According to the ancient Persian prophet Zoroaster, two opposing powers are active in this world. These powers are not inseparably divided between “this world” versus “the other world,” spirit versus matter. Rather, they are opposing poles challenging one another: good and evil, life and death, light and darkness, obscurity and clarity, the contrast between day and night.

There are many who believe that religious people, the idealists, the devout, are on one side in this struggle, while materialists, those concerned with outward things, are on the other side. Certainly, this classification appears justified. But it misses the point.

The great struggle takes place in the heart of every person – in every materialist just as much as in every religious person. We cannot say that the good are on one side and the bad on the other, nor is it true that the religious life is good while the materialist life is bad. The important thing is to discern where materialist thinking puts its faith, and where religious life finds its god – where the spirit of each is found and what each values.

The great struggle takes place in the heart of every person.

In religion as well as in atheism there is an antigod whom we can worship. The early Christians were convinced that there is a god in the world who is not the God of Jesus Christ. There is a god of godless, worldly religion, antagonistic to the life of Jesus; a god of the present era, hostile to God’s future.

The nature of this antigod is work without soul, business without love, machinery without spirit, and lust instead of joy. It craves for possessions without mutual help, destroys competitors, and idolizes private property, obtained through fraud. It is a god of the present age, an interim god. This demonic force is at work even in the most religious places, where devotion wears its most pious mask.

We read in early Christian writings that a god of this world has blinded the minds of those who cannot believe and are perishing. It has corrupted their vision so that they are no longer able to see what really matters. Jesus, the leader of the coming age, declared war on this spirit. He spoke of this fight and of certain victory when he said, “You cannot serve two masters. You cannot serve God and mammon.”

Amedeo Modigliani, Study of a Head

What Is Mammon?

We would not be able to understand the term mammon unless we knew the other names by which Jesus exposes this spirit. He calls it the “murderer from the beginning” and “the father of lies,” and refers to its emissaries as “unclean spirits” (John 8:44; Matt. 10:1). Mammonism is its nature, murder its trade, lying its character, and impurity its face.

To the moralist, these four traits may seem unrelated, but in truth there is no fundamental difference. Mammonism is the covetous will: to seize, possess, and enjoy. Thus, these apparently different designations – mammon, lying, murder, and immorality – disclose one and the same spirit, one and the same god. The reality around us shows the enormous power this god possesses in the world.

Jesus says: Lay up no treasure for yourself on earth; sell all you have and give to the poor, and come, and go a totally new way with me (Matt. 6:19; Luke 18:22). Wealth works as a curse because it stands in the way of liberation. It is an affliction because it burdens and satiates but cannot fulfill. Private property kills friendship and gives rise to injustice. “Woe to you that are rich, woe to you that are full.” “Blessed are you that are poor” (Luke 6:20, 24).

There has to be a great turning point, when true friendship will be won by giving away property, when fellowship will be found by turning away from injustice. “Make friends for yourselves through unjust mammon” (Luke 16:9). Win hearts by giving away all you own. Go the new way of fellowship and community given by the Spirit; seek the unity that comes from God and penetrates through the soul into material things. Flee from mammon and turn to God!