I spoke at a local church last year on the topic of materialism and was met with blank stares, with the general consensus being that it may have been a cultural issue in the go-go 1980s or ’90s but not so much anymore. But to my wife and I, materialism has not only manifest since last century but also grown worse since the Great Recession. We chatted about this issue the other day and agreed it’s as if the downturn actually magnified materialism, judging by our nation’s growing class inequality.
As a former pastor I cannot help mining scripture for its wealth of wisdom, especially when it comes to the subject of money, of which Jesus spoke more than any other. Another word for materialism is what the New Testament calls mammon, or “wealth regarded as an evil influence or false object of worship.” Given our capitalistic system, Americans may be especially susceptible to worship of the so-called almighty dollar, despite its pledge that “in God we trust.”
It is none other than Jesus who states in Matthew 6:24…“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” In other words, money is meant to be our servant, not our master. And our allegiance is revealed by how we spend or save what we earn. As one popular adage suggests, “if God can get it through you, he’ll get it to you.”
And it is Paul who writes in 1 Timothy 6:10…“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” Notice that it is not money in and of itself that is evil, but the love of it. So when is that line crossed? When the New York Times reports that the eight richest men in the world hold more wealth than the bottom half of the world’s population, suffice it to say that materialism has run amuck.
I propose the way to minimize materialism is to adopt the philosophy of minimalism. I used to reject the sentiment of the bumper sticker that reads: “Live simply that others may simply live.” But nowadays I have grown to think that it is more truth than not. Our attitudes and actions about money reflect whether or not other people are a priority to us. So let us love people and use money, not the other way around…