UCA News
Jesuit Father Myron J. Pereira, based in Mumbai, has spent more than five decades as an academic, journalist, editor and writer of fiction. He contributes regularly to UCA News on religious and socio-cultural topics.
The color of money
Everyone wants money, most don’t have enough of it, but how one uses it reveals the kind of person one is
September 11, 2023 11:52 AM GMT

October 04, 2023 06:02 AM GMT

There are few things in life about which there is complete unanimity. The desire for money is one of them.

The need varies, of course, and it is not always related to penury. This means to say, that it is not just those in need of money – the poor – who want more of it. Most of those who want more money have enough of it, and more than enough. They are the rich. Herein lies the problem.

As the Bible says perceptively, “– the love of money is the root of all evil.” [1 Tim 6.10] Note, it’s not money, but the love of it: avarice.

Symbol of a dynamic society

It wasn’t always so. India has traditionally been a feudal society, in which money played but a secondary role. The primary role was played by kinship – caste, in our lexicon – and what kith and kin controlled: land, livestock, buildings, slaves, and families.

But all this is undergoing a slow but definite change.

For better or for worse, money has become the key symbol of a dynamic, restive society, undermining the sluggishness and inertia of centuries. It has corroded the iron grid of caste and provided for millions of the deprived an emancipation of sorts – basic wants satisfied, and basic dignity assured, just because there is money.

Having money makes a positive difference.

So why should ethics have anything to do with money? Why can’t we run our lives in comfortable little compartments – making as much money as we want, and leaving the moral misgivings to the priests and pundits?

Because, very simply, the pursuit of wealth is a human activity and as such is governed by ethical standards and norms like all other human actions.

It’s not money that is evil, but the unbridled desire for accumulating wealth, a lust that acknowledges no control.

This is why wealth continues to inspire in us very ambivalent feelings, for we both desire money and feel guilty about having too much.

The place of almsgiving

Religious traditions are aware of this ambivalence and prescribe an effective remedy: “To him who has more, let him part with his surplus, and give generously to the needy.” In other words, every religion has focused accurately on the social responsibilities of wealth.

“Share your bread with the hungry, and your clothes with the naked,” urges the Bible, and Islam makes almsgiving one of the five pillars of righteous behavior.

Every great religious tradition in fact extols compassion for the poor, and its concrete expression in almsgiving, charity, and benevolent deeds.

Yes, the practice of benevolent charity is an effective antidote to avarice, but it is not the only one.

Most of the wealth accumulated today is ill-gotten, which means to say, it comes through cheating, extortion and theft. We ourselves may not cheat, but most of us have no objection to being the silent beneficiaries of unjust laws, manipulative trade and tariff systems, legal loopholes and tax shelters that protect the wily rich and usually devastate the unskillful poor.

The ethical norm here is justice. Not only laws and legislation but as a fundamental attitude to righteous living, dharma.

Stewardship and justice

Justice means “giving the other his due” – whether this “other” be wage-earning laborers, underpaid and overworked women, the community at large, or the Earth itself, from which raw materials are often wrested with no thought of repair or repayment.

Only a little reflection brings home to us how this concept of justice underlies the total well-being of society and humankind’s relations with the universe.      

Our growing ecological awareness has hammered this home in the last few decades.                                                   

The idea of justice is closely related to stewardship, or trusteeship, an idea dear to Gandhi. Stewardship calls for accountability, foresight, collaboration and decisiveness, whether as a bank manager, a minister in government or as a mere householder. It also calls for total selflessness and honesty.

But there is more. An ethical perspective on money means turning a critical eye on the financial systems of the country as well. Banking, the taxation laws, and the trading system – all reveal grave structural flaws and demand a more equitable system for both creating wealth and distributing it.

So an ethics of wealth demands not just honesty and compassion, but a sense of justice and stewardship as well.

Money. Everyone wants it; most don’t have enough of it.  But as the philosopher said, what one does with it is more important than how much one has.

And how one uses it, reveals the kind of person one is.

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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