Why religion is an important part of personal finance

This guest-post has had some very passionate comments. I felt it appropriate to reference J.D's thought on the matter included in this article “I've intentionally kept my political and religious leanings obscure at Get Rich Slowly — they have no bearing on personal finance.” However, FreeMoneyFinance disagrees and took time out from their very busy schedule to post a very lengthy and well-written guest article with a counter-viewpoint. –jerichohill(admining while JD is away)

Recently J.D. and I were emailing back and forth discussing a possible guest post on the topic of religion and money. I cover the issue every Sunday on my blog and I tossed out several ideas I thought were worthwhile. Then J.D. said something that decided the issue. He wrote: “I've intentionally kept my political and religious leanings obscure at Get Rich Slowly — they have no bearing on personal finance.”

Ahhh, but they do — or at least the religious leanings do. (I'd argue that political leanings probably do too, but that's for a different post by a more-qualified blogger.) So I'd like to discuss why I think a person's religion should impact their finances. I'll toss out a few of my thoughts on the issue, then let all of you chime in with your points-of-view in the comments.

I'll start with a couple statements so you can get a sense for where I'm coming from:

  1. I'm a Christian and, as such, I have the most knowledge and experience on the various Christian viewpoints on money, how to handle it, on so on. My knowledge of other religions' beliefs on money can at best be described as “limited,” so please forgive me if I make an inappropriate comment. It's certainly not intentional.
  2. That said, I think my point-of-view on religion impacting personal finance is true for all religions — Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and so on. I think you'll see why in a moment.

Now to the heart of the matter. Here's my short and sweet position on why religious beliefs should impact finances:

Every religion has a set of principles detailing how a person should behave, worship God, treat others and the like. For each of these principles, a context could be (and most likely will be) experienced where money is injected into a situation that challenges a person to either follow or ignore these principles. In other words, how a person reacts with his money in a given situation often is fundamentally tied to whether or not he's actually following his religious practices — it's a visible, outside indication of his true belief in the principles of his religion. Therefore, it follows that our religious beliefs should significantly impact how we handle our finances.

How does this play out practically? Here are a couple generic suggestions that illustrate how religious beliefs should impact how money is handled:

  1. Almost every religion has some sort of principle that says we should treat our fellow man kindly. Furthermore, many religions go a step further and give specific instructions on how we should care for the poor and down-trodden in society. Does this have any implications on our personal finances? Of course. It impacts how we give to feed and clothe the poor, how much we give, to what organizations and the like. It even influences our reaction to a request from a homeless man for a handout or a request for a donation from a foodbank. Taking it back a step further, it even suggests how we budget our money — being sure we set aside enough to help care for the needy.
  2. Almost every religion has some sort of principle that includes the worship of (and service to) God, Jesus, nature or some higher being or principle. Many religions advocate that we worship God in many ways — through our actions, in song, in prayer, and even through our money. For instance, the Jewish religion has long had the principle of the tithe — giving the first 10% of a person's income as an act of worship to God. Many Christians practice this principle as well, though several advocate a more general principle of “generous giving” over the tithe. But in any case, doesn't it make sense that if we're commanded to worship and serve God that we'd worship and serve him in all ways — including with our money? Certainly this would impact how we handle our personal finances in many ways.

Now let me be a bit more specific. Here are some examples from the Old and New Testaments that impact various aspects of how we should handle or personal finances. Some are commands and some are general principles, but they all influence how we should handle our money:

  • Saving: Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest. Proverbs 6:6-8
  • Diversification of investments: Give portions to seven, yes to eight, for you do not know what disaster may come upon the land. Ecclesiastes 11:2
  • Controlling greed: Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Luke 12:15
  • Borrow carefully: The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender. Proverbs 22:7
  • Being generous: You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. 2 Corinthians 9:7-12
  • Helping the poor: He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward him for what he has done. Proverbs 19:17
  • More on helping the poor: If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 1 John 3:17
  • Giving: Just as you excel in everything — in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us — see that you also excel in this grace of giving. 2 Corinthians 8:7

I could go on and on (there are hundreds of verses in the Bible on how to handle money), but I think you get the point.

It's a deep subject and I've only skimmed the surface, but we can consider the conversation now started. Please add your own thoughts in the comments below. I'll try to stop in now and then to comment myself and see how the discussion is progressing.

Thanks, FMF, for tackling this subject. Folks, I generally eschew religion and politics at this site, so if you've been wanting to discuss issues of spirituality and finance, now's the time to do it. You can read more about the Bible and money every Sunday at Free Money Finance.

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Randy Peterman
Randy Peterman
13 years ago

Its part of who you are and why you do what you do – and why I do what I do! Thanks for cross-posting it (he he, excuse the pun). I would add that sharing financial wisdom is part of what Solomon taught in the book of Proverbs, so its probably wise to do so ourselves 😉

That Guy
That Guy
13 years ago

This blog entry is really pushing the envelope of relevance with regards to financial matters. I am also concerned that anyone who ties together religion and financial decision making so tightly would be giving financial advise. Personal finances need to be viewed in an unbiased manner.

Brooke
Brooke
13 years ago

So, what does this mean for us atheists? 😉

Loopy 32
Loopy 32
1 year ago
Reply to  Brooke

buy all the Pfizer, British American Tobacco, Anhischer Busch and Frito Lay you want. Or invest in an environmentally concious etf. If this is all there is either get rich (by any means necessary) or make the environment nice for as many people as possible.

Mark Andersen
Mark Andersen
13 years ago

I have been debating how far to bring faith into my blog as well, although it seems more fitting since my blog is about family happiness in addition to personal finance. I think after reading this post though, I could probably be more vocal about my faith on my blog.

As for atheists I will just say that I’ve never met a person who didn’t have faith in SOMETHING.

Stacey
Stacey
13 years ago

I’d also like to know what this means for us atheists. If you need a book to tell you to be kind to your fellow man and be kind to the poor then as a species we are in trouble.

Sean
Sean
13 years ago

If you’re an atheist then you still have your own personal morals and ethics which will show up when you deal with your money. You just don’t have a standard book to reference to, unless you want to make one so you don’t forget what you believe in.

Dave
Dave
13 years ago

The fact is, the basic rules of money apply equally to everyone. They can be utilized by the good, the bad, the ugly, and the morally indifferent, and the results will be the same. Christians will build wealth if they live on less than they earn … on the other hand, atheists will build wealth if they live on less than they earn. What you’ve done in this post is simply cherry-picked verses from the Bible that square w/ the good, solid advice that almost any decent financial professional would give. But what happens when we look at the whole… Read more »

s427
s427
13 years ago

I don’t think that being nice to your fellow man really is specific to any religion. It is simply human. Even an atheist or an agnostic can find plenty of good reasons to follow the same rule.

So I agree to say that religion is no more linked to finance than leisures, food habits or anything else. Your belief in God will lead to specific expenses, all right. But so will your food diet, your preferences for cars or your love of playing poker.

Will Tomkinson
Will Tomkinson
13 years ago

I’m With Brooke. Having faith in a religious sense is not universal at all. I personally think that faith in the face of reams contrary evidence is folly at best. This blog is the property of its author and so it can contain whatever the author chooses to include. I support that. This post may do much to uplift the faithful or speak truth to those with a pre-existing belief system. If me, it is only a little insulting and so I can deal. As Dave alludes, the bible can be used as a Bartlets Quotations book. You could use… Read more »

Justin
Justin
13 years ago

@Anderson: You have led a very sheltered life amongst simple minded people then. To have never met a person without faith in the fairy tales of religions is a sad thing indeed.

s427
s427
13 years ago

In fact I would even say that being generous for *purely* religious reasons seems rather a bad thing to me. Because it would mean that you behave this way only “because the Bible says so”, and not because you understand the importance of generosity as such.

So the question is : do you understand why you’re being generous and nice to your fellow man, or do you simply do as you’re told ?

@Mark Andersen: for myself, I believe in Doubt. 😉 (And I mean it.)

Bloggrrl
Bloggrrl
13 years ago

I think that the verses you have quoted are fascinating. Somehow, the only thing I’ve ever heard in church about money management was the part about tithing. I suppose class/geography needs to be taken into account as well when considering religion.

I don’t think anyone can deny that is is very important to many, although it can play out in various ways.

ChrisR
ChrisR
13 years ago

Dave took the words right out of my mouth. All in all, I find it very ironic that generally, atheists know much more about religion than the people who practice them.

Mark Wickens
Mark Wickens
13 years ago

“Religion” is too specific. It is one’s values, regardless of whether they are rooted in religion, that do and ought to have a bearing on how one handles money. Atheist philosophers certainly have plenty to say on the topic. See Ayn Rand’s “money speech” in Atlas Shrugged for an example: http://www.capmag.com/article.asp?ID=1826.

Aubrey
Aubrey
13 years ago

I agree with Brooke, Dave and especially Will. Personally, I’m glad that J.D. keeps religion separate from this blog – if this were the type of post that I found here on a day-to-day basis, I’d have no interest in subscribing (as I do now).

Scott
Scott
13 years ago

God’s commandment to keep holy the Sabbath day was part of His first covenant made with man in the Old Testament, which was augmented and in some cases altered when he made a new covenant that is explained in the New Testament. In Luke 13:10-17 we read about how Jesus is criticized for healing a woman on the Sabbath when the Pharisees argue that this constitutes doing work. Jesus speaks out strongly against their criticism. I personally try not to let my job consume my time on Sunday as I prefer to spend that time with family, friends and with… Read more »

mave
mave
13 years ago

I’ve been enjoying this blog immensely for weeks, and finding much of what you say very inspiring and motivating. I’ve often said this is one of my favorite blogs, and it’s true. or at least it was one of my favorite blogs until today. I find today’s post incredibly offensive and presumptive, and it really makes me question whether this is a blog I can continue to read, and a blogger I can continue to respect. certainly if you remain headed in this religious direction, I will be moving on. I respect your choice to discuss religion here, but my… Read more »

Xophist
Xophist
13 years ago

BUT (@Anderson) saying “I’ve never met a person who didn’t have faith in SOMETHING.” is akin to saying all Jews are really Christians that just haven’t figured it all out yet. You know, he’s actually right Will. There are many thing you have faith in. Perhaps you have faith in yourself and believe that you can do or understand anything. Perhaps you have faith that your parents are your parents, then again, maybe not and you’ve gone checking all the documents surrounding your birth in order to confirm that your parents are your parents, of course you’d then have to… Read more »

Brad
Brad
13 years ago

Please do not confuse faith and morality. All of the tenants you talked about above are fundamental parts of morality. One need not be religious to understand right from wrong, good from bad. While I understand that some people look to a holy text to gain understanding and a stronger sense of morality, others (such as myself) rely on an internal compass, as well as the examples set for us by society. I don’t need to go to church to know that it is right to help the needy, donate to charities, etc. I’m sure the author absolutely didn’t have… Read more »

Thomas
Thomas
13 years ago

“Take not usury of him nor more than thou gavest… Thou shalt not give him thy money upon usury: nor exact of him any increase of fruits.”
-Leviticus 25:36-37

Should I ditch all my interest bearing accounts, or my faith in the bible as a source of unerrant financial wisdom?

Tom Cort
Tom Cort
13 years ago

I have a question to those of you out there who are more religious than me… when choosing a stock or mutual fund do you consider how the investment matches your religious views, or do you just invest based solely on the company or mutual fund’s financial merit? For example: would you invest in the Vice Fund (VICEX), a socially irresponsible mutual fund, which has a 3 year annualized return of nearly 19% and a 5 star Morningstar rating?

Bret Dave
Bret Dave
13 years ago

I can’t believe that you didn’t mention the most famous verse on money in the whole Bible. Timothy 6:10 “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” When you mentioned helping the poor I was reminded of this passage where Jesus Christ (where the term ‘Christ’ian is derived from) Himself is speaking. The Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25:31-40) “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his… Read more »

Andrea >> Become a Consultant
Andrea >> Become a Consultant
13 years ago

I, too, would like to know how this holds for atheists. Warren Buffett, Andrew Carnegie, Steve Wozniak, Bill Gates, Larry Ellison — all atheists, all excellent investors, all philanthropists (at some point).

Swintah
Swintah
13 years ago

The Bible is very clear how those who manage to acquire wealth will be treated in their afterlife: Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. — Matthew 19:23-24, Mark 10:23-25 But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation. — Luke 6:24 Go to now, ye rich men,… Read more »

John
John
13 years ago

I don’t really see what this post has to do with personal finance at all. It’s unfortunate to see it on an otherwise great and informative blog. Matters of faith and matter of money, regardless of what the author attempted to prove, have nothing to do with one another. The author is making religious arguments on a finance blog, one: that religion and morality are mutually exclusive (Which they are NOT – basic human morality preceded the Christian age by at least 3000 years with the Babylonian and Sumerian cultures, then later with anicent Egyptian cultures. Furthermore, there are plenty… Read more »

Billy Waters
Billy Waters
13 years ago

For this post I unsubscribed.

Religion is inappropriate. Please not the misery and destruction caused by religious faith around the globe.

My finances have not killed anyone. Bling religious faith has.

Adam
Adam
13 years ago

Religion aside, it just comes back to practice what you preach and put your money where your mouth is. Whether one’s priorities is religion, protecting the environment, charity, etc…, putting our money to work for it demonstrates our faith, conviction, dedication, whatever it may be, towards that passion.

JT
JT
13 years ago

Sorry, but I feel I have to comment on this one – because this is so typical that it annoys me big time. I’ve grown into an atheist (at least regarding organised religious organisations, who are more and more turning into shameless scams in my book), yet mildly agnostic (who am I to say with 100% certainty there is no higher power). But you seem to forget a key point: common sense. I don’t need any bible (or coran, etc. you get the point) to know generosity is good, or figuring out that stealing or killing is bad. Same with… Read more »

Hannah
Hannah
13 years ago

Oh, poor atheists. He didn’t address your point of view, did he? What a mean-hearted guy.

Here’s a tip: IF a blogger says from the beginning of the post that s/he is a Christian (Jew, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Something-Other-Than-What-You-Believe), don’t expect that blogger to fully address your point of view in a fair and unbiased way. Really, could that blogger expect the same treatment from you?

To the point of the blog post: nice work. It’s hard to truly connect principle and practice. This is a great reminder. A helpful follow-up post might include advice on wise giving strategies.

nuiloa
nuiloa
13 years ago

There’s always this one…

No man can serve two masters; for either He will hate the one and love the other; or else He will hold the one, and despise the other, Ye cannot serve God and mommon [material wealth].

Mathew 6:24

SoldierGrrrl
SoldierGrrrl
13 years ago

BUT (@Anderson) saying “I’ve never met a person who didn’t have faith in SOMETHING.” is akin to saying all Jews are really Christians that just haven’t figured it all out yet.

To quote Shepherd Book, from a favorite movie of mine (Serenity)…”When I talk about belief, why do you always assume I’m talking about God?” Also, “I don’t care what you believe in, just believe.”

The OP said belief in something. Maybe it’s belief in yourself, or your famiy or science. Maybe it’s belief in the idea that orange juice gives you telepathy.

Andrea >> Become a Consultant
Andrea >> Become a Consultant
13 years ago

Atheists do not have beliefs. Atheists make observations and predictions based on empirical evidence.

To say that atheists have beliefs is to confuse “beliefs” with “values”.

JerichoHill
JerichoHill
13 years ago

Guys, Hey everyone. This was a guest-post since JD is out of the country. I do not know why there is so much anger, and folks saying they are unsubscribing based on one post?! Seriously? JD lined up alot of guest posts to keep contents flowing while he enjoyed a much needed vacation. Please don’t prejudge freemoneyfinance, GRS, or its great community based on one post. Thanks -JH, subbing in for JD until August. PS: you can leave me a private message on the forums if you were greatly upset by this post, or have similarly strong feelings and I… Read more »

Bob T
Bob T
13 years ago

I’d agree that an individual’s beliefs do/should affect how they manage finances. However, as a Buddhist, I don’t find much personal value in bible quotes. I avoid blogs that use them too often.

Good advice should have real-world data to back it up. Once you get into “because God said so,” I’ve lost interest. I understand that other bible-readers might enjoy such posts, so go ahead and do it if you like. I’ll come back later.

Zeca
Zeca
13 years ago

This was such a stupid idea.

What’s the next topic? Politics? How it is important to be a republican for finances?

“Oh, poor atheists. He didn’t address your point of view, did he? What a mean-hearted guy”.

Guess she qualifies as the next guest: unrespectful and not very smart.

Mike
Mike
13 years ago

So which of the wealthy electronic ministers who regularly fleece the flock do you really want to be? Nice description of chinese menu christianity you wrote. What ever fit your argument you used. What ever did not, you ignored.

You are a moron.

Dave
Dave
13 years ago

Scott — I’m sorry, but some of the messages in the Bible are indeed repulsive; there is simply no other way to look at it. For example, Hitler killed 10 million people in the Holocaust. Almost all normal, intelligent human beings can agree that Hitler was repulsive. Yet God killed EVERY LIVING THING in the story of Noah’s Ark. He killed new-born babies, grandmas, pigs, snakes, uncles, disabled people, retarded people, EVERY LIVING THING. Do you not find this mass murder of little girls and grandmas repulsive? If not, why not? Did they “deserve” it? Please try watching this short… Read more »

Mark Andersen
Mark Andersen
13 years ago

Wow, I definitely didn’t mean to open a can of worms like the one just unleashed upon this blog. When I said that everyone I’ve ever met believed in SOMETHING, I meant that there are facts and universal truths that people believe, or if they claim they do not believe them, still live their lives to the contrary. You don’t have to be religious to believe in something. You wouldn’t look at a brand new car and investigate all the science behind the engine, door mechanics, etc. to believe that it will start. You put faith in the manufacturer that… Read more »

Benno
Benno
13 years ago

The reactions of many just goes to show how charged people are about religion. Western society is so secular now that any mention of religion having anything to do with everyday activities is so foreign. Religion does influence what people do but does the christian (in this case) view differ that much from the agnostic or atheist view?

Jeff
Jeff
13 years ago

I’m blown away by the overwhelming number of negative responses to this article. Even though I am not, myself a person of faith, I wouldn’t have anticipated so many negative comments from what the guest author wrote. Sorry, but I am going to make an attempt to rewrite what I think the guest author should have said. It’s sort of like what Michael Pollan says about traditional food culture, but replacing food with money. We all affected by our cultures, and the subcultures we belong to. Our subcultures have a huge affect on the way we view money. One of… Read more »

mave
mave
13 years ago

jeff: what a christian-centric view of things!! abandonment of religion does not mean, as so many people claim in their ignorance, an abandonment of values, morality, tradition or culture. these things predate religion, and they exist with or without them. many argue that they flourish in the absence of religion and dogma. your claim that “most americans are left without a traditional money culture to guide them” just because churches aren’t providing that for them is just plain absurd. do culture and tradition live and die according to whether christians are involved in “guiding” it? thankfully – NO. we as… Read more »

JerichoHill
JerichoHill
13 years ago

Guys,

I’m moderating all comments in, regardless of whether they’re negative or not. However, could we bring the tone of hostility down a bit in the comments?

Thanks. If you have any questions, you can reach me on the forums (JerichoHill) and I can talk to you there.

Let’s comment nice.

Jennifer
Jennifer
13 years ago

I just don’t understand what everyone is getting so upset about. If there is a post somewhere that doesn’t interest me then I ignore it. THIS IS A GUEST POST! Did no one read that at the top of the blog? If this post doesn’t interest you then ignore it. There is no need to get worked up about it.

Mcbaker
Mcbaker
13 years ago

Wow–I have to agree with Jeff that I’m shocked at the extremely negative comments on this blog. I am an atheist, so I skimmed the Bible quotes as something that I’m not too interested in. But is lashing out in such a way, as some previous commenters have done, really an appropriate way to deal with someone else’s beliefs? I think it’s best to live and let be, in all honesty, especially in the virtual world. Or maybe I just sound like a hippie.

Maitresse
Maitresse
13 years ago

I’m most disappointed that comments are being moderated now. Let’s keep the discussion open.

I’m put my vote in for being strongly opposed to this type of post. I get more than enough of this elsewhere, and hoped for good financial advice here. Religion is unnecessary in the realm of finances.

Besides, Jesus said to give everything you own to the poor. I don’t really think that is a good way to be financially secure. 😉

rhbee
rhbee
13 years ago

It wasn’t so long ago that I might have responded to this post in the same way that many people have but today I’m going to take advantage of the perspective that blogging allows and just observe that this negative response is a clear message to the good Christian folk of this country/world that most of us are fed up with the sanctimonious posturing that has put us in to a disastorous military conflict, made us the torturers, the anti-civil rightists, the anti-human rightists,and the creators of the war on terror. You want to talk about money and Christianity, ask… Read more »

Dan
Dan
13 years ago

This is what is wrong in America today. I too am a Christian and am truly troubled and saddened by all of the ignorance and bashing of Christians. The Bible is a love story of how our hevenly father loves us, it is an instruction booklet and it is a history book. While christians are supposed to be tolerant of all other religions, we are supposed to take a back seat and let all of the other religions bash us. Christmas being stricken from any phrase in December, it is becoming ridiculas. To say that religion does not come into… Read more »

Glenna
Glenna
7 years ago
Reply to  Dan

Right on! Appreciate the article and the posts supporing it!

Refilwe
Refilwe
13 years ago

This is incredible, fascinating and yet all so familiar at the same time. My Runner-Up for Interesting Post so far: “I do not know why there is so much anger, and folks saying they are unsubscribing based on one post?! Seriously?” – No BS on this one folks. If you make your decisions based on facts, reason and evidence…should the only religious post (a guest post at that) you’ve ever seen on the blog make you run? That’s a religious content percentage of 0.0??? My Winner for Interesting Post so far: “Atheists do not have beliefs. Atheists make observations and… Read more »

Wesley
Wesley
13 years ago

I think JD had the right idea originally to leave religion and politics out of this site.

Pali
Pali
13 years ago

A distinction, if I may… there is a difference between having faith in something and believing something to be true. A belief is merely a proposition you hold to be true. It doesn’t matter WHY you hold it to be true, it is a belief. I believe that when I hit “submit comment”, this comment will go through. This belief may be wrong, but it is not a belief based on faith. It is a belief based on past experience (though, not with this website, so I doubt that it will go through a bit more than with a site… Read more »

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