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Monday, May 30, 2011

Got Money? Loving It?

"Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes it's toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul."
"Masters of War"
Bob Dylan

"For what is a man profited,
if he shall gain the whole world,
and lose his own soul?"
-Matthew 16:26

I think everybody, to some extent, loves money. Perhaps love is not the best term to describe the relationship most have with the medium of exchange, but for those who can't control their hungry desires, "tender affection" (excuse the pun) or even "adoration"  and money go hand in hand.

As people feel a strong desire to acquire more and more money as a means of attaining the material goods they perceive reward them with a grand lifestyle and great prestige, they often fall victim to greed. Greed consumes those who exhibit excessive admiration for currency. An unhealthy relationship with money develops as their desire becomes insatiable. Simply put, too much money is never enough.

Psychologists Lea and Webley believe that money, like nicotine or cocaine, can activate the brain's pleasure centers, the neurological pathways that make biologically beneficial activities such as sex feel so rewarding. Money might work in a similar way to pornographic text, which can cause arousal not by giving any biochemical or physiological stimuli, but acting through the mind and emotions. (Stephen E.G. Lea & Paul Webley, "Money as Tool, Money as Drug: The Biological Psychology of a Strong Incentive," Behavioral and Brain Sciences 29, 2006)

Brain imaging studies show some interesting findings concerning money. In one experiment, a team led by Samuel McClure, a psychologist at Princeton University, asked volunteers to choose between receiving a voucher for immediately or wait a few weeks later for a higher-value voucher. Those who chose the instant reward showed brain activity in the areas linked with emotion, especially the limbic system, which is known to be involved in much impulsive behavior and drug addiction. Those choosing the delayed reward showed activity in areas such as the prefrontal cortex known to be involved in rational planning (Samuel McClure, "Separate Neural Systems Value Immediate and Delayed Monetary Rewards," Science 306, October 2004)

So, is the love of money an addiction? I think it can be. It most certainly can become a compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance. Money certainly acts as a substance that can influence the habits of anyone. At first, a simple desire to acquire it seems harmless. Yet, to some, the acquisition becomes so important that they break laws and moral codes to extend their wealth. These people begin to cheat and lie and to use others to increase their prosperity. Some do not care about the fallout of their covetous behaviors.

It seems when people have acquired a large amount of money above their expenditures for necessities, they often feel the added pressures of this acquisition. The need for self-satisfaction, the need to gain acceptance, the need to indulge oneself, the need to establish an image, the need to gain power -- all of these may weigh on decisions about what to do with sums of money. The world teems with those all too ready to map the routes to procurement of any of these needs for someone with enough ready cash.

Is money the root of all evil? I don't really believe so, but that is a matter best left for Biblical scholars and for those with critical minds. People seek money and work for it. It provides for needs and desires. Only when money becomes a "god" does it become a malignancy. Then, those who worship it suffer as greed consumes their lives.

This verse from Matthew 24 seems to describe the proper relationship of a person with money. "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money." 
I marvel at the great possessions of so many. I know people work so hard to accumulate wealth, and I respect their initiative and tremendous industry. Still, sometimes I see the results of their labor -- the grand houses, the expensive automobiles, the flamboyant people "toys" and wonder about wantonness. 
Is restraint a quality that is even admired today? Is the desire to possess luxuries overriding the good common sense of those who live in America? Maybe a little "love of money" does rest within us all. I am willing to accept that reality. Yet, I can't help but wonder what a world less consumed by financial gain might be like.

"Riches may enable us to confer favors, 
but to confer them with propriety and grace 
requires a something that riches cannot give."
-Charles Caleb Colton

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