “money” in its commonly understood way, to mean:
      >>”Exclusive control over valuable, scarce resources that are necessary for or conducive to survival and/or leisure and luxurious pleasures.”
      >When Jesus talks about money in the New Testament, I think he’s using that common meaning as well.
      >Donald Trump wrote in one of his books, “Money was never a big motivation for me, except as a way to keep score.”
      >There Mr. Trump is expressing how high social status is a resource that is measured by income and net worth, and that the high social status, not the money itself, is what mattered to him.
      >But as we all know, Jesus over and over taught that his followers should not pursue high social status or the accumulation of the control of wealth for the purpose of achieving or maintaining high social status.
      >Jesus strongly taught that we should adopt an attitude of equality of brothers and sisters, and a strong sense of humility.
      >St. Paul expressed the ethos of Jesus when he wrote: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.”
      >Of course, I readily admit that this is a high bar to achieve, and I mostly miss the mark.
      >Yet, the high bar is there.
      >And I think we are better off not losing sight of the high bar of Jesus, and doing our best to give the glory to God and not to ourselves.
      >There exists now a powerful cultural and political movement working (and succeeding) to overturn this part of the teachings of Jesus and replace it with the teachings of Ayn Rand, Donald Trump, Ronald Reagan, Rush Limbaugh, etc.
      >Am I wrong? Probably. I am nobody special.
      >But Jesus is right.

    • “In reality, money derives its value not from some authority, but because it represents something of value; money has no value in and of itself. (Currency, or “current money,” may have an intrinsic value, but that is not, strictly speaking, essential to its functioning as money.)”

      This is mistaken. Money must have intrinsic value. Otherwise, it can’t be money. My understanding since high school economics is correct (AFAIK).

      Money must be:

      1. A medium of exchange.
      2. A unit of account.
      3. A store of value.

      Traditionally, coined gold and silver were used as money. This was because gold and silver largely retained their nature over time. Gold, at least, is virtually unchangeable. Their “use value” was in their industrial, aesthetic, and “incorruptible” (i.e. storage) uses.

      The value retained by money was a measure of that which was exchanged to obtain title to it. This is typically either labor or “non-money” goods.

      • Hi, Shawn,

        Not to argue with you, but it appears you have the popular “Currency Principle” understanding of money, which confuses money (substance) with currency (form), and assumes that the quantity of money determines economic activity. Kelso assumed what is called the “Banking Principle” in which economic activity determines the quantity of money. This was a primary bone of contention between the “Smithian” and “Ricardian” schools of classical economics. In conjunction with his “labor theory of value” that Karl Marx and John Maynard Keynes adopted (and which forms the basis of much modern economic policy), Ricardo assumed that money is a commodity and that specie (gold and silver) is the only “real” money, an assumption adopted in part by today’s Austrian economists.

        Jean-Baptiste Say disagreed with Ricardo. As he explained in his first “letter” to the Rev. Thomas Malthus, author of the notorious (and discredited) “Essay on Population”, when presenting what has come to be known as “Say’s Law of Markets” —

        “All those who, since Adam Smith, have turned their attention to Political Economy, agree that in reality we do not buy articles of consumption with money, the circulating medium with which we pay for them. We must in the first instance have bought this money itself by the sale of our produce.

        “To a proprietor of a mine, the silver money is a produce with which he buys what he has occasion for. To all those through whose hands this silver afterwards passes, it is only the price of the produce which they themselves have raised by means of their property in land, their capitals, or their industry. In selling them they in the first place exchange them for money, and afterwards they exchange the money for articles of consumption. It is therefore really and absolutely with their produce that they make their purchases: therefore it is impossible for them to purchase any articles whatever, to a greater amount than those they have produced, either by themselves or through the means of their capital or their land.

        “From these premises I have drawn a conclusion which appears to me evident, but the consequences of which appear to have alarmed you. I had said — As no one can purchase the produce of another except with his own produce, as the amount for which we can buy is equal to that which we can produce, the more we can produce the more we can purchase. From whence proceeds this other conclusion, which you refuse to admit — That if certain commodities do not sell, it is because others are not produced, and that it is the raising produce alone which opens a market for the sale of produce.

        “I know that this proposition has a paradoxical complexion, which creates a prejudice against it. I know that one has much greater reason to expect to be supported by vulgar prejudices, when one asserts that the cause of too much produce is because all the world is employed in raising it. — That instead of continually producing, one ought to multiply barren consumptions, and expend the old capital instead of accumulating new. This doctrine has, indeed, probability on its side; it can be supported by arguments, facts may be interpreted in its favor. But, Sir, when Copernicus and Galileo taught, for the first time, that the sun, although we see it rise every morning in the east, magnificently pass over our heads at noon, and precipitate itself towards the west in the evening, still does not move from its place, they had also universal prejudice against them, the opinions of the Ancients, and the evidence of the senses. Ought they on that account to relinquish those demonstrations which were produced by a sound judgment? I should do you an injustice to doubt your answer.

        “Besides, when I assert that produce opens a vent for produce; that the means of industry, whatever they may be, left to themselves, always incline themselves to those articles which are the most necessary to nations, and that these necessary articles create at the same time fresh populations, and fresh enjoyments for those populations, all probability is not against me.”

        Or — as was summarized in a rather misleading way — “Production equals income. Therefore, supply generates its own demand, and demand its own supply.”

        Viewing money and credit as itself a commodity (money and credit are simply two forms of the same thing, as Henry Dunning Macleod noted) essentially makes a false god of money, opening the door to its being the root of all evil, as St. Paul noted. If we regard money as a tool, nothing more, there is less likelihood of falling into this error, although given man’s fallen condition it will never be eliminated.

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