What would Jesus drive?* That’s a great question. I feel it’s a real “acid test” for those of us trying to be good stewards of our financial resources. In April of this year, I was graciously invited to deliver the keynote speech as a guest of the University of St. Thomas (St. Paul, MN) and Opus College of Business’ 19th Annual Stakeholder Dialogue. St. Thomas has a great collection of centers, Institutes, and faculty researching the role of ethics in business. And, they practice what they preach – helping hundreds, if not thousands, of businesses incorporate ethical practices into their business model.
The title of my talk on the evening’s program was “Can Happiness be Bought and Sold?” A question that spurred the writing of my recent book, Shiny Objects: Why We Spend Money We Don’t Have in Search of Happiness We Can’t Buy (Harper Collins). My working title, however, was “What Would Jesus drive? The Ethics of Over-Consumption”. The talk was SRO and the audience was very receptive to the message I shared – proof that a lot of us struggle with how to best relate to money and possessions. If you’re interested, here’s a YouTube link to my talk at St. Thomas:
It was Socrates who famously said nearly 2,5000 years ago that “An unexamined life is not worth living”. St. Augustine, the 5th century Bishop and philosopher, had this to say about the futility of attempting to buy happiness, “My soul was sick and covered with sores, and it rubbed up against material things in a desperate attempt to relieve the itching. But since material things have no soul, they cannot be loved”. That is a powerful depiction of the futility of attempting to find happiness in things.
The Bible also has more than a few choice words about money and possessions:
1 Timothy 6:10 – “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil ….”.
Matthew 6:19-21 – “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal”
Matthew 6:24 – “… You cannot serve God and Mammon”.
All this to say that how we spend our money and relate to our possessions can’t be separated from who we are ethically. Consumption is a moral issue because “..it always and inevitably raises issues of fairness, self vs. group intrerests, and immediate vs. delayed gratification” (Wilk 2001). I closed my talk on that cool April day in St. Paul with a quote from Albert Einstein who said, “Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted”. More on this subject in blogs to come, especially as we speed toward the holiday season.
* This line was originated by Dan Smith (Bill McKibben, 2001)