Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Dangers of Being Rich--George's Post

A.   The Dangers of Being Wealthy

1.     “For the love of money is the root of all evil”

Of all the statements about money, the Apostle Paul’s condemnation of the pursuit of wealth is one of the most famous and succinct—“for the love of money is the root of all evil.”   That phrase is taken from this longer passage in 1 Timothy:   “But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.   For the love of money is the root of all evil; which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”[1]Intuitively, many sense this to be the case, even if they are slow to confess it, and even if they have given no or little thought as to how and why money is so corrupting.
Certain human vices are closely related to the pursuit of money—greed, envy and covetousness; and others to the unrighteous possession of money—possessiveness, stinginess and miserliness.    Yet there are even more vices to which men may be subject because they have been corrupted by the pursuit or possession of money.  Money can change people for the worse, even the best of people—money messes with people. Without stretching it too far, it is easy to see how many of the wealthy might be described as arrogant, boastful, self-important; as patronizing, condescending, and dismissive; as selfish, spoiled, self-serving, narcissistic, self-absorbed; as proud and vain; and, as domineering, controlling, and uncompromising.   Of course, not all the rich are so afflicted, but at least enough of them are, so that we are not shocked when finding many of these traits in the wealthy.    It is almost as though many of the “traits” are just part and parcel of being wealthy.   There are of course differences depending upon whether we are talking about those with “new wealth,” “second-generation wealth,” “old wealth;” or, those who “make their own money,” “inherit money,” get it through dumb luck, or acquire money incidentally.  

2.    Misplaced Priorities—Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God

One of the greatest dangers posed by wealth is that it distorts priorities.   The scriptures are unequivocally clear about what men should put first in their lives.    “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness: and all these things shall be added unto you.”[2]    Men are to focus their eyes upon what matters the most, putting spiritual goals and objectives ahead of temporal ones, the service of God ahead of the pursuit of wealth.   Men are admonished to keep the commandment; care for the poor and needy; be true disciples by following Christ; and, when called upon, consecrate to the Lord’s service all that He might require.[3]  Those who do so will have “treasures in heaven,” not corruptible by rust and moth, not vulnerable to theft.   The things of the world—and many of them are unavoidable due to men’s mortality—must always, and in all ways, be subordinate to what matters most.   Certainly each of us has many things that one would freely acknowledge are “part of the world”—things not intrinsically bad—and, each of them may have place in our lives, but only if that place is subordinate the first priority.      
But those who are wealthy are almost invariably prone to invert the priorities.   The things of the world matter the most.   They care more about money, glory, power, control, status, learning—indeed, whatever else one can describe as being something of value in this world—than they do about the kingdom of God.   What was so terrible about what the young rich man did—apparently disqualifying him from eternal life--was precisely such an inversion of priorities—caring more about his possessions—which were great—than about being a true disciple.    Hence, we read in the scriptures about our “treasures” being where our heart is.   That scripture is significant in that it should be used as guide to keep us from deceiving ourselves about what we really care about.   Such temporal treasures are described in the scriptures as “perishable,”[4] as akin to “idols” of our own making, fashioned after the image of the world,[5] and as items that we can’t take with us in the life to come.[6]
Does this mean that “having” and “enjoying” wealth is morally justifiable, as long as one can honestly say that seeking the kingdom of God is one’s primary priority?   Indeed, is wealth one of those things that might be “added” unto one, if one is otherwise righteous?  

3.    Becoming an All-Consuming Passion

For some men, obtaining more wealth becomes an all-consuming passion.  It is not enough to be wealthy—to have more than one could possibly need for oneself and one’s family.   Wealth no longer is viewed as a means to obtain other goals—such as knowledge, refinement, pleasure, power, prestige—it becomes the goal in and of itself.   The most extreme forms of this addiction is that of the crazy miser—one thinks of “Silas Mariner”-- but there are surely modern-day versions of the same phenomenon—business men who cannot control their obsession with the making of money, even deal equally important as the last, even though they have more than enough for themselves and their families.   This, of course, falls within the class of “misplaced priorities,”   representing appetites that can never be satisfied   Solomon with his countless wives and concubines and endless wealth would seem to a biblical example.    On occasion, it is called a “canker” upon the soul.[7]   Like many forms of iniquity, the lust for wealth may be quietly seductive, starting almost innocently—it is as though it is hardly there at all; yet with each acquisition, it claims a greater share of one’s heart, until with time, and enough seduction, the pursuit of wealth may become uncontrollable.    

4.    Pulling Men Away from God

Another peril facing the rich is that they do not seek God.   Often whatever faith they may have had gets swallowed up in the pursuit of wealth.   They rely upon the arm of flesh (not the arm of God), and see no need to be submissive, meek and humble.   They are prone to yielding to the pleasures of the flesh, because they are so accessible.  They are not grateful for their abundance, certainly not to God, secure in the conceit that they alone have “earned” their wealth.   They err from the faith as it says in 1 Timothy 6: 10.

5.    Using Corrupt Practices to Obtain Wealth

Whenever men become fixated with making money, they leave themselves vulnerable to the temptation of doing whatever it takes to become wealthy.   And what one man does—however dishonorable or questionable—soon becomes an acceptable standard for others to follow.   Competition drives men to employ the same or similar tactics.    These pressures are especially strong when men are impatient, wanting wealth immediately or at all costs.   Many, in their “haste” to amass wealth,[8] engage in corrupt and wicked practices: the scriptures say that they are full of violence, speak lies, and are deceitful.[9]     They abuse the poor without remorse: “grind[ing] the faces of the poor, ”[10] oppressing the poor,[11] and persecuting the meek.[12]  
Often the riches of the wealthy are earned on the backs of the poor, who receive little of the value created through their labor.   Instead, the wealthy justify themselves, taking the lion’s share of the value, on the grounds that value creation is attributable largely to their assumption of risk, the employment of capital, and their brains, talent, vision, and entrepreneurial spirit.   There is nothing wrong—indeed, it is prudent—to take all reasonable steps to control production costs, including squeezing labor expenses, to be competitive.    Most of the value created does not accrue to the benefit of the laborers, but instead to the stakeholders.      

6.    Greed, Envy and Covetness

Greed, envy and covetness—three terms used in the scriptures—describe somewhat related states of mind, each a sin in the eyes of God.   Each is a companion to the other, in that one possessing greed, or envy, or covetousness, can never have enough—one has a need that can never be satisfied.   As Isaiah says, “Yea, they are greedy dogs which can never have enough, and they are shepherds that cannot understand: they all look to their own way, every one for his gain, from his quarter.”[13]   Often the pursuit of wealth is driven by these unbridled feelings.   Doubtlessly, this is part of the reason that the Apostle Paul says: “But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.   For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”[14]    The love of money leads to many temptations and sometimes to the loss of faith.    

(i)    Covetousness

One “covets” something when one wants something very badly, usually something that is owed or held by another.    Within the Ten Commandments, God has commanded that men should not covet what others have.   “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, though shalt not covet thy heighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.”[15]   Definitionally, “covetness” consists of two elements: a wanting (or greed), coupled with a wanting of something of another.   It is especially poisonous, in that it corrupts and ruins men’s relationships with others, often causing them to envy, despise or hate others and to connive to take what a neighbor holds, possesses or owns.   Though already richly blessed of the Lord, David covets Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, having seen her washing from the roof of the king’s house, and finding her “very beautiful to look upon.”[16]  Consumed with his lust of her, he takes what is not his to take, and then conspires to have Uriah placed in the “forefront of the hottest battle,” and his support withdrawn, “that he may be smitten, and die.”[17]   Those who covet what another has often do them harm to advance their greed.   “And they covet fields, and take them by violence; and houses, and take them away: so they oppress a man and his house, even a man and his heritage.”[18]   Paul calls covetousness a form of idolatry—the worship of a false god.[19]

(j)    Envy         

The term “envy” is so closely akin to “covetousness,” that most of us, at least without some concentrated thought, would be hard pressed to explain how the one differs from the other.   One short definition of envy reads: “A sad or angry feeling of wanting what another person has.”   As in the sentence, “I couldn’t hid my envy of her success.”   Both envy and covetousness deal with strong emotions.  One attempt to distinguish the two terms states:  “Envy is a resentful desire of something possessed by another or others (but not limited to material possessions), while covetousness is the immoderate desire for the possession of something, especially wealth.”[20]   Envy is a feeling of dislike, hatred or resentment towards another because of what that other person has, while covetousness is a desire to possess something.   We think of “covetousness” in terms of desiring material possessions, while “envy” may arise out of disliking or hating or resenting another for either their possession of material things or their development or possession of skills, attributes, or talents.   One thinks of “coveting” physical things that one might actually be capable of acquiring.   At best the distinctions are very subtle and are frequently disregarded by many in normal discourse and usage.   Certainly, many who are envious are at the same time covetous (one dislikes another because of what he possesses (i.e., “envy”), and at the same time, one wants for himself that which another possesses (i.e., “covetousness”).  
Envy is a sin of which men should repent.    “Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in the rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying.”[21]   Envy is a part of our carnality and a work of the flesh, and is close to strife and contention.[22]   Those guilty of envy will not inherit the kingdom of God.[23]  “Wo unto you poor men, whose hearts are not broken, whose spirits are not contrite, and whose bellies are not satisfied, and whose hands are not stayed from laying hold upon other men’s goods, whose eyes are full of greediness, and who will not labor with your own hands.”[24]

(k)   Greed

Of the three terms, “greed” is the most generic, meaning an intense, usually unrighteous, desire to have or possess more of something, such as “he is greedy for power or for money.”   It may grow out of envy, but it need not do so.    Those who are “covetous” are invariably “greedy” for that which is wanted.   Greed is not never portrayed favorably in the scriptures:   “Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.”[25]   “Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre,; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous.”[26]  “Yea, they are greedy dogs which can never have enough.”[27]

7.    “Pride and arrogance… do I hate.”[28]

Quickly wealth corrupts, poisoning men’s relationships with others.   Possessing wealth causes men to think they are better than others, and out of these feelings of superiority comes pride, vanity, arrogance, and condescension.   The scriptures are full of rich imagery, describing the evils that grow out of pride: “thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the Lord;”[29] “only by pride cometh contention;”[30] “those that walk in pride he is able to abase;”[31] “all the proud … shall be stubble;”[32] “whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased;”[33] “men shall be lovers of their own selves … proud;”[34] “lifted up in the pride of their eyes;”[35] and “wise, and the learned, and the rich, that are puffed up in the pride.”[36]    Images associated with height and size are used to illustrate pride:   those who are proud are “exalted,” “lifted up,” “lofty,” and “puffed up;” while, by way of contrast, the humble are described by the depths and smallness:  “sit down in the lowest room;”[37] and “come down in the depths of humility.”[38]  
Initially, it may be that the proud draw their sense of superiority for the wealth of their possessions—i.e., by having more than others[39] but over time the rich, through the use of their wealth, develop more subtle ways of distinguishing themselves from the poor: going to the finest schools, developing refined tastes, travelling the world, dressing fashionably, and acquiring expensive habits.   All things the poor cannot afford, creating an even greater gulf, temporally, between the rich and the poor.    The rich are prone to look down upon the poor—why—because they have possessions, things, and attributes—that the poor do not have and never will have.   The scriptures speak of the rich “despising,” “persecuting,” “ruling over;” the poor, and of being “puffed up,” “high-minded,” being “wise in his own conceit.”   All behaviors and attitudes designed to reinforce the elevated status of the rich and to keep the poor in their place.    The prophet Jacob says: “And the hand of providence hath smiled upon you most pleasingly, that you have obtained many riches; and because some of you have obtained more abundantly than that of your brethren ye are lifted up in the pride of your hearts, and wear stiff necks and high heads because of the costliness of your apparel, and persecute your brethren because ye suppose that ye are better than they.”[40]
For the most part, except in periods of unusual social revolt, the poor submit quietly to their inferior status in the social order, accepting the right of the rich to govern and rule and exercise dominion over them, and evidencing their acceptance by being submissive, meek, and humble.
These feelings bespeak of a curious, and twisted, irony, because the advantages secured by the wealthy are usually based upon the cheap labor of the poor.   Yet, in short order, the wealthy come to despise the very people responsible for their comfort, ease and advantages.

8.     “To Be Seen of Men”

It is not enough for the rich to have more than others, and to feel superior, they also want their status to be acknowledged publicly.  Vanity can take many forms—and one form of vanity is the desire “to be seen of men.”   One wishes others to notice what one does—which is dressed up as some kind of “piety” or “good doing”--and to receive the acclaim of one’s fellowmen.   Jesus is extremely critical of those who gives alms to the poor for this purpose.   The good they do is not motivated by a desire to help others, but instead by a lust for men’s acclaim.    They should expect no reward in heaven for their feigned generosity, for they have already had the reward they wished for upon earth.   All such persons Jesus condemns as “hypocrites”—those pretending to help the poor, when in fact their hearts are not fixed upon helping the poor, but instead upon earning the praise of men.[41]  “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.   Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men.  Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.”[42] 

B.   Relationship of Obedience to Wealth

There is another complicating factor at play that forces many, whether or not they consciously wish to consider it, to struggle with what is the “right” balance between spiritual goals and material success.   Part of the reason for the challenge is that those most obedient to God’s commandments often find themselves blessed temporally.   They enjoy better health; have more control over their lives; become better educated; are hard-working and industrious; and, care for themselves and their families.   Their blessings often include opportunities in the work place that others do not enjoy.   And, depending upon their scope of interest, many of them, if so inclined, earn substantial wages or enjoy success in business, allowing them to accumulate substantial wealth—often almost in spite of themselves.  
The correlation between obedience and prosperity is not accidental.    One of the constant themes in the Book of Mormon is that obedience almost always leads to prosperity.  “For the Lord God hath said that inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments yet shall prosper in the land; and inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from my presence.”[43]  Even the law of tithing as set forth in Old Testament times carries a promise that those paying faithful tithes will enjoy great blessing: “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, said the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.  And will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the Lord of hosts.”[44]  
Spiritual blessings are certainly the most important, and one would hope they would be showered down on the obedient; but it appears that the obedient are also the recipients of temporal blessings.    “But our kings and our leaders were mighty men in the faith of the Lord; and they taught the people the ways of the Lord….And we multiplied exceedingly, and spread upon the face of the land, and became exceedingly rich in gold, and in silver, and in precious things, and in fine workmanship of wood, in buildings, and in machinery, and also in iron and copper, and brass and steel….”[45]
These temporal blessings come as gifts from God, rewarding men for their obedience to God’s commandments, and for which they should be grateful.   For this reason alone, it is hard for many to think of the abundance received through God’s grace as being either a challenge or test from God or as some form of temptation or evil.   Why would God reward the obedient with gifts that would either draw men away from God, turning them away from their faith, or subject them to temptations that could easily keep them from receiving their eternal salvation?   “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?”[46]    It is even harder for men to see how the “prosperity” with which they are blessed might be considered “per se” evil.   They reason it is illogical to think so.     And, if one were blessed in receiving the gift, is it such a stretch to say that men are not “entitled” to keep the gift they have received.      Gratitude grows out of an appreciation to God for the rich blessings received; should men in turn immediately give away that which gave rise to the gratitude in the first place?   Does it make sense to think that the gift was given with the expectation that, after its receipt, it should be gave away or shared with others?   Some in the Church see in the abundance they receive evidence of God’s love for them.   Some may even go so far as to think that the greater the abundance the greater the evidence of God’s good pleasure.[47]
Yet, as we further consider, we should not be so startled by the concept that “gifts” are given, not with the expectation that they will be retained for personal benefit, but with the expectation that the recipient will indeed share the “gift” with others.   The bestowal of the gift brings with it additional duties or responsibilities—in this case, the obligation to be a faithful steward over the bounty received from God.   It is precisely because of the recipient’s obedience that the Lord has greater confidence in the recipient, or perhaps “enough” confidence, so as to entrust the recipient with more than the recipient needs for his own purposes to held as a steward for the benefit of others, including the poor and needy.  
Moreover, is it not equally true that all gifts from God are intended not only for our own benefit but also for the benefit of others.   Certainly this is true of the spiritual gifts from God.   “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.”[48]      And how are such spiritual gifts to be used—for the unity of the Church and the edification and support of the members, weak and strong.   “But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.   For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.  For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free, and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.   For the body is not one member, but many.”[49]
It may seem strange to think of the receipt of “abundance” as a way of testing further men’s capacity for “goodness.”   But is it really?  If the destiny of men is to bridle their feelings and passions to the degree necessary, so that they can be co-heirs with Christ, inheriting all that He hath, and preparing for an eternal destiny, is it so odd to think of men being asked to learn and demonstrate their capacity to be the good “steward.”    Without such internal discipline, how could one possibly entrust men, even the best of men, with power or dominion of the riches of the earth.   We are reminded that “many are called and few are called,” because they do not learn that the powers of heaven can be exercised only upon the principles of righteousness.[50]   How else is it possible to teach the lessons of “stewardship,” without seeing how men will handle the challenges of “abundance?”   Accordingly, men are tested by prosperity: does it change their priorities; does prosperity itself become the primary goal; do they find themselves using “corrupt” means to acquire wealth; when they have wealthy, are they “unwilling” or “unable” to share what they have with others less fortunate; do they fine “ease” too pleasurable; do they become “prideful,” “vain,” and “greedy;” do they despise the poor?  Do they forget the very lessons of obedience that brought them wealth in the first place?   What begins innocently enough may not stay that way?   It is as though part of the challenge of “life,” forced upon us, is to make tough decisions between the secular and sacred—precisely because they two are linked together.

[1] 1 Tim. 6: 9-10.
[2] Matt. 6: 33.
[3] See Matt: 19: 16-25.
[4] See, for example,
[5] See, for example,
[6] See, for example,
[7] See D&C 56: 16.
[8] See Prov. 28: 20, 22:  “But he that maketh haste to be rich shall not be innocent” and  “He that hasteth to be rich hath an evil eye.”
[9] See Micah 6: 12.
[10] See Isa. 3: 15.
[11] See Hel. 4: 12.
[12] See 2 Ne. 9:30.
[13] Isa: 56: 11.
[14] 1 Tim. 6: 9-10.
[15] Ex. 20: 17.
[16] 2 Sam. 11: 2.
[17] 2 Sam. 11: 15.
[18] Micah 2: 2.
[19] Col. 3: 5. “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:”
[20] See the results of the “internet” search.
[21] Rom. 13: 13.
[22] See 1 Cor. 3: 3: “For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?”
[23] See Gal. 5: 21: “Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also toldyou in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”
[24] D&C 56: 17.
[25] Eph. 4: 19.
[26] 1 Tim. 3: 3.   See also 1 Tim. 3: 8.
[27] Isa. 56: 11.
[28] Prov. 8: 13.
[29] Deut. 8: 14.
[30] Prov. 13:10.
[31] Dan. 4: 37.
[32] Mal. 4: 1.
[33] Matt. 23:12.
[34] 2 Tim. 3: 2.
[35] 2 Ne. 26: 20.
[36] 2 Ne. 28: 15.
[37] Luke 14: 10.
[38] 2 Ne 9: 42.
[39] Jacob 2: 13.
[40] Jacob 2: 13.
[41] See also Matt: 6: 5.
[42] Matt. 6: 1-2.
[43][43] 2 Ne. 4: 4.   See also Jarom 1: 7-9, Mosiah 2: 22-24;
[44] Mal. 3: 10-11.
[45] Jarom 1: 7-8.
[46] Matt. 7: 11.
[47] Indeed, one of the most famous sociological works ever written, Max Weber’s, “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism,” explores in part this thesis.
[48] 1 Cor. 12: 7.
[49] 1 Cor. 12: 11-13.
[50] See D&C 121: 34-37.