I’m a Christian. Virtually every week, our family goes to a church service at a local Lutheran church. I’ve served on the church council there and I’m also involved with their investment committee.
For me, faith is a struggle. It’s never been an immediate and easy answer for me. I find myself struggling quite a lot with what the readings and the sermon and the songs actually mean. What are they trying to say? How does that inform or challenge my sense of right and wrong? I usually find myself reading lots of different takes on the readings and the sermon throughout the following week and I rarely find an absolute answer.
What I do find, though, is that almost every time, the journey teaches me something about my life, even if it’s not the answer to the questions I’m struggling with at the time. I end up finding something that makes me consider my own life in a new way.
I am the last person on Earth that can ever comment on the internal spiritual life of others. That’s their business. I hope that everyone spends some time struggling with the deeper questions of life, even if they’re pretty sure they’ve found the right answer for themselves, because you can’t forge steel without putting it to the fire.
Whenever you struggle with your values or your views on life in a personally challenging way, you’re going to end up with some sense of what’s right and what’s wrong. You’re going to find as many views on that as there are grains of sand on the beach. Everyone has a different view of right and wrong. In fact, society only really holds together because there are a surprisingly small number of things that we all agree on as “right” and “wrong.” Religions don’t even have a consistent set of “right” and “wrong” – have you ever heard pastors or theologians argue?
Whatever you come up with as your own set of “right” and “wrong,” the most powerful thing you can do with your life is to live it as close to “right” as you can. In fact, I’ve found that almost every part of my life where I felt badly about my life choices was because the actual life choices I was making were “wrong” to me, not “right.”
So, what does this have to do with money?
Much like everything else in life, we all have a “right” and “wrong” that has to do with money, and that sense of “right” and “wrong” comes from a lot of places. Religion is definitely one source for many, and it’s been a source for me, too. Observation of others is another one, as has been a lot of reading on personal finance and philosophy and other subjects.
The thing is, every financial choice we make goes beyond merely being about money. There are lots of things to consider. Should I actually be saving this money for myself? Or should I be giving it to charity? Is the charity I’m supporting actually doing good work?
From a broader perspective, there are even harder questions about how we connect with money. Am I buying a product made by a company that does things I don’t agree with? Am I investing my money in companies that are doing positive work in the world? Is the money I earn achieved by doing things that make a positive difference in the world?
Our ideas of “right” and “wrong” come into play here, and I’m not merely talking about our ideas for money. Our sense of right and wrong is reflected through our economic activities.
How we choose to earn money and how we choose to spend money impacts the world. It can be used to support things we consider “right,” and it can be used to support things we consider “wrong.” As the saying goes, money itself is morally neutral – it’s what we choose to do with it that makes the difference.
Gandhi is often quoted as saying “Be the change you want to see in the world.” One powerful way we all have to do this is with our financial choices.