Faith as a Guiding Financial Principle

I received a long and thoughtful email recently from a reader who had been following The Simple Dollar for a long time. From a very well-meaning perspective, this reader outlined in detail their feelings on several posts I had written recently, outlining how they were simply out of bounds when it came to his faith – and what he perceived to be my faith as well.

I puzzled over exactly how to respond, so I decided to turn my thoughts into a post for all of you to share and comment on.

I’m a Christian, though I don’t talk about it much on The Simple Dollar. I’m more of a believer in faith as a personal struggle and that in terms of evangelism actions speak far louder than words, so I usually refrain from wearing my faith on my sleeve. The Simple Dollar isn’t a place for theological debate.

Having said that, I read a lot of websites with Christian themes and ideas, from theological discussions, atheistic and theistic debates, pastoral and biblical reading blogs, and interfaith talk, to Christian personal development and personal finance sites (like ChristianPF).

Over and over again, I see examples of how people draw upon their personal faith as a guiding principle for their financial growth.

I’ll see a Christian quote the Bible to talk about frugality, where Proverbs 12:27 states that “the lazy man does not roast his game, but the diligent man prizes his possessions.”

I’ll see a Muslim quote the Qur’an in a frugality discussion. Sura 7:31 says, “…wear your beautiful clothing at every time and place of prayer. Eat and drink, but do not waste by excess for Allah does not like those who waste.”

I’ll see a beautiful, deep discussion among thinking Christians attempting to figure out whether the “gospel of prosperity” is vital, quoting things like “He who oppresses the poor to increase his wealth and he who gives gifts to the rich — both come to poverty” (Proverbs 22:16) and “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers” (3 John 2-4) to figure out the right balance between serving others and building personal wealth.

Then I’ll see a Muslim use Imraan 130 (“O ye who believe! Devour not interest, doubled and multiplied; but fear Allah; that ye may prosper.”) in an investment discussion, seeking ways to invest that simply return dividends without interest.

Simply put, faith can be an incredibly powerful and thought-provoking driver for believers in all avenues of life. It can help set personal goals, provide answers for deep questions about giving and sharing their wealth and personal gifts, and push them to build strong relationships with others.

Stepping back even from there, all of us, regardless of our personal religious beliefs, have fundamental moral and philosophical truths in our lives that guide us. One of my oldest friends is a strong atheist who does more charitable work with his time than almost anyone I can think of, driven by a personal credo built by reading lots of ancient Greek and Roman philosophy.

As always, though, it’s not that easy.

I see time and time again when people draw upon their faith and personal convictions to drive their life and their finances in a powerful direction. Where things break down is when that personal conversation goes outside of the personal and becomes an expected direction for everyone.

A few months ago, my wife and I stopped by a group of Amish people selling handwoven baskets along the side of the road. I don’t agree with or believe in many of the principles of Amish life, but I do respect some of their conclusions and I definitely respect that they walk the walk of what they profess to believe. It’s hard to fake a horse-drawn carriage.

I was exhausted, so I stayed in the car while my wife and son looked at the baskets. What I do remember as I looked out the window is an Amish boy, about four years old, with a mop of thick blond hair. My son was watching him carefully. The boy would look at my son, then he would peek around the corner of the wagon and grin at me.

I couldn’t help but compare those two little boys in my head. One will be raised in a closely-knit community without any modern conveniences, while the other will have a thoroughly modern childhood. They’ll grow up with different beliefs, different sets of rights and wrongs, and different goals in life.

But the sparkle in both of their eyes told me the truth: they’re both little boys. They’re both people. They’re going to grow up and follow different paths and different faiths and different choices, but in this moment, they’re two little boys, eyeing each other along the side of the road – and, hopefully, both growing a little bit because of the interaction.

I unquestionably don’t agree with some aspects of how this other little boy will be raised, but I can look at that child, see his bright eyes, and see that he’s happy and full of life and vigor. What right do I have to tell them that they’re wrong? Instead, I’d rather sit down and have a cup of tea with that family, ask them how they live, and perhaps come out the other side with new ideas and perspectives.

We’re all on our own journeys and we have countless opportunities to learn from the journeys of others. Where we run into trouble is when we immediately discard someone else’s journey and their ideas and try to substitute our own in their place.

Look around you at the vast number of people, all with different stories to tell. Why not pull up a chair and listen instead of deciding that they’re wrong – and telling them that they are?

The best lessons come from the places where we least expect them, and it’s awfully hard to hear them if you’re doing the talking.

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  1. Sheila says:

    A profound post that was a joy to read. Thank you for sharing.

  2. J says:

    Nice post, Trent. I strive to do the same in my own life. I work with a lot of people from all over the world and they have so many interesting stories to tell.

  3. Nick says:

    Wait. I’m confused. You never really explained, unless I missed it, what the reader’s argument was. Why did he think some of your posts were out of bounds?

    It seems like that if most religions preach frugality than you would be in line with that as a very frugal person.

    I’m missing the connection between the reader email and the rest of the post…

  4. Michael says:

    Isn’t it selfish of me to make others do the talking, then? I’d be hogging all the learning for myself. ;)

  5. Trent – Fantastic post! I totally agree. It is a lot more valuable to look for commonalities than it is to focus on differences. Also, isn’t the habit of deciding others are wrong so quickly a form of judgement? As Jesus pointed out, it is far easier to see the speck in another’s eye than the log in our own. Of course, we would all do better to change ourselves first.

    I believe wisdom can be found all around us. I am also a Christian. Just because we look for the positive in others and seek common ground does not mean that we agree whole-heartedly with everything they do or believe.

    Seek first to understand! People care a lot more about what you have to say once you’ve shown you are willing to listen to their point of view. This is the starting point for any evangelism.

    Thanks for reminding us of these truths!

  6. Amy says:

    I’m not a religious person, but I do read some financial blogs that have a religious slant to them. I realize where they are writing from, and it doesn’t bother me because it doesn’t say that I have to believe what they believe.

    I don’t know that I’ve noticed it here in particular, but if I read something that is faith related, I certainly wouldn’t take offense. Regardless of the actual religion, any quotes regarding finance seem to be about practicing intelligence and morality.

    Point is, unless someone is trying to use religion against you, I think you should understand or at least respect (as you said) where they come from.

  7. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    “I’m missing the connection between the reader email and the rest of the post…”

    It’s more worthwhile for a person to listen to the experiences of others and see what can be learned than it is to tell them that they’re wrong.

  8. Dan says:

    the timing of this article is amazing to me…

    I just tried to sell an old car. It’s basically a junker, but would have some value to someone who knows how to do engine work, or just wants a basic short term ride for a couple months.

    [it's a 2001 Alero, 147k miles, posted on craig's list in ohio for $750 if anyone wants to see what i'm talking about]

    Anyhow, the guy had his cousin test drive it the day before, and, sight unseen, offered me $650 for it over the phone. Of course I said ok, and the guy came out to see it the next day…

    He test drove it himself- the engine is knocking, and can be heard- kind of shrugged and said ok…he handed me $650 cash, had his sister, whom he brought with him, notarize the title…and deal was done (or so I thought).

    I had him follow me 2 miles down the road to the BMV to get his temp. tags, so that I could retrieve my plates and be on my way…but when we arrived at the BMV, he got out, popped the hood and kind of started talking to himself.

    He him-hawed for a while and I think was experiencing severe buyer’s remorse. He had a story about how he’s just trying to get himself on his feet and he was having second thoughts about how long this car would last him, then asked if he could somehow cancel the sale….

    I read him to be genuine, and I felt bad for him. I agreed, gave him back the cash and …still have my cruddy car.

    Long story short (sorry) I viewed this as an intervention by God to not let this guy have this car. I didn’t NEED the money – HE DID. And I knew I wouldn’t feel right selling him the car afterall…

  9. Great article Trent. I too would like to know what problem the person had with your previous writings.

  10. Dedicated says:

    Beautifully put. Life is just so much more exciting with all the beautiful colors and differences we all have.

  11. ChrisB says:

    “all of us, regardless of our personal religious beliefs, have fundamental moral and philosophical truths in our lives that guide us”

    Exactly. In fact, they are one and the same thing… we could fairly say that our fundamental religious & philosophical principles constitute *our* personal religious stance, regardless of what we do on Friday, Saturday or Sunday.

  12. Frankacy says:

    Don’t you feel bad that the amish child is subjected to that kind of lifestyle, essentially against his will? He could be the next Mozart or Einstein, and robbing the world of a potentially brilliant mind is somewhat disconcerting.

    The child is not amish, much in the same way I wasn’t Christian, republican or feminist when I was his age. Personaly, I find it ridiculous when parents label their children when they can’t even think for themselves.

    @Dan: I see this as an intervention of common sense, but to each his own I guess >_>

  13. ChrisB says:

    @10 Frankacy: “The child is not amish, much in the same way I wasn’t Christian, republican or feminist when I was his age.”

    I disagree… from a *very* early age those who raise us are already introducing their life principles into us, even if those principles are only in embryonic form. 4 years old is pre-k, and already at that age you can see the perspectives of the parents reflected in the child.

  14. MoneyEnergy says:

    Nice; I appreciate that you’ve also got quotes from the Qur’an in there. When we take away the group labels and objects of belief, and just look at the things people do and say, we can better see what we have in common and what differences are even meaningful.

  15. Hates Organized Religion says:

    Good post, but what about religions that demand money from followers? Most organized religions are this way, whether it’s by making a person feel obligated by passing around a basket or actually taking 10% of a follower’s income (Mormans). Look at Scientology and the people who go out to colleges to do “stress tests” on students trying to suck them in and get money from them. It’s all ridiculous and financially risky to the poor, who tend to be religious.

    There is a church in my city that cost five million dollars to build. It used to be in a modest building and then decided to build a giant theatre. Who paid for that? I know it was the church-goers themselves.

    While people might donate to be givers, to do what Jesus intended, to help the poor and needy, to feed the hungry, that’s not always what happens with their money.

    I’m not sure what the person’s problem was with your articles, but if it had to do with donating to the church or being a giver, they need to make sure they know who exactly is receiving their gifts.

  16. Michael says:

    If Frankacy convinces an Amish child to “think for himself,” he really just convinces the child to think like Frankacy.

  17. J says:

    @Frankacy – What would be your suggestion for raising children without the influences of their parents, family and community?

  18. I write a personal finance blog from a Christian perspective, similar to ChristianPF.com that you mentioned above. I write about my faith and how it relates to my finances because I believe my faith has an affect on every area of my life, including my finances.

    The Bible has so much to say about money that I think it’s hard for me as a Christian not to explore topics of personal finance without also relating them to my faith. I also think that the things the Bible teaches about money are common sense and applicable not just for Christians, but for everyone. A lot of what PF blogs talk about (spending less than you earn, budgeting, saving and investing for the future) can be found as prominent topics in the Bible as well.

    Now, do I go around being adversarial and telling people that I think what they believe is wrong? No, of course not. I think that’s counter productive, and isn’t going to attract anyone to my faith. I aim to model my faith in my life, explain to people how it has positively affected and changed my life, and try to love them through my words and actions. I mean what’s the point in getting upset with someone and telling them they’re wrong – you can’t force someone to believe or have the same faith as you do? It has to be a personal decision between them and God. All I want to do is to try and point people towards the guiding principles of my faith that have so positively affected my life, and hopefully those things can help them as well.

    Even though I do believe in one absolute truth, if someone wants to have a discussion about their faith and how it has affected them positively, I’m all for it. An open dialogue is always a good thing. I don’t mind telling them what I believe and I’ll respectfully listen to what they have to say. More understanding and sharing is needed in this crazy world!

  19. Matt Jabs says:

    As a Personal Finance blogger who writes from a biblical perspective, I can honestly say that it is wonderful to have a firm, faith-based foundation in which to base my convictions.

    It is important to note that I did not come to my faith through family inheritance, or guilt… but came to know Christ through glorious necessity when I was 24. Since then I have been struggling and striving through this process called sanctification. I work daily to submit myself to the principles laid out in the bible and to bring my wants, my needs, and my thoughts under subjection to God’s word. It is not easy, but it is most certainly rewarding!

    What have I learned? That I am the chief of sinners! That it is not my duty to judge others… but rather to love and help others.

    As a Christian I believe I have the greatest truth in the world to share with everyone and anyone who will listen! But I have also learned that everyone is on their own path, and will come to know God when their time is full… not when I am ready to tell them what they should or should not do.

    Do I believe there is one path to heaven? Absolutely… I will shout it from the edges of hell, from the highest peaks and from the lowest valleys if that is what is required of me. Will I try to cram it down your throat… absolutely not. Rather I will strive to live my life the way that God has laid out for me in his beautiful scriptures and will try to be there for others as an example of love, humility, and passion.

    I strive to apply these truths not only to my finances, but to increasingly more areas of my life until the day my journey ends. Do I fail? Yes I do. I fail every day, but I do not quit. I pick myself up, dust myself off, apply the lesson to my life and soldier on.

    Thank you for sharing your journey Trent. I will add you to my prayer list for tonight and will thank God for you.

  20. Maddie says:

    @Frankacy – most everyone’s parents try to pass on their values and ideals to their children. The Amish are no different. However, at the age of maturity Amish youth go away from the community for a year or two (with the full support of everyone in the community) to decide for themselves whether or not they want to continue living the Amish lifestyle. This time-period is called rumspringa. Also I think your condemnation of their way of life is in complete contradiction to Trent’s post…

  21. Shannon says:

    I for one am always perturbed when issues of religion come into play in pure PF blogs. Either have a dedicated religion-themed blog such as ChristianPF or eschew the topic of religion altogether…

  22. guinness416 says:

    Great stuff. My (muslim) husband sitting next to me here just observed that this is the first post on a moneyblog about faith that either of us have seen actually reference anything beyond the bible, fair play to you. Hope your reader takes the time to think about this thoughtful response.

  23. Michael says:

    You know, I would like to see at least one Christian PF blog speak out against charging interest. Until the Renaissance, Christians were as against it as Muslims.

  24. Kevin says:

    Sorry Trent, but I agree with Nick (#3). I found this post felt kind of rambling and aimless. It really just sounded like a bunch of touchy-feely lip service to your more religious readers to keep them from unsubscribing.

    I’d also like to point out they hypocrisy in people who profess to believe that “we all have something unique and colourful to offer this beautiful symphony of life,” and how all our beliefs are valid and we can all learn from each other, blah blah blah. Terrorists have some pretty interesting and sincere beliefs too. Should we openly consider their ideology and embrace them as part of the multicultural tapistry that makes life on this planet so interesting?

    Or maybe it *is* OK to dismiss certain belief systems as fundamentally flawed and immoral, hmm? I don’t expect to see you sharing a cup of tea with some devoutly religious folks, debating the merits of western life and Christian beliefs in a cave in Pakistan any time soon. And I won’t fault you for that. But I also won’t pretend their point of view is just as valid as mine.

  25. Shelley says:

    I really enjoyed this post. I was raised Catholic by my very Catholic parents, and now do not follow the Catholic faith but have a very strong Christian faith. I do not believe that children are necessarily destined to follow the same faith path as their parents, but if their parents follow their faith in a way that is not hypocritical to that faith, of course the parents will be a strong influence as well as other influential individuals in their lives. If a child is to be the next Mozart or Einstein, it will happen regardless of early upbringing. Talent, intelligence and success are acheived by so many diverse paths that to condemn one way over another is pretentious. I love discussing with people the diffent turns their lives have taken them. Some are lessons in what to do, others in what to avoid! Thanks for a great post Trent.

  26. Michael says:

    Kevin, really? I thought it was touchy-feely lip service to keep the less religious readers from subscribing.

  27. Michael says:

    from unsubscribing*, that is.

  28. I am in agreement with you. Don’t quick to tell persons that the life they lives are wrong but instead try and understand their way of living and see what you can learn from it. Everybody life style has a lesson in it whether it be good or bad. When we start to judge that is when we will miss out on the lesson that was present for us to learn.

  29. Michael says:

    You know, the irony of a guy writing twelve essays a week telling me to be quiet and listen to others (him?) is killing me over here!

  30. Joan says:

    I really liked this post. Don’t have anything to add that Trent didn’t already say better, but I’d like to respond to the commenter who said the child is not yet “Amish” any more than he/she was not yet “Christian” at a young age.

    As someone who lives in a community with many Amish neighbors and friends, I’d like to mention that there is Amish (religion) and Amish (ethnicity/culture.) While I agree that even a child raised in a certain religion probably does not have that faith himself as a 4-year-old, culture is forever. That’s like saying you’re not Hispanic or black or caucasian or Italian until you’re an adult and can decide for yourself. :)

    With the Amish, certainly those things are related – the culture is founded upon the religious beliefs. But I would say that the 4-year-old boy is “Amish” culturally, basically from birth. And while, like Trent, I don’t agree with a lot of their religious tenets, I appreciate and have personally grown tremendously from the culture, so I’m happy to know that young boy is raised in it.

  31. Jessica says:

    “Don’t you feel bad that the amish child is subjected to that kind of lifestyle, essentially against his will? He could be the next Mozart or Einstein, and robbing the world of a potentially brilliant mind is somewhat disconcerting. ”

    –Subjected to that kind of lifestyle? Each child is subjected to the lifestyle of his parents! Lifestyles can include all kinds of different things. How can it be against the child’s will? A parent has to raise a child in one way or another, and letting the child make every decision would be neither wise, nor safe and probably not legal, either! And yes, I am a parent!

  32. Drey says:

    Trent, I am impressed with your observations; they are also my own conclusions.

    #7 Dan. I once gave away a car.

  33. Gwen says:

    Like other readers, I enjoyed this post. I am a Mormon and I have always been taught that giving generously to those in need is part of being a good steward of the resources we have been blessed with. I see sound personal finance as an important component to this. In the past, when my finances and spending were more out of control, I didn’t realize how much money was just slipping through my hands like water, spent on needless stuff. Once I become more aware of my spending habits, I started to channel that money I was wasting into giving to others. Being able to do that motivates me to stay on top of my financial situation.

  34. Kelsey says:

    Beautifully said Trent! I agree wholeheartedly!

  35. Deb says:

    I am have trouble understanding what problem some of the others have with the Amish. I am an atheist but I am fascinated with the lifetstyle of the Amish. Talk about people who can manage their money – they pay cash, don’t buy things they don’t need, live simply, help each other out and mind their own business. All difficult things to do in the world today and we can really learn something from them.

  36. J says:

    @Kevin — “Three Cups of Tea”, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin is your reading assignment.

    There is value to understanding anyone’s belief system, even the most wretched terrorist (bin Laden, et. al.) or sociopathic leader (Stalin, Hitler, Kim Jong Il). How do these people gain power? How do they keep it? Why do people follow them? How do we keep the next one from happening? How do we bring hope and freedom to those oppressed and then keep that freedom alive?

  37. Rap says:

    “I am have trouble understanding what problem some of the others have with the Amish. I am an atheist but I am fascinated with the lifetstyle of the Amish. Talk about people who can manage their money – they pay cash, don’t buy things they don’t need, live simply, help each other out and mind their own business. All difficult things to do in the world today and we can really learn something from them.”

    The Amish also refuse to allow their children the education that would allow the children to live in the greater world. If you lock your children down on the farm and never let them see the outside world, of course they will be afraid to leave. And when they do leave, they are shunned, and shunning doesn’t just happen if you leave. There’s any number of websites by people who have left the amish communities with reasons including the elders ignoring sexual abuse, rape, and child beatings.

    It’s a quaint lifestyle, but the Amish do have a dark side and they do use their special status to get away with behaviors that aren’t tolerated in the outside world, under the guise of religious freedom.

  38. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    To conclude from several commenters, we should condemn all cultures that have a dark side.

    Thus, since every culture has a dark side, we should condemn all cultures? Or just condemn those that we don’t like?

    The condemners are often worse than the condemned. There’s a reason Jesus ate dinner with the tax collectors.

  39. Mike says:

    “There’s a reason Jesus ate dinner with the tax collectors.”

    He was trying to file an extension?

  40. Adriana says:

    I have to agree with Kevin #20. This post kind of did ramble on. I thought this post was going to discuss how Trent answered to the guy that wrote to him, but then he went on to bringing up quotes from different religions and then with a story of the amish little boy and looking at how he was a little boy just like his boy. I re-read this post and I was confused and did not get anything particularly useful IMO although the quotes were nice. Im sure its not the same for everyone. Just my opinion

  41. Jim Lippard says:

    #32: But part of the Amish framework is that their children *do* get the chance to go see the outside world and make a decision about whether to adopt the Amish lifestyle or leave (do a search on their “rumspringa” rite of passage). Most stay.

    Amish children score above average for rural children on most tests of basic knowledge of reading, writing, and arithmetic, apart from vocabulary. They have less of an obesity problem than the rest of the U.S.

    There are no doubt some opportunities that a child raised in an Amish community is unlikely to be able to take advantage of, but it doesn’t look like abuse to me.

  42. Liz says:

    @ #10 Frankacy @ 9:40 am August 4th, 2009

    “Don’t you feel bad that the amish child is subjected to that kind of lifestyle, essentially against his will? He could be the next Mozart or Einstein, and robbing the world of a potentially brilliant mind is somewhat disconcerting. ”

    What’s wrong with him just being Amish? Who knows what his life would be like outside? He might be another Mozart — or he might be another Hitler. Probably, he would be just yet another average, over-consuming unhappy American. As Amish, he gets the benefits of a tight-knit community where he knows he’s loved and supported — as well as being able to really do something good with his hands and feel the satisfaction of a good day’s work.

    Anyhow… it’s up to them to choose the life they want when they’re of age — just like pretty much every other person. In the meantime, their parents get to decide — just like almost any other minor.

  43. Rap says:

    Pointing out that everything isn’t cheery and light with the Amish when people post that they don’t understand why some people don’t find the Amish to be paragons of old time virtue is not condemning the Amish in all respects. People need knowledge in order to make valid choices about what they do and don’t like. If pointing out some of the foibles of the Amish community is condemning them… I’ll take my “condemner” sign and duly note how judgemental *you* are. Trent.

  44. Skeemer118 says:

    Trent I think you did a great job with this post. I am a Christian & I read finance blogs that are known to be Christian & some that are not. I admit, I didn’t know that your blog was. So, I don’t have a problem reading blogs that aren’t, why would some have a problem reading blogs that are. World religions don’t bother me because I know where my beliefs rest. Or rather Who my beliefs rest in. Why would someone get so upset over something they don’t profess to believe in?

    @ #5 Amy – Well said! Great wisdom & great compassion towards understanding others. :)

  45. Trent—Good job of bringing to your blog an issue which has become contentious in many quarters. You’ve handled the subject of faith with grace and humility, themselves outstanding witnesses.

    I too am a Christian, and prefer to witness through deeds. On Christian oriented websites and forums, I’ll speak “faith” because it’s understood; in secular venues, where most people don’t understand that language, I’ll attempt to reflect my faith through actions and through the display of Biblical principles in what I write.

    “In all matters witness; if necessary, use words.”—Thomas Acquinas

    What I’ve learned through my faith is that I’m no less a sinner than non-believers and therefore have no authority to speak in judgment or condemnation of others. I’ve also learned that all human beings have value regardless of their faith or the lack of it. I do believe that there is ultimately only One Truth, and though I’d like everyone to believe it, there’s no requirement that I force anyone to believe it.

    If we as Christians go “over the top” and preach our faith, please understand that it’s just our desire to share something beautiful with others, and not an attempt to insult anyone. Heck, isn’t that what everyone’s doing on blogs one way or another???

    Rap (32)—“There’s any number of websites by people who have left the amish communities with reasons including the elders ignoring sexual abuse, rape, and child beatings.” This is a frequent charge used against a number sects, and while they may be real occurrences that warrant concern and action where required, the claims are not usually typical of the majority. I’m sure you know that.

    Unfortunately, they do make handy tools to cast aspersions at those whom for what ever reasons we choose to portray in a negative light. In point of fact, such events occur throughout the world, among people and groups both religious and secular. They are an unfortunate part of the human condition, and being human, even people of faith can step over the line.

  46. Michael says:

    Unless I looked over someone, every Christian in these comments is falling over himself to insist he never tells people they should become Christians. Think about how strange that is – when it’s natural and human to argue about and persuade others about truth, these people clam up about the truth most important to them.

    So, I’m here to tell you that I argue a lot about religion and philosophy with others. I try to convince people my religion, Christianity, is true. I agree with the “when necessary, use words” quote and have found it necessary to use words almost all the time.

  47. Jesse says:

    I personally thought this was a great post. I would also add, for the benefit of Trent’s criticizer mentioned in the beginning of the post, a thought from my HS Math teacher which can be helpful to remember in ALL situations (and not just math): “NEVER assume”. To get the most out of ANY website, take the posts at face value. Judge whether the information matches or improves the understanding with which you find morally and ethically correct, and then apply or discard as needed.
    PS. I LOVE the Amish, though I don’t agree with their faith – they’re always polite, patient, and willing to answer any questions about their faith honestly, even when they know that you are NOT of their faith. They’ve never tried to convert me, or told me to change my lifestyle, and as long as you give them the same respect for THEIR religious and lifestyle choices, they have no problem letting their children talk to non-Amish children. Children are children, and unless they are TAUGHT to question others’ faith (or even put others down for it, resulting in what some consider a cardinal sin, Pride), most children will not even mention religion.

  48. Joel says:

    It’s easy to criticize the Amish. You’re guaranteed they won’t read your negative comments on any website :)

    “He could be the next Mozart or Einstein, and robbing the world of a potentially brilliant mind is somewhat disconcerting.”
    This made me giggle. The next Einstein who’s theories develop the nuclear bomb? The next Mozart – Couldn’t you make the same argument of any family who decides to enroll their child in tennis-camp instead of music?

  49. J says:

    If Michael convinces an someone to “think for himself,” he really just convinces the someone to think like Michael.

  50. Michael says:

    J, great point, which is why I never tell anybody to think for themselves. I’m honest about it, unlike you and Frank.

  51. Kim says:

    Trent – Well said. Thanks. You knew this would be controversial when you wrote it, I’m sure. Thanks for taking the risk.

  52. Andy says:

    Values and valuables.

  53. Andy says:

    Why is thinking for oneself such a golden standard? Funny assumption. None of us think for ourselves. We are all enmeshed in culture.

  54. J says:

    @Michael — I’m all about independent thought. I like to find the why behind all sorts of things. It’s interesting. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve re-thought things.

    Well at least I’m as independent as I can be, you know, since I’m hopelessly enmeshed in my culture. I like to at least make the effort to understand things.

  55. Michael (38)–I’m one of those who “never tells people they should become Christians”.

    Point of fact: you can’t argue someone into faith. You can speak of faith, you can proclaim it and you can demonstrate it, but you can’t force or argue anyone into it. To do so would more likely repel than attract.

    Also, on the topic of thinking for yourself, I’ve found myself to be more of a free thinker since coming to faith than I ever was before. The Bible is actually highly counter-intuitive and provides a real chance to think about things outside the realm of human doctrine.

    This is no small point. Human civilization steeps us in all kinds of philosophies and doctrines that we often don’t question because it’s “the way things are”. Study the Bible in detail and in faith, and it’s actually quite revolutionary. Think about the teaching of loving your enemy; that’s not part of mankinds simple way, but it ultimately is the higher and better way.

    There’s a reason tyranical governments try to suppress the Bible as one of the first and most enduring orders of business. In considering truth, always consider human actions above human words. Bible suppression speaks volumes.

  56. Sandy says:

    Our family follows Unity Principles, which comes from a metaphysical Christianity perspective, and embraces all other world religions. While we’ve raised our girls with these perspectives, I’ve always made it clear to them that they (as I did, leaving Catholic teachings) will likely make different choices spiritually speaking when they grow up. Fortunately, the way Unity works is that all spiritual teachings have value, so it not in our nature to say one way is right, and every other way is wrong…there is only what is right for me and everyone else has the same opportunity to choose when they come of age. As parents, we can introduce them to our thoughts and what teachings we each subscribe to, but in the end, it is an individual choice. My daughter, in fact, just told me she’d like to visit a Unitarian church to see what that is like soon…I’m planning on taking her there to help her on her path.

  57. Rap says:

    Kevin 37* 0 Yes I am aware that ot every Amish person engages in horrific crime, however there have been incidents. I notice you don’t draw attention to the reality that the Amish have special dispensation to refuse to educate their children beyond the eighth grade, and aren’t required to hire teachers that meet any educational standard. Therefore, one *major* reason people don’t leave the Amish is because they don’t have the skills to survive in the modern world. It’s not so easy to walk away from the religious sect when you’re eighteen, you have no high school diploma, and you have no modern skills.

    I don’t actually have a problem with the Amish (despite being judged a condemner, heh) but there is more to them than riding in buggies and wearing plain clothes. They are very good neighbors, and often very forgiving, but their way of living virtually guarantees their kids have to live the same way they do, and those who choose to leave are cut off.

  58. Craig Ford says:

    I once read that in order to blog you must have thick skin. I guess this is post is why – your thoughts and ideas are exposed to the criticism of the masses. Trent, I appreciate your honest commentary on the topic.
    I blog from a Christian personal finance perspective. I view it as my niche. The web is the ultimate voluntary society. The surfer has complete control – to stay or go, to read or skip.
    I make the assumption in every post that people want to know how faith impacts finances. The moment that assumption is incorrect is the moment I no longer have any readers.
    Nevertheless, there are some folks who criticize the content of my writing because it is faith based. I consider this the ultimate irony that one would volunteer to read something they have previously decided to hate.
    Thanks for raising an interesting point of discussion.

  59. Michael says:

    J, an analogy: your thoughts are not original products of only your mind. Your mind itself is a product of our culture’s preserved techniques of reason, philosophy, mathematics, observation and everything else you use to think. When you understand something, you don’t think for yourself. You use the methods of thinking given to you by everyone who helped raise you and teach you.

    P.S. Cultures don’t magically spring up by themselves, and I am sure you will make a contribution to what your descendants think and believe. I don’t mean to say we’re locked into an unchanging culture. We’re just in one much, much more influential than self-styled “freethinkers” imagine.

  60. ClaireTN says:

    Thanks for such a thoughtful post, Trent. I appreciate the way that you allow your values to inform your PF choices, but do not push your faith on others. This opens space for really interesting conversations.

  61. Takilla says:

    Trent, interesting post. One that’s sure to get lot’s of comments as well =). To my way of thinking it must be hard to be a Christian in todays world. You do one of two things:

    1. Preach to everyone and try to convince them of the truth of the universe so that they can be happy and live forever and stuff. Which can only be a good thing … right?

    2. Preach/teach by example as Trent does (I’m not being sarcastic … I really do believe that). The problem with this one is that as a Christian you’re supposed to preach to everyone and tell them the glorious truth and stuff. I would have to say that from what I was taught, if you don’t: you’re not really doing right by god. Assuming you believe in the bible and what Jesus taught.

  62. kristine says:

    wow. These comments really degenerated into exactly what Trent said this was not a forum for: religious debate.

    I believe the point was to learn from other faiths, not just one’s own. Basically- keep an open and receptive heart and mind. And this is coming from an agnostic sometimes atheist!

    In any case, Trent, I would love to see a post on different cultural and or religious historical attitudes and proclamations specifically regarding debt.

    One reader commented that Christians used to condemn interest bearing debt, (perhaps debt in general), just as Muslims forbid charging interest. Are these the only groups that do/did so? And why? Was there historical background of economic or societal crisis in these communities that prompted these restrictions?

    Are there long lost parallels of today from which we can learn? Inquiring debtors want to know!

  63. Tyler Karaszewski says:

    I’m not a religious person but I thought this was an excellent post, Trent.

    And the Amish have as much right to dictate social rules to their children as anyone else. We *all* find our own set of rules more reasonable than anyone else’s simply because we’re accustomed to it. However, we restrict our children’s clothing choice, just like the Amish (what will you let your teenage daughter wear out of the house?) We restrict our children’s technology use (What websites aren’t your children allowed to visit?) And we teach our children to follow our religions (you don’t leave them at home when you go to church, do you?)

    All cultures do these sorts of things, we are no different.

  64. spaces says:

    I nearly stopped reading this blog when I finally learned of Trent’s faith. I’m damn well sick of the veins of helplessness, futility and fate that runs through so much Christian rhetoric, even writings from thoughtful and intelligent individuals about subjects like money and finance. Admittedly biased, I perceive an inclination in many Christians to abdicate personal responsibility in favor of faith. ‘Oh well, you’ve done all you can do, it’s in God’s hands now.’ No, no, no, there is always something more we can do to help ourselves, even if it is only to diligently and honestly asses ourselves and keep doing right what we have been doing right.

    The thing that’s kept me on here — and the thing that’s kept me open to reading other personal finance blogs written by Christians who depend daily on their faith — is the relentless willingness to ask and answer the question ‘Am I doing this right?’

  65. David says:

    I once read something a long long time ago in an interview with Mel Gibson. He was talking about something his grandfather had told him when he was a boy. It was simple and to the point—“Worrying displays a lack of trust in The Lord.”

    Although this is a hard concept to put into practice ALL the time in our dailiy lives, I found it to be quite useful during my struggle to get on track financially.

    This concept actually made the process go much faster. It seemed I was always stressed out (in the beginning) about some upcoming bill or something else that was late, or my lights getting turned off or whatever, and finally I had to give it all over to the Lord. And you know what, to make a long story short, he has yet to let me down!!!

  66. plonkee says:

    @guinness416:
    I too was pleased with the quotes from the Qur’an. I like it when people use sources from multiple religions in a piece about faith in general.

  67. Fenton says:

    Well said, Trent.

  68. erzebet says:

    i liked that you mentioned how an atheist is the most charitable person you have met. honestly, i am bothered when people link faith with finances. honestly, money is money and finances should remain rational; besides that, religion is a waste of money and time and it is not for nothing that the richest people are not religious. i generally refrain to read christian pf blogs not because i am intolerant but because i think money is money and financial decisions should be rational

    but i like your blog and it didn’t seem like a religious one till now:)

  69. Skeemer118 says:

    You know, I truly despise religion. It’s nothing but bondage, critisism, & judgmental glances. But I really do love my relationship with Jesus & that is what I pursue as a Christian.

    Some have said that money & spiritual matters don’t mix. They do if you are a follower of Christ. The Bible is full of financial principles that could/should be applied. Technically, had I read some of those first maybe I wouldn’t be digging my way out of debt.

    IE: Romans 13:8 – Owe no man nothing. :)

  70. Jon says:

    Personally I find it very irritating when religious people try to wiggle out of their religious obligations with some weak sham instead of just admitting openly that they reject something. Perhaps the worst and most common form is what Trent referenced, people who aren’t supposed to charge/pay interest, so they come up with some backwards scheme that “isn’t” interest.

    Agreat example is the “shariah compliant” mortgage. Rather than pay interest, you pay rent to the bank. Oh, but the rent is exactly the same rate as the mortgage would be. Oh, and while you’re paying rent, you’re building up equity in the house. Guess how long until the equity is at 100% and you can stop paying rent? Exactly the same length as an equivalent mortgage! But whew, you’re not paying that evil interest! Yuck.

  71. Rachel says:

    The problem, Trent, is that you seem to believe that truth is relative. Therefore you will embrace everyone’s point of view as valid, out of respect. There is such thing as respectfully disagreeing. What about the pedophile that says he was born that way? Will you empathize with him as well and feel that his point of view is valid? Where do you finally tell someone they are wrong? Where do you finally draw the line of what is right and wrong? The Word of God is truth, whether we believe it or not, it still remains true. Either we live our lives by God’s Word…(Jesus said..) “I am the way, the truth, the light, no one comes to the Father except through me…” John 14:6 or we live by our opinions on what is right and wrong. God’s Word is NOT my opinion on how to live life, it’s His. I am not so prideful to think that I know best how to live my life to get to heaven. How arrogant…God’s ways are not our ways. And the Bible is the only true moral compass by which to live our lives. I encourage you to delve into God’s Word and allow it to examine your heart…as you apply God’s truth to your life, that’s where your new life begins. Truth is not relative.

  72. Jen says:

    I’ve been a reader of The Simple Dollar for 2 years now and this is, in my opinion, the best post you have written. As human beings, our similarities are so much more important than our differences. Kudos and thank you!

  73. Walter Daniels says:

    I disagree that the point you were trying to make can’t be found. It’s there if you want to see it. It’s that few religions have a reason for treating money, and other things, as if they belong to only us. In the Bible, it says that we (Mankind)are Stewards of the Earth and all its creatures. A steward does not waste what he or she has been given, but uses it wisely.
    The “prohibitions” against interest come from the “interest” charged historically, was effectively usurious. Ideally it matches the risk of not getting back the investment. The higher the risk, the higher the “cost.” Which fits in with “prosperity” Christianity.
    Christ promises that if we do as He wants us to do, we will “prosper,” but each has, or should have, an individual standard of prosperity. As Bill Gates has discovered, beyond a certain point, money controls you. Warren Buffet is a good contrast to BG, in regard to how they see money. Buffet is not focused on how much _he_ can make, but on making money for those who own the stock, of Berkshire Hathaway. Bill Gates, OTOH, cared about owning the software market, and how much he could make.
    Each has very large sums of money, but did very different things with it, until BG realized that the money owned him. My own attitudes very much echo Trent, and Warren in that I have no problem becoming rich, if it happens because I am helping others in the process. However, I am not focused on how much, or how fast, I can acquire that money. Once I have enough for my basic needs, I can use the “excess” to help others.

  74. Lori says:

    Thank you for posting this.

    It’s funny to me how some people are so quick to lump others.

    But, if the person who wrote you felt compelled to write you, then I am really proud of them. It’s difficult to do what is right sometimes. Even if we get off-base, or misinterpret what we’ve been given, the fact that they felt strongly, and let you know is pretty neat, I think.

    Unfortunately, it is entirely too easy to point out the splinter in another’s eye, and ignore the plank in ours, however your religion points out that fact. :)

    And, I have been compelled to say that the fact of the matter is that religion is kind of like love. It’s difficult to define, and is a personal, personal thing. Like falling in love, a birth, or watching a loved one die, the ‘extremes’ in life are personal, and have to be worked out by yourself. Input is awesome, sometimes, but the bottom line is that you and your maker are the only two that have any insight on where your heart truly is.

    Nevermind that God is ineffable. :)

    Me? I like having what I have. It brings me peace and hope. And it’s what I need.

    Micheal, I am not sure where this is, but I’ve heard it from the bible… If your enemy is thirsty, give him something to drink, if he is hungry, feed him, in doing so, you will heap burning coals on his head.
    Ie; actions speak louder than words.

  75. Karen says:

    at Mike comment #38 – ROFL – you just made my day!!!!

  76. Holly says:

    This was a delightful post. It’s so refreshing when anyone with religious beliefs is as open minded to the see from new perspectives and respect the beliefs of others. If all religious believers were this way, there would be so much less fighting and bigotry in the world.

  77. honestb says:

    There are no doubt some opportunities that a child raised in an Amish community is unlikely to be able to take advantage of, but it doesn’t look like abuse to me.

    The issue that I’ve often heard relating to Amish communities is that the kids often work on the farms from a very young age. To some, this is chores, like any kids get, to others, it’s child labour. I’m not sure where I stand on it, but I definitely understand why it is controversial.

  78. I think it’s all about where you place your hope. You can be intentional about your finances but still place your hope in God. If you place your hope in your finances, you’ll just end up dissapointed when things don’t turn out perfectly.

  79. amberwitch says:

    I read your blog precisely because it is not obviously faith based. There are a lot of christian PF blogs out there and I can and will not read them. Taking advise from someone who quotes a religious text to support his/her arguments does not seems like a very logical thing to do. And I am vehemently opposed to organised religion. It has no place in a modern civilized society.
    So, thank you for not bringing your faith into your PF writing!

  80. Tall Bill says:

    Right On Trent, Right on!!

    It’s one world and many ways to live.

    Who’s to say that the USA in general has it right?

    Be well..

  81. no_sked says:

    i too could not connect the dots between the reader email and the rest of the post.
    however, i love your thoughtful observations and hope/wish/pray that more people look upon their own experiences with such meaning.

  82. Brad says:

    Frankly I find religion and money mentioned in the same sentence to be quite funny. If “faith” or God had ANYTHING to do with money, when you google image searched “African starving child” there would be nothing there.

    I’m not trying to be offensive, I am just trying to add in a bit of common sense.

    You’re welcome to believe whatever you want to believe, but before you toss religion into anything you do – THINK about what you’re doing/saying and consider how realistic it is.

  83. junk mail man says:

    Listening is better than haranguing…agreed…

    People should basically be nice to each other…agreed…

    But what ails our fractured society in general is certainly not an overabundance of commitment to religious principles.

    Open your mind far enough and it will fall on the sidewalk.

    So by all means let’s be civilized to one another. But the idea that faith is a private personal matter is a highly debatable point – as to its truth, and as to its desirability.

  84. Michael says:

    Good point, Brad. It’s so easy to forget that if God existed, he would be exactly the way you wanted him to be.

  85. Brad (75)–Please correct me if I’m missinterpreting your meaning, but it reads as if you’re saying “there are starving children somewhere in the world, so either there’s no God, or religious people are mostly hypocrites”.

    Some of the apparent conflict in your comment is that non-believers don’t fully comprehend the concept of “salvation”. In the case of Christianity, salvation is other-worldly, referring to the spiritual saving of the believer for eternal existence with God.

    That’s the very definition of faith, believing what you do not see. Most people have such faith in areas other than religion–think about the unbacked currency sitting in your wallet as an example.

    Christianity does not in any way promise salvation in the worldly sense. I’m not aware that any faith does. The idea of a world without suffering is actually Utopianism.

    The job of the Christian is to seek a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, bring other people into that relationship, with the alleviation of suffering as an effort that flows out of that relationship, not as a stand alone effort. Christianity’s primary purpose isn’t to address the human condition.

    If that sounds hypocritical–and I’ll admit that if you’re a non-believer that might seem to be the case at some level–it’s also worth pointing out that no secular efforts have succeeded in alleviating suffering either.

    As a matter of reality, the world hasn’t done a very good job of alleviating suffering through secular channels either, despite many public pronouncements and programs making the claim. Against that backdrop, faith at least offers hope to the downtrodden in a world that cannot save them. Would it be better to deny them that hope?

  86. sharon says:

    Trent – thanks for a great post.

    I fail to understand why a blog about personal finance is to be critiqued for it’s adheance or lack thereof to a set of religious precepts? Am I missing something here or do folks just feel the need to go around castigating everyone who doesn’t do what they want? How Christian or holy is that?!!!

    P.S. I understand why you put in the stuff @ the Amish child it obviously muddied the waters.

  87. Andy says:

    #77 — Kevin, I disagree with your theological understanding of faith. Christianity is not an other-worldy religion. The purpose of faith is not merely spiritual. God created the world, called it good, expects us to take care of it and each other, and sent Jesus to redeem all creation. In the Second Coming, God will renew creation. The purpose of faith and of Christianity is to participate with God in the salvation and redemption of the world, including humanity. The fact that there is so much suffering in this world today is a problem for the church. We Christians should do more to help the poor. All of this has a bearing on how we use our money.

  88. Andy (79)–My comments were to address Brad’s points, which are common arguments against faith.

    I’d like to discuss the theological aspects of what we’re both saying, but this is not the forum for it. If you’d like to do so, please contact me at kevin@outofyourrut.net. Thanks!

  89. Lynne says:

    Thanks Trent. I follow other writers who do profess & use their Christian beliefs in their writing. That is fine with me-it doesn’t bother me, but then I’m Christian myself. But at the same time, good advice is good advice, whether from a Muslim, a Jew, an atheist or a Christian. I have my beliefs which are not set into the stone that my chosen faith (formal church body) but which are a combination of what they teach, and what I have learned on my own through the years. I don’t expect others to always be in tune with me, nor do I expect to be in tune with them. I do expect us all to respect each others viewpoints and the right to have them. I think we can all help ourselves and others in this world in our own ways without trying to push our personal beliefs onto them.

  90. Tordr says:

    Trent, the first 2 paragraphs are great by themselves. Paragraph nr. 3 and down is a great post by themselves, but there is a mismatch between these two parts.

    I am much more an atheist than a Christian, and my feeling is that religion and money do not mix. As a previous commenter wrote, the churches are often grand buildings paid by the church goers, and there are religions out there that think more of money to the church, than the economic well-being of the church goers.

    In particular I was reading one blog (now taken down) written by a devote Christian and he was giving away 10% of his income (tithing) before any other bill was paid. This was a person in his 40’s, lots of kids, credit card debt which he was working to eliminate and no savings for retirement. Me and many commenter’s where trying to suggest/tell him to pay of the debt first then give away money, but he would rather loose his house than stop tithing.

    So this is just my views on religion and economy.

  91. Kelly says:

    I enjoyed this post.

    I admire that you included other faiths in this post, as it seems so many PF bloggers talk solely about Christianity.

  92. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    Brad: “Frankly I find religion and money mentioned in the same sentence to be quite funny. If “faith” or God had ANYTHING to do with money, when you google image searched “African starving child” there would be nothing there.”

    This is actually a very interesting theological point to think about and discuss. C.S. Lewis’s book “The Problem of Pain” addresses it very well. It’s a book I read a long time ago that really made me think, and I intend to re-read it soon.

    In fact, all of C.S. Lewis’s nonfiction and memoir works are incredibly powerful and thought-provoking. I’d challenge anyone who is actually thoughtful about the existence and nature of a God to read them at the same time as reading strong arguments for atheism like Sam Harris’s “The End of Faith.”

  93. Brad says:

    #77 – Honestly I didn’t read your reply. I mean no harm by not reading it, I just don’t care. My point was if praying for money or praying for your life to turn around and things to “get better” actually worked then my image search proposition would be incorrect. I’m not here to debate religion. I’m pointing out a COMPLETELY correct statement in that praying to God will NOT give you money, or help you financially in any way. So to include “God” and finance together is completely silly.

    “I prayed today to have my job give me a raise and my finances to turn around!”
    It doesn’t matter he/she gets this raise or not. It has nothing to do with praying, religion or a God. If praying or being spiritual about money WORKED, there would be no famine, no diseases and no hunger.

    I’m not really interested in arguing this or debating it. What I am saying makes absolutely perfect sense to those who can open their mind for 8 seconds and think about it. Imagine being 9, starving and have tapeworm – not being 42 white and well off. Your opinion may change.

  94. Melanie H says:

    What right do I have to tell them that they’re wrong? Instead, I’d rather sit down and have a cup of tea with that family, ask them how they live, and perhaps come out the other side with new ideas and perspectives.

    I loved this post, I wish everyone could feel this way.

  95. Michael says:

    Yeah right he doesn’t care, hahaha. “Hey, I didn’t read your reply. Now here’s an even longer one!”

  96. Brad (84)–You’re making an assumption about what faith-based money management is about, and I can’t say I entirely blame you for that with some of the circus act “ministries” on TV.

    However the real function of faith-based money management is written of in the Bible, including such themes as debt (“the borrower is the slave of the lender”) and giving to the poor. It isn’t so much about praying for money.

    But no matter how well we do at following those directives, there will still be famine, disease and hunger in the world. None of that means the effort is silly. What it does mean is that even if our best efforts fail, we can still have hope.

  97. Lou says:

    I’m pleased to see so many people actually serious about whether their faith requires them to use money and other resources prudently. If we believed the news most often reported about Christians, we’d think Jesus talked all the time about sex, when in fact the little Jesus said about sex was pretty tolerant. Jesus was way more critical about money and the relationship of our souls to the uses/abuses we make of of money.

    I enjoyed reading a thoughtful post about tolerance and listening.

  98. Karen says:

    Trent, I think it’s obvious to anyone who’s been here long enough that you’re a Christian (anyone who touts the Dave Ramsey method usually is), and I’m down with the “love your neighbor and learn from all” message, really.

    But please, please consider not putting a faith-based slant on your posts or advice. There are others out there doing that already. I find this blog useful but would soon become uncomfortable with it if it became any more “WWJD.” Thanks very much for listening.

  99. CollegeCheap says:

    I do recognize commonalities, but I am wary of thinking — as some do — that all beliefs are about equal. If we aren’t prepared to defend our own particular beliefs then why bother with them? If you had significant enough concerns that a child was being harmed,you would do something. You wouldn’t wait to be canonized a saint yourself, and you wouldn’t want to be shot for being “only the messenger,” either — it’s not like you came up with the idea that child abuse is bad.

    #14 H.O.R.: There is no obligation incurred by the passing of a basket. If we worry that people watching will think we’re stingy, isn’t that merely another way of keeping up with the Joneses?

    #89 Tordr: Perhaps he feels that, as bad as it is, there’s always someone who has it worse? My own experience being more generous than I thought I could be is that it enriched my life too, in ways both tangible and intangible. I generally keep a tight fist wrapped around my money, but I dare say there is a time for chucking conventional wisdom to the wind.

  100. Elisabeth says:

    “I read a lot of websites with Christian themes and ideas, from theological discussions, atheistic and theistic debates, pastoral and biblical reading blogs, and interfaith talk, to Christian personal development”

    Trent, would you be willing email some of these links to me? Thank you :)

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