Showing posts with label #Mammon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Mammon. Show all posts

Worshiping Mammon instead of Jesus.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 July 2020

Matthew 6.24, Luke 16.13.

Lately I’ve been seeing a meme on social media, warning people about what might happen if society goes cashless. Some of the memes claim Dave Ramsey wrote it; he did not. Like most memes which go viral pretty quickly, it’s meant to scare people. And since it plays right into many a Christian’s fears about the End Times, of course Christians have been spreading it too.

My comment after yet another friend posted it on Facebook: “Isn’t it funny? The first thing Christians worry about when the Beast comes… is Mammon.”

Mammonism is the worship of wealth, money, material possessions, and the joy of pursuing all that stuff. Our word Mammon comes from something Jesus taught in his Sermon on the Mount, repeated in Luke. I’ll quote both variants.

Matthew 6.24 KWL
“Nobody’s able to be a slave to two masters: Either they’ll hate one and love the other,
or look up to one and down on the other: Can’t be a slave to God and Mammon.”
Luke 16.13 KWL
“No slave is able to be a slave to two masters: Either they’ll hate one and love the other,
or look up to one and down on the other: Can’t be a slave to God and Mammon.”

A few current translations drop the reference to Mammon and translate this verse, “You cannot serve both God and money” (GNB, NIV, NLT), or “You cannot serve God and wealth” (NASB, NRSV). Thing is, μαμωνᾷ/mammoná isn’t the Greek word for money; that’d be ἀργύριον/argýrion, literally “silver.” Nor the word for wealth; that’d be χρῆμα/hríma, “thing of value.” Mammoná is actually an Aramaic word with a Greek ending tacked on—as if it’s an Aramaic name. Hence people extrapolated the idea Mammon is a person, and since Jesus says you can’t serve this person as well as God, it must therefore be another god.

A false god of course. But some god which competes with the LORD for our devotion. And since the Aramaic מַמוֹן/mamón is a cognate of the Hebrew מַטְמוֹן/matmón, “secret riches,” people imagine Mammon is therefore be a god of riches, wealth, or money.

In Luke when Jesus made this statement, he’d just told the Shrewd Butler Story. Maybe you remember it; maybe not, ’cause pastors hesitate to teach on it, ’cause Jesus straight-up praises a guy who’s widely seen as an embezzler. In it, a butler made friends by undercharging his boss’s debtors. Lk 16.1-9 Jesus’s moral: “Make yourselves friends with your improper mammon.” Lk 16.9 In response, the Pharisees who heard the story rejected it, ’cause they were φιλάργυροι/filiárgyri, “silver-lovers.” Lk 16.14

So is Mammon a money god? Or simply Jesus’s personification of money? Or a mistranslation?

Mammon’s a person?

First of all, there’s nothing in ancient literature about the god Mammon. Seriously, nothing.

The Mishna is a collection of what second-century Pharisees taught—and this’d include some things first-century Pharisees taught, so it’s a useful insight into what Jesus dealt with. When the Aramaic word mamón came up in the Mishna, Pharisees meant money. When we’re taught to love the LORD with all our might, Dt 6.5 the Pharisees said it also means with all our mamón. Berakot 9.5 They sorta equated might with wealth—same as we might do. But they didn’t think of it as a person or god. Merely a power.

Archaeologists have dug up nothing about Mammon in Israel and ancient Aramaic-speaking territories. That’s not to say one of ’em won’t discover something someday. But till something gets found, all our talk about the god Mammon, all of it, is guesswork. The ancients may have never worshiped any such god as Mammon. We’re just extrapolating all of it from Jesus’s lesson.

But this sure hasn’t stopped us Christians from extrapolating away. The mind can’t handle gaps in our knowledge, and has to fill it with something. Anything. Myths if necessary.

Christians invented all sorts of theories about who Mammon is. Fallen angel or demon. Elder god or spiritual force. What its motives and goals are. What it plots when we’re not looking. Popular Christian mythology (namely The Faerie Queene, The Divine Comedy, and Paradise Lost) include Mammon as one of the demons under Satan. Our saints invented complicated theologies about where it fits into the devils’ hierarchy. Whole books were written. Whole industries were created.

All of it guesswork. ’Cause our only source of Mammon’s existence is the Mishna and Jesus, and neither of ’em define it as anything but money.

Is there any legitimacy to any Christian teachings about Mammon? Depends on who’s teaching. Any preacher who claims, “We know from the bible that Mammon is a demon,” knows no such thing. “We know Mammon is headquartered in the financial capitals in the world”—no we don’t. “We know Mammon gains power every time the market goes up”—we do not.

We know money is a force. Educated economists understand how we create it. Yes, we humans create it. Money’s a human invention. We used to barter. Barter’s inefficient; how is a week’s labor precisely worth one goat? But if you can trade goods and labor for grams of copper, silver, gold, or platinum, now you can meter out how much you think something’s worth—and haggle over that price. Problem is, the value of precious metals is way too easy to manipulate, so governments switched it to pounds, dollars, yuan, yen, and our other currencies… and now people worry about how much governments manipulate its value. Not that the “cashless society” meme considers that… but I’m gonna stay off that tangent today.

People who don’t understand money, and how humans influence it, tend to imagine money has a life of its own. They attribute all sorts of special powers to it. Those are myths too. Stands to reason these same folks would imagine Mammon has a life of its own too. And that it controls money, not humans. And that we’re powerless against it—when in fact we humans have a great deal of power over everything we’ve created. Yeah, even when it gets away from us sometimes.

I’m gonna stop capitalizing the word now: I treat mammon as the same as money. It’s a spiritual force. Not a person. Yes it’s always possible there’s some no-foolin’ spiritual being which attached itself to money, and claims power over it. After all, there are humans who do the very same thing; why not a devil? But it has no more power over money than we do. It’s tricking us into thinking it’s mightier than it is. We can dismiss it, because through Christ we can easily defeat it. Any fear or awe we have of it is misplaced, and will simply get in the way of our understanding.

So… why’d Jesus personify it? Because Jesus is a poet, and this is what poets do. When the Greeks described ἔρος/éros, “passion,” as if it’s a being—one which could strike you with its arrows of love or hatred—it’s a clever way to describe just what passion kinda does. Problem is, the Greeks also began to mix up personification with personhood. They worshiped Éros as a god, same as they did Phóbos (φόβος/fóvos, “fear”) or Plútos (πλοῦτος/plútos, “wealth”—not the Latin god Pluto; notice the -S at the end). But that isn’t Jesus’s intent. Mammon’s not a competitor god. But it will, wrongly, get our worship—which only rightly belongs to the LORD.

Mammon doesn’t need to be a person before humans’ll worship it. A money manager doesn’t go to any Church of Mammon to pay homage to her god; she just goes to the office. A banker doesn’t need to pray to Mammon; accessing his online bank account serves the very same function. The ancients worshiped lifeless stone gods, and Mammonists just happen to worship lifeless wealth. Worshiping a dead god is just as wrong as worshiping a spirit; the pursuit of a fake deity will lead us just as far afield.

Yeah, every once in a while some Christian claims they had a prophetic dream in which Mammon is one of the archdemons, battling the holy angels with its silver arrows. Speaking for myself, very very few of the prophetic dreams I’ve heard are profound sources of revelation: It’s just their subconscious, telling ’em stuff we Christians already believe and sometimes take for granted… and shouldn’t. All the popular Christian myths get mixed up in their visions. The human subconscious is an unreliable messenger, so remember this whenever people insist on the validity of their prophetic dreams. Dreams regularly represent mammon as a being, but it’s still not. It’s a force. It’s money.

Money. It’s a gas.

Money isn’t material.

I know; pocket change is a physical thing. As are dollar bills. But these items only represent the actual value of money. That’s why people will pick up a quarter when they find one in the street, but they won’t pick up a washer. (Or even pennies anymore.) They’ll pick up a $10 bill, but not a napkin. Currency makes money appear tangible. In fact money is a cloud of mathematics, behavioral psychology, economic theory, and political theory. When we convert it into bills, coins, and bonds, we make it look tangible, solid, countable, and controllable. It may be countable and controllable, but it’s really not solid.

For the longest time, instead of bills and coins, humanity used metal, and we attached a specific value per gram to the metal. (Or in the States, value per ounce.) For this reason certain people wanna put us back on a gold and silver standard: They insist gold has a built-in value, and dollars don’t. But they’re wrong: Gold has no built-in value. ’Cause human psychology easily manipulates that value.

It’s actually way easier to manipulate the value with gold than dollars. One of the first events people called “Black Friday” was when Jay Gould and James Fisk tried to manipulate the New York gold market. They slowly bought up a lot of gold… then on 24 September 1869 they sold all of it, dumping it on the market. Thanks to the rules of supply and demand, too much gold caused people to value it less, and gold’s price plummeted. Gould and Fisk took advantage of the new cheap price of gold, and bought back more than they sold. And if we didn’t pass laws against this practice, people would do it again and again, just to enrich themselves. Other countries don’t pass such laws, which is why gold isn’t a safe investment: They could dump gold on the international market, and mess with the world’s prices for fun and profit.

Goldbugs insist such acts artificially alter gold’s price. ’Cause they refuse to believe gold doesn’t have a fixed value. Which only proves they’ve no idea how money works. All value is entirely based on belief: What do people imagine something’s worth? Same with trading cards, collectible toys, art, memorabilia, silver, gold, and the dollar.

The U.S. dollar is worth a dollar because the American people believe it buys a dollar’s worth of something. If we figure a dollar can buy a cup of coffee, that’s how far its power extends: Any coffee sold for more than a dollar is “too much,” or less than a dollar is “a bargain.” Everything gets tied to that dollar=coffee metric. We don’t even think about why they should be equal. Says who? Um… the government? The Federal Reserve? The economy? (Clearly not Starbucks.) The collective belief of every American?

Actually… yeah it is collective belief.

Gold works precisely the same way. Gold is worth $40 per gram because gold buyers believe it’s worth $40 per gram. When they don’t anymore, that’ll change. Might go up, or down. Claiming, “But its real value never changes” is the illusion: Everything’s real value changes. And you don’t want two speculators who don’t mind bankrupting the world, wielding the power to make those changes so they can enrich themselves. That’s why we abandoned the gold standard.

Stocks are a more obvious example. A corporation might make no money, and hasn’t for years, but it’s an internet company, and people are convinced they should put their hopes (“put stock”) in internet companies, so its stock is outrageously overvalued. Some ninny on CNBC with a sound effects box said it’s worth a lot, so it is. Conversely another company might be really profitable, doing great, very stable, yet its stock value is low because stockholders think it should be inexpensive.

The collective belief of shareholders just happens to be far more volatile than that of every American. But even American faith and credit has its limits. When other things take greater priority than money, like food during a famine, humans will trade a decent pile of money for donkey heads and dove crap. 2Ki 6.25

So money isn’t material. And any force which isn’t material is spiritual.

I know, some folks are gonna object to my reducing things that way. In part because many pagans imagine material things are real, and spiritual things are not. And money’s real!—therefore it must somehow be material. But it’s not material. Yet it’s real. Therefore spiritual.

No, others will argue; it’s intellectual. It’s psychological. It’s conceptual. Pick any synonym with means “immaterial but real,” and they’d far rather use that word than “spiritual.” ’Cause that word “spiritual” bugs ’em, and they wanna strictly limit it to religious stuff. Stuff they don’t believe in. They believe in money; God’s another deal. If money is spiritual just like God is spiritual, perhaps they’ve gotta take another look at God… and they really don’t wanna.

If that’s your hangup, get over it. Spiritual is real. God is real. Stop treating religion as if you’re only pretending. This is substantial stuff.

And too often money has taken religion’s place. It’s why Jesus warned us about making a master of it. People look to money to save them! It solves their problems, achieves their dreams, Ec 10.19 secures their futures, buys their health, conquers their adversaries, gives them peace. Heck, if they can afford to be cryogenically frozen, it’ll even offer them an afterlife.

But like every false god, it destroys more than it gives, and all its promises are deceptions. The Beatles figured out money can’t buy you love. I joke sometimes, “No; but you can rent it.” Sadly, for a lot of people, renting will do.

In Jesus’s day: The opposite problem.

Back when Jesus first taught about mammon, it was to remind his students money is substantial. Y’see, they had the opposite problem from us: God was real, but money not so much.

First-century Palestine didn’t practice free-market capitalism. Back then the Roman Empire was on the gold standard, but gold wasn’t common enough for common people to use. (Hence the big parties they’d throw when you found a lost coin. Lk 15.8-10) Only the wealthy had actual coins. For everyone else, wealth was tied up in property: Land, slaves, animals, and personal possessions. They practiced barter-based theocratic feudalism: Everything ultimately belonged to their lord, i.e. the LORD. And every seven years the LORD decreed they’d cancel debts and free their slaves. Not all wealth would last.

God was more tangible to them than money. As he’s supposed to be.

Jesus taught about mammon because he wanted people to take money more seriously. Well, nowadays we do. Often too seriously. In fact our economic system is rigged in such a way, it’s no longer possible to follow the rules set out in the Law. Selling yourself into slavery to pay debts? On the up side, slavery’s illegal; on the down side, debt repayment might take the rest of your life. Debts aren’t cancelled every seven years. And when government takes part of our income to help the needy, same as the Hebrew priests did with tithes, conservatives scream bloody murder about socialism.

Every once in a while I hear of some Christian money-manager who holds a seminar, who claims he’ll teach you some biblical principles for dealing with wealth. I’ve been to a few. What they actually teach is free-market capitalism. (Not that there’s anything wrong with learning about capitalism; it is the system Americans live under.) The rest is about debt avoidance, based on various scriptures they quote out of context to support their ideas. Again, not that debt avoidance is a bad idea; it’s a really good idea. But what they teach about money, and mammon, come from free-market economics, not bible.

Economics in the bible were greatly different than economics today, so of course what these money-managers teach doesn’t wholly jibe with the bible. Problem is, it doesn’t always jibe with the parts of the bible which can apply to our culture. Generosity, fr’instance. Giving to the needy so we can have treasure in heaven. Mt 6.19-21 Giving to everyone who asks, and not turning people away. Mt 5.42 Money-managers don’t teach that. Instead they teach “stewardship”—a concept which they claim is biblical (and it does exist in the bible, Lk 16.1-13) but it’s not about giving; it’s about gathering. It’s about investing our money, and spending none of it, so that our pile of money will grow, so the power and security mammon could bring us will increase. It’s about storing up treasure on earth, disguised as “kingdom principles.” It’s part of the “prosperity gospel.”

True Christianity is forsaking everything, everything, to follow Jesus. When we spend too much time on wealth “stewardship,” rather than making God’s kingdom grow, we forget to be generous. We forget to take leaps of faith with our money: It’s not prudent to be foolish and wasteful, even if it’s for the kingdom’s sake. We trust our pile, instead of trusting the ultimate Owner of every pile, who can easily tap those other piles for our sake. We serve the wrong lord. And as Jesus said, we just can’t serve both.

But dammit, we Americans are convinced we can serve both if we try hard enough.

The Mammonist gospel.

A particularly American teaching—one popular among the poor, and one we’ve even exported to poor countries—is God doesn’t want his kids living lives of defeat. (Which is true.) He wants us to find success in everything we do. (Which is also true.) He wants us to be rich. (Wait a minute…)

Supposedly God wants us to have so much wealth it makes pagans jealous, and want to get in on this Christianity stuff so they too can become fat and comfortable. (Wait, God tells us not to covet, Dt 5.21 but it’s okay to use covetousness to spread his kingdom?) So to these folks, mammon isn’t God’s opponent or competitor. The love of money isn’t the root of many kinds of evil. 1Ti 6.10 On the contrary: Money is God’s tool, and money-love is God’s bait. It’s our reward for trusting him, following him, for giving money away to Christian charities or churches. God’s gonna open heaven’s windows and make it rain, baby. Make it rain!

This prosperity-gospel bushwa isn’t a new idea. The Pharisees believed in it too. It’s how the rich justified their many possessions… and their stinginess towards others. They were wealthy because God blessed them… and the poor had nothing because God didn’t bless them. Why? Well, they must’ve sinned or something. Some defect of character.

Properly this philosophy is called social Darwinism. Like Darwinism, everybody fights to survive, and the “fittest” do. The wealthy are the “fittest”—they struggled, came out on top, and deserve their wealth. Even if they inherited it, or if they stumbled into wealth through dumb luck: Those are just other forms of God’s blessing, claim the wealthy.

In bible times this was how Pharisees believed the world worked. It’s why Jesus’s students were floored when their Master informed them the rich are gonna have the darnedest time getting into the kingdom. Mk 10.23-27 To their minds, the rich were already in the kingdom—it’s why they were rich! But in this age, God gives people wealth for one and only one reason: To spread his kingdom. Not to grow our own. If we aren’t growing his kingdom, we may not even be in it. We’re worshiping mammon… but we call it “Jesus,” and pretend its power came from God.

Nope, prosperity gospel folks aren’t worshiping God. Really he’s a means to an end, and that end is wealth. They’re Mammonists. Whether they think God’s got a mansion and a crown waiting for them up in heaven, or they think God’s gonna get them a Bentley and an Apple Watch here on earth, they’re following him for the bling. They’re proclaiming their ideas to an impoverished world because hopeful Christians who believe their tripe will send them donations, and these contributions fund their lifestyle. They’re exploiting the poor, same as plutocrats who make 10,000 times what their underpaid employees do. They irritate God just as much.

Look, I have no problem with billionaires, or with preachers who make really good salaries. But like I said, God gives his people wealth so we can spread his kingdom. Hoarding it spreads nothing. And one of the surest signs we’re dealing with a Mammonist instead of a Christ-follower, is when people justify this sort of behavior. I’ve heard many a Mammonist misquote Jesus’s story of the Vineyard Employer, “Isn’t this my money, to do with as I please?” Mt 20.15 They ignore the reason the employer said this: To justify his generosity, not his miserliness. In Jesus’s culture, the only one who really owns everything is God. And it just so happens, the employer in Jesus’s story represents God. It is his money, to do with as he pleases—and it pleases him to be generous, and it pleases him when his children are likewise cheerful givers. 2Co 9.7

’Cause when we’re not, when we’re fruitless and tight-fisted, we’re likely not his children either. We’re mammon’s.

Money the root of all evil?

by K.W. Leslie, 02 October 2019

1 Timothy 6.10.

Most Christians, and a fair number of pagans, already know “Money is the root of all evil” is a misquote. Properly the verse goes,

1 Timothy 6.9-10 KWL
9 Those who want to be wealthy fall into temptations, traps, many stupid desires, and injuries—
whatever sinks people into destruction and ruin:
10 The root of all this evil is money-love, which leads those who desire it away from faith.
They poked themselves with many sorrows.

It’s the love of money, not money in and of itself. Money’s a tool, useful for getting and supporting things. The problem becomes when people pursue that tool instead of God, who can get and support things even better than money can—and who isn’t morally neutral like money, which can get and support evil just as well as good. The problem is when people’s allegiance shifts from God to money and Mammon, and it has their worship instead of him. Or, just as bad, they only worship God because they think he’ll give ’em money.

Here’s the ironic bit. A lot of the people who are quick to correct others—“It’s the love of money; money itself isn’t evil”—are often saying this because they wanna justify their money. And their use of money. And their pile of money. And their love of money.

Exactly like guns, money’s not the problem: Money nuts are. People who can’t prioritize Jesus over their money. People who wanna harmonize the two, so they can worship both Jesus and money, on the grounds he gave them the money, or they’re being “good stewards” of “his” money. People who, as a result, can’t be charitable, and have a big problem with anyone else being charitable—especially their churches, or their governments. That’s the sort of “stewardship” they practice… but I already dealt with them in my Mammonism article.

Stop sucking up to the wealthy.

by K.W. Leslie, 12 May 2017

James 2.1-9.

A lot of Americans aren’t Christians anywhere near as much as they’re Mammonists: They covet wealth. They don’t necessarily have it, but the American Dream tells ’em if they work hard enough, they will. So, anticipating the day they become wealthy, they wanna rig things so they get to keep as much of their wealth as possible… even if such a system totally works against them today, or even if it actually makes wealth creation impossible. Single-minded covetousness blinds people to a whole lot of things.

And to their minds, critiquing the wealthy kinda means you’re critiquing them. ’Cause they aspire to wealth. One day they expect to be wealthy. Since they already envision themselves in the role… well, those criticisms aren’t justified. They aren’t greedy. They aren’t exploiting anyone. They’re honest, hardworking Americans. The critics are just trying to shake them down and get something for nothing. Greedy opportunists.

They can’t—and really won’t—fathom the idea some wealthy folks are totally exploiting the needy. Have been for centuries. And aren’t anywhere near as good and kind and Christian as they imagine. But they sure do play Christian.

Jesus’s brother James saw right through all of that, and pointed it out to his readers who were blind to it:

James 2.1-4 KWL
1 My fellow Christians, don’t act prejudicially.
Not in the faith of our glorious master, Christ Jesus.
2 When a man with a gold ring and showy clothing enters your synagogue,
and a poor person in dirty clothes also enters,
3 and you covetously eye the wearer of showy clothing and say, “You sit here in the good spot,”
and tell the poor person, “You stand there,” or “Sit under my footstool”:
4 Isn’t this prejudice among you?
Have you become critics with evil schemes?

See, it’s human nature to want to suck up to the successful. Irritating, but true. Everybody loves a winner, and whenever somebody does well in an area we admire, we flock to ’em like flies to manure. Those who love money flock to the wealthy. Those who pursue fame gather round celebrities. Those who aspire to be smart kowtow to the intellectuals. Those who covet power follow the powerful. And this is true even in church.

Thing is, not everyone who’s achieved worldly success has done so in a righteous way. In fact, since it’s worldly success, it’s almost guaranteed they did a lot of worldly things to achieve it. They made compromises. They lied or stole or slandered others. They took advantage of people who couldn’t help their circumstances. This was true in the Roman Empire, and true today. Success and righteousness have nothing to do with one another. Remember, the devil promised Jesus the world if only our Lord would kneel down. Lk 4.5-7 Too many of us haven’t resisted that temptation.

The poor you will always have with you. So screw ’em.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 March 2017

Matthew 26.11.

It’s kinda obvious when people quote the following verse out of context: They always drop the second part of the sentence. ’Cause the context is found in that part.

Matthew 26.11 KJV
For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always.

Although I have often heard plenty of Christianists quote this verse in its entirety, just to make it look like they’re quoting it in context… then quickly say, “And the part I wanna focus on are those words ‘Ye have the poor always with you,’ and never mention the other clause again. It’ll only get in their way.

The point they wanna make with it? They wanna justify doing nothing for the poor.

Because there are poor people in the world. Somebody wants to help them. Give to them. Create jobs for them. Create charities to help them. Create social programs to take care of them. Enlist their aid, whether through private donations or tax dollars… and they don’t wanna help.

Now how does a Christian, the recipient of God’s infinite grace, who’s been warned by Jesus to not be stingy towards others because of how much grace we’ve been given, Mt 18.21-35 justify refusing the needy? Simple: This out-of-context verse. “Jesus said, ‘Ye have the poor always with you.’ This means we’re never gonna successfully get rid of poverty. There are always gonna be needy people. It’s a fool’s errand to fight it. Do you believe Jesus or don’t you?”

Oho, so it’s a matter of whether we believe Jesus, is it?

As if Jesus’s words were meant to condemn the poor to stay in their caste and never leave it. Because wealth must be some kind of signifier as to whether God deems them worthy, deserving, or righteous. Some lazy people sorta need to stuffer from poverty. Hence they’ve been perpetually condemned with it. And don’t you do anything for ’em. They gotta learn to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps; you’ll teach ’em to be dependent on you and they’ll never stop begging you for help; they’ll interpret your generosity as weakness and take you for granted; they’ll drain the fruits of your labor and give nothing back, like parasites. “If you give a mouse a cookie” and all that.

I don’t need to go on. You can get more of that hateful thinking from any Ayn Rand novel. Certainly not from Christ Jesus.