Musings on Faith and Finances

It is said that the three things you never talk about in polite conversation are money, religion, and politics. I figure I’ll get two of these out of the way right now, and maybe even touch on a third. I’ve draw a couple of conclusions that even make me uncomfortable. I hope you’ll join in the discussion, both here or on your own blog.

What is faith? Faith is a belief not based on logic, reason, or empirical data, but based fundamentally on one’s own ideas and values. Most people immediately associate faith with religion, but faith is in fact a much broader term. Any time you believe something that you have no evidence for, it is faith.

I’ll offer up an example of my own. I believe without question that every major problem facing humankind will be solved in the next two hundred years. Wars, famine, longetivity: we’ll figure out solutions to all of them by the year 2200, and every baby born then will have an equal chance of success – it will be up to them and them alone to “make” it. Why do I believe this? I have no empirical data for it, just faith.

What about religion? I thought you were going to talk about God. Just be patient, we’ll get there.

We have faith in money. Most of us believe that more money will solve all of our problems. We have faith that better times are ahead, that we will have this great life in a few years full of happiness and things that we want.

But this faith is no different than any other faith. For most Americans, it isn’t backed up by real evidence. Only a small minority of adults have any significant savings for the future or are contributing anything at all to savings.

The American Dream is not backed up by any real action. We aren’t (as a whole) investing money in the American dream; instead, we hope that it comes to us instead. We have faith that it will.

How is this any different than faith of a religious nature? In most religions, there is a belief that we will have a better life after we die. We will go to some sort of heaven and be greeted with some sort of reward. People with religious faith believe this even though, again, there is no empirical evidence for it.

The truth of the matter is that faith of any kind is a false hope if it is not accompanied by a journey. If you are willing to follow the faith, grow in the faith, and build towards a greater understanding of yourself and the world around you, your faith will grow. If you sit idly by without really following your beliefs, the things that you have faith in will never be realized.

As for me, I don’t want to have any faith that I’m not willing to chase with some action, whether it be my belief in God or my belief in the American dream. That’s why I started this site, to build up my faith in the American dream. I want to believe that if I reorganize my finances and meditate on my relationship with money, I will begin to understand the American dream and begin to live it. In the end, it’s the same thing as religious faith – if you follow your faith and build on your beliefs, eventually your faith will grow.

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  1. Jim Lippard says:

    While many people’s faith in their financial future is as unempirical as their faith in their religion, I think this is unsound and unwise in both cases.

    You guarantee your financial future by planning, conducting research, and following practices that have solid empirical support and accurate assessments of risk. You don’t guarantee it with faith and proceeding in the absence of evidence.

    Adding a “journey” doesn’t prevent faith from being false hope–you can have a “journey” and make blind efforts that will get you nowhere. It’s only by using reason and empirical evidence that you can hope to increase your chances of success beyond that of sheer luck. Some people do succeed through sheer luck, but if you want to genuinely give yourself an edge you had better rely on something other than faith.

    The one benefit of faith is that positive illusions can sometimes build confidence to take necessary steps to get started or persevere in the face of adversity. But even then, you’re still better off using reason and evidence than relying on faith alone.

  2. J.D. @ Get Rich Slowly says:

    The American Dream is not backed up by any real action.

    I’m not sure what you mean by this. How are you defining the American Dream? Wikipedia pretty much sums up what the notion means to me: “The American dream is the idea (often associated with the Protestant work ethic) held by many in the United States of America that through hard work, courage and determination one can achieve prosperity.” By definition, the American Dream requires action.

    I think what you’re trying to say is that people want to obtain wealth without effort, that they have this idea that wanting it, that having faith is enough. Is this right? Or am I misreading your intent here?

  3. Nathania says:

    Great post. I think it’s easy to get complacent are rely on fate instead of faith. Your point that faith and effort walk hand in hand is a good one.

  4. Sam says:

    Good article, man! Hey, the book of James in the Bible says that “faith without action is dead” which is exactly what you’ve just said. You might “believe” in the Atkin’s diet, but if you’re stuffing yourself with carbs all day you don’t really have faith in it, because your actions aren’t following your belief. I might have some notion that one day I’ll retire and won’t have to work and I will be able to sit back and enjoy the good life. But my 401k is the action that backs up that notion.

  5. Trent says:

    J.D.: I refer to the “American Dream” as that of having the nice house with the nice car and the nice family. When I hear the phrase “American Dream,” I picture Pleasantville.

  6. DivaJean says:

    Everytime the concept of faith and money is brought up, I think of this patient I once had. He was a pastor of a small church that basically met in his home and he had his life mission, as he put it. He had no discernable income- or health insurance- and was hospitalized w/ end stage cancer thru the emergency room. He had made no allowances and had no savings for his family- since God would provide. It was a huge scramble for me as a discharge planner to get the hospital and home care to finance his bills- he was eventually discharged home on hospice with church members providing assistance for the family in the short term.

    His argument was that God provided me to help him & his family out. I had to many times put aside my beliefs and just focus on where he was and what his family’s needs were going to be. Sadly, social services ended up having to be one of those “god-sent” elements for this man and his family. To this day, I wonder what happened once he was gone & his wife had to hit the job market, with preacher’s wife as the only element on her resume.

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