The Love of Money
I used to be a monk. Now I’m a financial advisor. For a while, I was both a monk and a financial advisor. For some reason, those facts make me a sort of unicorn to most people. But that is why reconciling faith with finance is so important. For too long, religion and money have been held separate, as if the very existence of one sullies the other. But the cold hard truth of modern life is that we need money. We can’t live our lives and serve others without it. Everyone needs a little bit of wealth — even monks. I discovered this fact the hard way when our community went bankrupt.
However, some Christians will cherry pick quotes from the Bible or parse a single passage to avoid the conflict between faith and finance. One of the more popular justifications is to re-interpret key passages, like 1 Timothy 6:10: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.”
I’ve heard preachers say that it is the “love” of money that is the problem, not money itself. For me, this is like saying sex isn’t a problem, enjoying sex is the problem: Have all the sex you want, just don’t like it very much. That’s a little silly too. I love having sacks of money.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t serious spiritual dangers around money and sex. Money can too easily amplify our selfishness and derail our spiritual growth. Rampant selfishness at the expense of others is unspiritual, unkind, and in opposition to the core teaching of the world’s religions.
We need to find a way forward that allows us to care for the poor and our planet, without feeling guilty about having money, and enjoying it wholeheartedly for the good it produces in the world and our personal lives.
I suggest being mindful about your money by giving your money some love—the right kind of love. Not avarice or greed, but spiritual love. Love that is attentive, patient, and kind, and mindful of our responsibility to live in alignment with our values.
For example, in Ancient Greek, the original language of the New Testament, there are four different words for love. Each has a unique flavor and nuance. But in English, we only have one word for love. All four Greek terms get jumbled together, creating much confusion about “love” of money. This is a topic worthy of an entire book, but it seems reasonable to distinguish between selfish, narcissistic love of money for self-aggrandizement versus a higher love of money that is mindful, filled with gratitude for our blessings, and increases our capacity for service.
The phrase, “love of money” in 1 Timothy 6:10 comes from the word philargyria, which literally means love of silver. Phil is one of the Greek roots for love, and argyria is silver, the metal that ancient Greek coins were made from. (Argyria rhymes with Algeria.) Philargyria has a profoundly negative connotation and refers to avarice.
What I suggest is that we need agape-argyria: divine love of money. Agape, the highest form of love, also means charity. It is a selfless love fervently devoted to the service of others. Agape allows us to love that which is intuitively unlovable: the sinner, the criminal, the fool, the leper—and perhaps even money.
Why shouldn’t money and God work together? It is true that 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.” Matthew 6:24. But here’s a cool trick: You can make money to serve God. Just not the other way around.
Economics, like science, is one of the most effective tools available to alleviate suffering. We’ve updated our religious and moral framework over the centuries to include scientific discovery and the scientific method in our worldview. Given the demands of a modern economy, we need to update our religious and ethical worldviews to have a healthier attitude toward money by not layering all money talk with guilt and shame.
As philosopher Ken Wilber points out, a core function of our wisdom traditions is to help us with four key stages of psychological development: growing up, cleaning up, waking up, and showing up. Agape-argyria can help with all of these. First, it helps us grow up in our relationship to money by avoiding a dualistic, good or evil, view of money. Then it can clean up our selfish, ego-driven desires for personal gain at the expense of others. Next, it can wake us up to the reality of climate change and the social injustices created by our current economic systems. And finally, agape-argyria can help us show up and make a difference in the world by aligning our investments with our values.
After all, money is just a sponge that absorbs the intent of the user. We can use it to make the world better or not.
So, how are you going to make your money a force for good?
Article by Doug Lynam, partner at LongView Asset Management, LLC, in Santa Fe, NM and an industry thought leader in ethical and sustainable investing.
Profiled in numerous media outlets such as the New York Times, Kiplinger’s, CNBC, Entrepreneur, and The Street, Doug brings a unique perspective to the world of finance. His ground-breaking book, From Monk To Money Manager: A Former Monk’s Financial Guide To Becoming A Little Bit Wealthy – And Why That’s Okay, receives enthusiastic reviews for its wisdom and thought-provoking insights told with humility and humor.
Doug is a self-proclaimed “Suffering Prevention Specialist,” as well as a cartoonist, columnist, and speaker. He graduated Marine Corps Office Candidate School, was ordained as a Benedictine monk by Fr. Richard Rohr, and taught math and science for 18 years while in the monastery. He continues to provide pro bono advice to low-income families and has won awards for his volunteer efforts for the homeless.
“A monk, a Marine, and a money manager walk into a bar . . . actually, they wrote a book and they are all the same person! Doug Lynam is one of the most interesting people I know.” – Scott Dauenhauer