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)
Well, I think that obtaining possessions really isn’t much of an issue, however whenever it begins to negatively effect our attitudes and morals, then it becomes a problem. I don’t think that wealth has much of an impact on salvation as greed and selfishness do, and I think overall that the detriment of not putting Christ first is the root of those passages. Materialistic things are important for a person’s well being, however it’s the excess of those unneeded items, the ungratefulness of having such things, and expecting more rather than simply being happy with your items that function just as well as the newer, trendier things that really become not only an issue of morality, but an issue of dissatisfaction and ungratefulness, regardless of the circumstances.
Amen, sister! So, what would Jesus drive?
I agree with Blair. I do not think having a lot possessions makes you materialistic, but when the desire to obtain possessions becomes our reason for existing that is a major problem. I think it is human nature to want to obtain nice things; it is a fine line to walk between greed and wants. We have to ask ourselves how much is too much? And I think that question is answered on a person to person basis.
And I think Jesus would drive a smart car.
Hmmmm ….. a smart car. I think you and Blair raise a good point. When acquiring and displaying possessions becomes your most important activity you have crossed the line. But, I still struggle with the idea that if you have a lot of stuff you’re not necessarily materialistic. A quick look through someone’s checkbook (if anyone uses them anymore) or more likely their debit card, or even more likely their credit cards, will give you a glimpse of that person’s priorities.
In response to the issue raised in the comments, I agree with Jordon and Blair that many possessions are not necessarily what make someone materialistic. Materialism is more of a mindset, in my opinion, than a certain amount of stuff. If you are buying that stuff to make you happy , make you feel important or gain acceptance from you friends, then you probably are materialistic. But if you purchase items because they deal with your interests and give you a cool hobby, I think that can actually be a good thing. Of course, this is based on the assumption that you have budgeted for and can afford the things you want.
I definitely agree with Diamond. Materialism is a mindset. When we cross the line from buying things based off needs and interest to buying things to fill a void or just to have things because it’s the latest trend or fad, is when we should be worried. However, a persons needs differs greatly from everyone else around them and one thing that may be a necessity to one could be completely outrageous for the other. Happiness cannot be bought and achieved by physical objects themselves, but happiness can be achieved by how certain purchases can change the way a person lives their life or their life in general.
I agree with Blair and Jordon. Having materialistic things and being materialistic are very different. If you go about life always wanting the new and improved products simply because they are the newest thing, you aren’t living a lifestyle for Christ. The Bible, like you stated, instructs man to not put anything before Him. God will provide you with your needs. Distinguishing wants from needs is something man has struggled with and will continue to struggle with. Rooting yourself in God’s plan for you and pursuing what He ultimately has in store will lead you to a blessed life regardless of materialism. Enjoy your already present blessings rather than neglecting them in want of something new.
regarding “can happiness be bought and sold” I think something also to consider is the difference that experiential purchases are sometimes more fulfilling than material purchases. Spending money nice vacations that great memories are created vs, something tactical.