Christians and Money

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October 27, 2010

Should a church parking lot be full of $50,000 cars? Someone once said that it was wrong for Christians to own vehicles of that value. On the one hand, I don't own a $50,000 car. I probably never will. For me a car is a device that gets you from A to B. It doesn't need to be fancy or spectacular. On the other hand, I certainly own some things (an Apple computer, for one) that other people might find excessive. A cheaper Windows machine can (more or less) do all the same things. It would get me from point A to B (to use the driving analogy). Yet, with computers, I prefer to pay a little more money for the quality and ease-of-use. 

There are Christians who might judge me for owning a $1,000+ laptop when I could have bought one for $500. Indeed, if we are to be careful with our money, they might have a point. So would the person who's claiming that Christians shouldn't drive $50,000 cars. I used to look at other people and judge their spending habits. It's still something I'm struggling with. But I had a revelation a few years ago that is changing all that. 

  1. Everyone has passions and interests. If they spend their money on those things I may not understand it. You may love cycling and spend $3,000 on a bike. You may love cars and prefer to drive something more comfortable and spend the extra to get that comfort. I have things I buy as cheap as possible, but others that I "splurge" on because I want something of higher quality. We each have our own area like this. 
  2. There are Christian people in this world to whom a $50,000 car is the same percentage of their income as a $5,000 car would be to me. They may be absolutely generous and "Christian" with their money in charitable donations, but still they have cash to throw around. To think that my spending habits wouldn't change if I was suddenly making a million dollars a year is naive and uninformed. 
  3. Sometimes (though not always), something that is more costly indicates a higher quality of build. This means that a) it may not be thrown out as quickly, b) it was hopefully built with higher standards for employees, and c) since we are also called to be responsible with our money, buying the more expensive item that won't end up in the junkyard next week is the more "Christian" thing to do.

Can a Christian drive a $50,000 car? Absolutely. When it comes down to it, we are responsible for the money we spend, not the money on the parking lot or anywhere else. Sure, we can hold each other accountable (like if someone's $50,000 car is putting them ridiculously into debt, or if they are simply doing it to keep up with the neighbours), but the key thing to remember is that money should not control us and our lives. Ultimately, it is a tool given to us that we can use. We need to be responsible with it, and for each person that might mean something a little (or a lot) different.

Taking Heart,

Paul

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Comments

A couple of comments. I think we need to start being more rigorous of our descriptions about money and our relationship to it. You mention that a car is about getting from A to B. This is not true. Feet are about that or maybe a bus pass or a bike (I will grant rural communities some more flexibility on that). A car is about having a measure of independence which by default is accessible to only a certain financial demographic.
Second, you say that money is a tool. I suppose to an extent I can agree but money I see more as a symbol caught up in a structure that is having definite effects in our world regardless of how we 'use' it.
These comments are not meant to be critical of you personally they reflect a renewed interest of mine in being more clear about our situation in which we cannot isolate our individual lives and the personal use of money. I would welcome feedback as these views are in development.

David,

Thanks for your comments. When I mentioned a car being to get from A to B, I was describing it from my own perspective. For other people a car can be entertainment, etc. And, however, I would still argue that, given the layout of our cities and the time crunch we continually find ourselves in, cars are as close to a necessity as possible. Simply put, I would love to walk or bike everywhere. Because the car was invented, cities spread out. Thus, we now "need" cars. You're right, it's possible to live without them. But in Winter in Winnipeg it makes it extremely difficult to walk 4-5km to get to a store. Biking is even worse in the snow. You're right, though, that cars are available to a certain demographic. But they've come to the point that, without one, it makes life very difficult. I struggle with defining them as "necessary," like you do. But neither are many things "necessary" if by that we mean that we could get by with lesser forms (phone, email, etc.). This could go on and on forever, but the point I was trying to make was not even a point of necessity.

Three Winters ago my wife and I decided to walk as many places as possible. Taking the time to slow down the transportation part of life had great effects in other parts of life. It gives you time to process where you just were, and prepare for where you're going. Unfortunately, increasing busyness in life makes that more difficult. So while I say that a car is almost a necessity, I would love to see a society in which we walk or bike everywhere.

I understand what you mean by seeing money as a symbol, but I struggle to understand a world in which money didn't exist. Simply put, our economy has spread to such a global extent that to directly trade goods or services would be extremely difficult. Money moderates this trade. If we used money properly (all of us), I would think it would simply become a "tool."

Could you clarify, "we cannot isolate our individual lives and the personal use of money"? I'm not sure what you mean by this statement.

The only real point I am trying to make is that we offer up insufficient or false descriptions of the situation (i.e. how we understand cars). So cars may be 'necessary' but that is because of other pervasive decisions by our culture that were not particularly based on 'Christian' values. This leads into your question of clarity. Yes, you can say that a car is 'necessary' and go on about your business. Or you could purchase energy efficient appliances seeing yourself as 'helping' the environment but both these isolated actions are embedded in larger cultural structures (i.e. urban planning based on an irresponsible sense of space and relations which make cars 'necessary' or a pervasive capitalistic model that can absorb any 'cause' and sell you something to make you feel better about it).
The comment about money being a symbol is simply a reminder that it is not some inherently valuable object only that we must understand it within the larger structure which maintains it.

Just to make sure my point is clear I am interested in clear and extensive descriptions. I drive a car but I am under no illusion that 95% of the time it is driven because I am not willing to make another choice (including where I live and I what I do). . . not because it is necessary. My view can easily lead to an 'all is evil' position. And I guess in many ways I have accepted that position in our context given how connected our actions are to the world around us so I figure I might as well be clear about it and see where it goes.

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