The Purpose of Money; Metaphysics determines morality

A bit more here from a recent article I read from America Magazine, “Metaphysics and Money

Charity is not simply about making things better on earth. It has an evangelical content. The renunciation of wealth helps the poor, to be sure, but it also reveals something about the shape of the world God has made and how we might flourish in it.

Are the poor short-changed in this view? I do not think so. For the deeper question to be asked is, what funds our thirst for social justice in the first place? Helping the poor was not a virtue in Greco-Roman culture, nor is it esteemed by many libertarians—a philosophy that is alarmingly popular among the young. The sociologist Christian Smith has argued that the concern for the poor that is so prominent in the West had its origins in biblical religion. This raises an alarming possibility: absent the church’s metaphysical claims about wealth, will such concerns continue? Perhaps the story of the rich young man provides the necessary condition for the possibility of social justice.

The issue here is not how I can achieve greatness but what kind of world God has made. Only when we have grasped what type of world we live in can we figure out a strategy for flourishing in it. The teaching is more metaphysical than moral.

When Gary Anderson, the writer, points out that the Bible’s teaching about money is more metaphysical than moral, I wish he added that those two things (metaphysics and morals) are much more related than we tend to acknowledge. Metaphysics is about the nature of reality, the world and how it works. Morality is about how to live well–in a good way, not just having stuff. Morality then depends on metaphysics because in order to live well in reality, we need to understand the nature of the reality in which we live. Ie- how to be a good fish will be very different from how to be a good bird as their physical worlds are very different, though both good.

Here we can see the philosophical disaster of ignoring or assuming metaphysics. For instance, if we assume philosophical materialism (as is so common today), any approach to morality is necessarily incoherent for in a world of mere atoms, what is there to give any meaning (such as goodness or badness) beyond that. I suppose we can cast some blame on David Hume who claimed that it is illogical to derive an “ought” from an “is.” Unfortunately, I think the opposite, following the tradition of Aquinas and Aristotle that “ought” comes precisely from the “is.”

Christian metaphysics holds that the world is both physical and spiritual, a view which I think is born out by our experience. We all experience the spiritual nature of reality very concretely through our free will. Will and intellect are the spiritual activities that we can perform because we have souls, not just atoms.

As the article’s quotes discuss above, Christian metaphysics makes concern for the poor intelligible. It is sad to me that this is so ignored in some pockets of society.

The purpose of money, from a Christian perspective, is not just to hoard or to purchase leisure goods, but to secure the necessary essentials of a good life for oneself and others. Money is a means, not an end. No amount of dollars in the bank bring happiness or lasting security. As the author notes, security is paradoxically only achieved in the detachment from money and the attachment to other humans that comes from giving the money away.

This is why having a bit more or less than someone else needn’t be cause for embarrassment or awkwardness. We are just two people living life; if we have basic needs met and can help others meet their needs, it’s just numbers in the computer.


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