The Spirit of Mammon

On Eugene McCarraher’s “Enchanted Capitalism: I was hesitant to read your “Money” issue. Perhaps my hesitancy is based upon fear. Fear that the magazine’s articles would hammer down too hard and shatter my hard-earned assumptions about money.

But then I read portions of the “Money” issue. Nothing was shattered. But I certainly started thinking, and thinking.

Today I’m still thinking about Eugene McCarraher’s definition of “mammon.” Unfortunately, I have never taken the time to properly exegete this term, even confusing mammon with money. But McCarraher points out that mammon is a spirit, the spirit of acquisition, the spirit of ruthlessness.

Though money is certainly a coveted commodity for this ruthless spirit of acquisition, money is not the same thing as mammon. McCarraher states that according to the New Testament, mammon is “a demon who encourages greed, stupidity, endless dissatisfaction, all for the purposes of endless acquisition.” Mammon is a spiritual force. No wonder Jesus said that we cannot serve both God and mammon.

D. R. Groten,
Spring Valley, Minnesota

What Is Money For?

On Peter Mommsen’s “The Other Side of the Needle’s Eye: This essay tugs at the heartstrings so. I admire how truths are brought to light as gently as if they were mere suggestions, how the rebuttal to some of Augustine’s conclusions is structured and exposited. I personally would make a passionate mess of it.

What the essay did with such force, however, was bring me to a reflection on my own hypocrisy and self-righteousness. Being from a Third World African country, I realize that I would be first to champion the true teaching of selflessness concerning wealth, as directed by the Bible. But then, to think of how rich Pinianus and Melania were, I couldn’t help but harbor a resentment for what they did. Having known the nature of poverty in a materialistic society, I find that I envy what they had but not in any way what they did. A part of me lies that I would have served God better having the wealth with me than giving it all away. And so, I pray for grace and strength.

Isaac Kilibwa,

Vihiga, Western Kenya

Artwork by R. O. Hodgell. Used by permission.

On Maureen Swinger’s “On Owning Twenty-Two Cars: Interesting glimpse into one who is not dominated by frivolous wants, but who nevertheless lives securely in the knowledge that genuine needs will be taken care of.

That security must be comforting, but in today’s consumption-driven society, it is hard to imagine living without money. Only one committed to a higher ideal and to “live simply so that others might simply live” will be able to sustain that ideal.

Ann Dayton, St Ives,
Cornwall, United Kingdom

Against Usury

On Readings, “Where Your Treasure Is: As C. S. Lewis famously said in Mere Christianity, three major ancient thought systems – Greek, Christian, and Jewish – considered usury unethical.

How could we have such amnesia? Or is it deafness or blindness? Saint Paul put it well, “The good that I would do, I do not, and the evil that I would not do, I do.”

Most Americans can’t imagine the possibility that we stole land from Native Americans or enslaved people for centuries, so compelled are we to think of ourselves as good people. Well. Why not make money on money?

The role of money runs so deep – in our land use, governmental systems, work systems, and personal daily habits – that it is hard to overrate it. Or oversee it. Or see over it. We blame the poor for their poverty and honor the rich for their wealth – and even have prosperity “gospels.”

What does this mean? We are not who we think we are, nor are we capable of being much different. We are, early and often, misshapen. We hide truth in plain sight.

If we start there, we might have an angle on how unimportant money is compared to personal coherence. Truth in lending? Future results not based on past performance? Shedding the skin of righteousness would be a great place to start to get into a right relationship with money.

Donna Schaper,
West Haven, Connecticut

Unlikely Samaritans

On Phil Christman’s “The Effective Samaritan: Given the logic of the parable, anyone stopping to help would thereby be neighbor to the victim, however improbable or contrived, whether Samaritan, effective altruist, or Kanye West. Nevertheless, ethical commitments matter, and in reality a consistent effective altruist would be the least likely of the passersby to help, given the signature rationalization that one’s time and money secure greater overall benefit if donated to nonlocal causes, like prevention of improbable distant future existential threats to humanity. Yet I suppose that while with man this story is impossible, with God all things are possible.

Paul Nedelisky,
Charlottesville, Virginia

On Myron Glick’s “Who Deserves Medical Care?: I spent over thirty-six years in the legal profession. Part of our responsibility as practicing attorneys was to give back to the community – to do some pro bono work – for the common good. Some were better at this than others, but every one of us knew of this responsibility. Why is there not the same attitude among healthcare professionals? Though I hear of some doctors – such as the one in this story – I never hear of the medical profession as a whole determining that it is up to them to be part of the solution. My father was a country doctor back when they still made house calls – and certainly would always help those in need and never turn someone away just because he or she couldn’t pay. If more doctors were like this, we wouldn’t have this national crisis.

R. Neely Owen,

Merrill, Wisconsin

The Priceless Café

On Robert Lockridge’s “Pay As You Can: As with any real attempt to live in community, there is nearly always one or more people who seem bent on “taking advantage” of generosity, of taking far more than they seem willing to give. This type is often called a “freeloader.” This is especially difficult in your situation, the “pay what you can” mixture of charity and commerce.

Artwork by Luke Sewell. Used by permission.

Perhaps the difficulty lies in the direct mixture of two fairly incompatible ways of handling the basic needs of people. Commerce is based on real expectation of some level of profit, of financial gain in the process. Charity seeks no financial gain whatsoever, but is supposed to be altruistic by nature. It might be true that only perfected people could properly navigate a “pay as you can” system. It becomes a playground for moral compromise unless those participating actually have a strong moral compass already functioning.

In this story, when Kevin was exposed as a “user” type, he disappeared, along with his happy-go-lucky facade. Perhaps he really needed the charity, but just as likely not. I genuinely admire your guts to attempt such a venture, and my own community of believers has discussed doing similar things. I’m just not sure we can mix charity and commerce.

Andrew J. Churney,
Pal Coast, Florida

A Whistleblower’s Legacy

On Robert Ellsberg’s “A Father’s Legacy to His Son – and His Country: A moving tribute from a highly thoughtful and articulate son about a father who was not the stereotypical baseball-tossing, sports-cheering dad. So many compelling questions: Did the stern choices he made in his life’s work make a difference? Yes, at some level, and probably no: here we are, decades later, mired in much the same problems.

Thank you to author and subject for this thought-provoking profile of one of tormented twentieth-century America’s significant actors.

Kristine Montamat,
Charlottesville, Virginia

Not Walking Away

On Michelle Van Loon’s “A Good Death for Dying Churches: What if we didn’t have the luxury of walking (or running) away from disagreement, or cherry-picking services? What if our spiritual survival depended on getting along, working through problems, clinging to one another, even in conflict, as if the people around us were the only ones who understood us and knew what we’re up against? How many priorities would change if walking away weren’t an option? I think the most logical and biblical organization for the church is “how far do you want to walk?” I don’t do this; I drive by two churches to get to a specific church, like most Christians I know. And I’ve seen two splits in my short time, like the one described in this article. There’s something compelling and biblical about the idea of not being allowed to walk away faultless – like family. You can stop talking to family, but it never goes away.

Scott Kenney,
Colorado Springs, Colorado

When Faith Brings Uncertainty

On Alan Noble’s “Living with Religious Scrupulosity or Moral OCD: I appreciate this thoughtful piece. I am also a practicing Christian who has experienced OCD for many years, including the variety described here. As the author indicates, one of the biggest hurdles in treating moral scrupulosity is becoming comfortable with uncertainty. I have learned to accept a fair degree of grey in the moral decision-making process, all under the overriding belief that God truly loves me. This entails living with the possibility that I might be wrong: God may be dissatisfied with the extent of my repentance, my avoidance of sinful behaviors, etc. The key is listening to what my gut says is true about the gospel and trusting that God loves me despite my incomplete obedience.

Steven Marquardt,
Tucker, Georgia

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