Attitudes to the moral aspects of economic ambition differ a lot. This issue is controversial and produces numerous discussions. It is difficult to determinate the only righteous position concerning this topic even within one culture, country, or religious community. In his famous speech on economic matters, Gandhi mentioned Jesus’ claim that it is impossible to serve God and material prosperity at the same time (Austin 564). However, the notion of wealth-seeking as incompatible with spiritual salvation is not accepted worldwide.
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Christianity and Islam are the world’s largest religions. Studying the nature of official attitudes to wealth seeking in Christianity and Islam should be based on the analysis of the Holy Scriptures these religions fully rely on. Though there are various opinions on wealth creation in the Christian community, the one that defines attempts to attain wealth as an obstacle to faith is the most grounded and commonly accepted one. Islam tolerates and encourages wealth seeking, and seems to be more compatible with economic ambition.
The attitude of Christianity to wealth-seeking
Main features of the religion
Christianity is the most prevalent religion in the world. The number Christians reaches nearly 2 billion people. This religion is monotheistic, as it preaches the oneness of God. It is Abrahamic, as it originated from the spiritual tradition created by Abraham.
The life and teachings of Jesus Christ created the basics of Christianity. Christians believe that Jesus from Nazareth is the Son of God and the savior of humanity. His advent was predicted in the Old Testament. Three main broad divisions in Christianity include Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Protestantism.
The Bible reveals the basis of the Christian faith. The most significant event in the Bible is the resurrection of Christ. Jesus is proclaimed to have a divine origin, and salvation is possible only through him. He came to this world and died to pay for our sins. His sacrifice gave us access to heaven.
The Holy Trinity is another important concept stated in the Bible. God is viewed as three essences: the Son, the Father, and the Holy Spirit. The Christian doctrine includes belief in the sanctity of the church and the communion of saints. Christians are waiting for the second advent of Christ and the Day of Judgment.
Attitudes to the wealth-seeking expressed in the Bible
Now, we will talk about the attitude of the wealth-seeking expressed in the Bible. As there are different branches of Christianity and billions of its adherents, attitudes to money and economic ambition vary. The Bible is the main source of understanding Christianity and its concepts. Therefore, analysis of the Bible is the best way to find out the truth about the compatibility of Christianity with wealth-seeking.
The Old Testament favors the good things of this world, including material benefits but condemns those who monopolize them for their benefit. In this part of the Bible, God is not viewed as someone who takes the side of the poor and regards attempts to attain wealth as a sin.
He is rather concerned with providing justice and warns those who deprive others of their rights to material goods. Some of the proverbs even convey the idea that describes poverty as a consequence of bad actions: “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest – and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man” (Holy Bible: New International Version, Proverbs 6-10). In the same time, wealth is considered a gift from God.
A person possessing it should be thankful to God: “You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth” (Deuteronomy 8-18). Although the Old Testament does not present wealth itself as something evil, wealth-seeking is considered an improper act: “Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint.
Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle” (Proverbs 23-4). Although The Old Testament regards wealth as a gift, it does not support people’s craving for wealth.
In the times when Jesus lived, people mostly regarded poverty as a punishment for the faults and material prosperity as the consequence of God’s favor. Jesus did not share this view. The New Testament reflects quite different opinions on economic ambition. In teachings of Jesus Christ, wealth is presented as a dangerous thing and an obstacle to salvation.
Attempts to attain material wealth are viewed as senseless, while spiritual wealth is considered the highest goal: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6-19).
Jesus promotes gaining eternal treasures instead of the transient riches. Craving for money is condemned: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Luke 16-13).
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The conversation between Jesus and the rich man is a perfect proof of the big economic ambition being an obstacle to faith. Jesus praises indifference to money: “Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Luke 18-22).
However, the rich man is unable to refuse from his wealth, even though he is willing to inherit eternal life. The words of Jesus, said after the rich man left, were described By Gandhi as the eternal truth (Austin 563), as they reveal the sinful nature of wealth-seeking: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Mark 10-25).
Though there are some differences in the attitudes to money expressed in the Old Testament and the New Testament, a general position of the Bible on wealth-seeking is clearly stated in both of them. Attempts to profit in the material world are proclaimed foolish and even sinful. Only the one who seeks to attain spiritual richness can be regarded as a righteous person. Seeking material prosperity is considered a hindrance to salvation.
Different views on the compatibility of Christianity with wealth-seeking
Most Christians view craving for riches as a hindrance to faith. This position is supported by the Scriptures and the experience of the Christian community (Miller 3). Official representatives of all main branches of Christianity often emphasize the danger of material temptations. Wealth ambition is presented as incompatible with salvation. The person who is craving for wealth serves money, and cannot serve God in the appropriate way. The Christian tradition honors asceticism and modesty of economic ambitions.
The approvals of this position can be found in the biographies of Christian saints, who demonstrated examples of righteous life on the Earth. Both Orthodox and Catholic Churches honor the saints as God’s elects. Therefore, their way of living can be regarded as the most compatible with Christian faith.
The analysis of their lives reveals the most common features possessed by most saints: indifference to wealth, a disposition to the renunciation of own material possessions, and denunciation of economic ambition. Mother Teresa is one of the most popular Catholic saints, loved and praised all over the world. Her life was an example of the absence of economic ambition as she lived under a vow of poverty (“Mother Teresa Biography” par. 8).
She presented a proof of the importance of seeking eternal riches instead of material ones. Seraphim of Sarov, one of the most respected saints of the Orthodox tradition, led a wholly ascetic life of a monk, though he was popular among people even during his lifetime (Mileant par. 3). Both Mother Teresa and Seraphim of Sarov did not take attempts to gain wealth. It demonstrates a common tendency in Christianity of praising those who does not have any economic ambition, in contrast to condemning those who strive for material riches.
However, there is also an opinion, shared by some followers of Christianity, which views striving for wealth as a natural outcome of faith and almost a duty of a faithful person. The adherents of this position, mostly Protestants, usually regard material success as a gift given by God to the chosen ones. They consider wealth a sign of God’s providence. This point of view states that giving material blessings on the faithful ones during their life in this world is one of God’s priorities (Biema and Chu par. 2).
This position, however, contradicts the main concepts of Christianity and the Bible itself. Jesus noticed that righteous people seek richness in eternal life, not in the temporal one. Christianity is based on the belief that earthly paradise, associated with material prosperity, is only the dust. Therefore, the concept of wealth seeking as an outcome of faith does not have an appropriate theological and experiential ground.
The attitude of Islam to wealth-seeking
Main features of the religion
Islam is one of the world’s largest religions. It is monotheistic and Abrahamic. The number of its followers reaches nearly 1, 5 billion people. Islam originated in the seventh century based on Muhammad’s preaching. Islam considers Moses and Jesus to be the prophets of God. Muhammad is proclaimed the last prophet sent to this world by God. The followers of Islam are called Muslims. The main Holy Book of Islam is the Quran, God’s final revelation. The largest branches of Islam are Sunni and Shia.
The Quran reveals the basics of the Islamic faith. Allah is believed to be the one and only God. Allah has created this universe. His entity cannot be understood by humans. Muslims believe in the trueness of the prophets’ teachings, recognizing Muhammad as the main messenger to humanity. They believe in the day of resurrection when all good and bad acts of people will be judged.
Attitudes to the wealth-seeking expressed in the Quran
Different communities inside the Islamic world express different opinions on money issues. It leads to a big variety of attitudes to money and economic ambition. Islam is inseparable with the Quran. The most appropriate way of exploring the true position of Islam on wealth-seeking is studying the Holy Quran. It can give a clear understanding of the compatibility of attempts to attain material prosperity with salvation in Islam.
While passages presenting wealth as a bad thing and poverty as a sign of virtue can be found in the Bible, the Quran does not support the same beliefs. In this scripture, wealth is not regarded as an obstacle to salvation. Therefore, there is no proof of the notion that wealth seeking is a sin and is incompatible with deep faith. The Bible condemns striving for wealth while the Quran gives direct instructions on upright and fair gathering of material riches.
Wealth-seeking is regarded as a natural human aspiration, as Allah created it to support people: “Do not give the immature your money which God has assigned to you for support” (Quran in English. Clear and Easy to Read, Women par. 5). However, the danger of exaggerated yearning for richness is stressed: “And you love wealth with immense love” (The Dawn par. 20).
People should not fall into the temptation of attaining too much wealth as it results in poor faith. The Quran does not blame humans for striving for material prosperity. It emphasizes the importance of the righteousness of the actions taken to attain wealth : “And do not consume one another’s wealth by unjust means, nor offer it as bribes to the officials in order to consume part of other people’s wealth illicitly, while you know” (The Heifer par. 188).
The fact that the Quran consider faith totally compatible with wealth creation can also be proved by numerous directions given by the scripture on different methods to gain material prosperity. The Quran denounces bribery, begging, and lending money for interest. It encourages people to create wealth but stresses the importance of spending it for Allah’s cause: “Those who spend their wealth by night and day, privately and publicly, will receive their reward from their Lord. They have nothing to fear, nor shall they grieve” (The Heifer par. 274).
The analysis of the Quran reveals the compatibility of the Islamic faith with wealth-seeking. The Quran presents economic ambition as a normal attribute of the life of faithful people. It regulates the way of attaining wealth and spending it.
Different views on the compatibility of Islam with wealth-seeking
Most Muslims consider wealth a support from Allah. Material prosperity is not condemned and does not present an offense to Allah. It is regarded as a natural consequence of Allah’s generosity to the people living in this world. People should enjoy the good given by Allah.
Wealth seeking is encouraged and strictly regulated by the Islamic laws. Islam does not criticize the ambition for material prosperity. It presents restrictions on the methods used to create wealth. Muslims criticize abusive and unfair ways of attaining wealth. Material prosperity should be reached only by righteous means, which are pleasing to Allah.
In Islam, great wealth is not viewed as a sinful possession. It is viewed as a trial that puts much responsibility on its owner. Islamic tradition strictly follows the laws, obliging rich people to give part of their wealth to charity. Those who possess much wealth are supposed to share it with the poor. Another important point is that money should be spent on good things, instead of being accumulated.
Some adherents of Sufism regard wealth seeking as a sin and tend to asceticism and renunciation of material pleasures. This position is highly criticized in the Islamic world, both by Sunnis and Shiites, as it does not correspond to the dogmas written in the Quran and leads to the erratic understanding of faith. Muslims consider food and clothes legitimate worldly delights given by Allah and criticize an ascetic lifestyle (Omer par. 2).
Most Muslims believe that there is nothing virtuous in poverty and passivism. They regard the denial of joys of this world as an offense to Allah, who created them for us to enjoy. According to the Islamic faith, those, who refuse to do their best to attain some wealth and lead a joyful life, sin. Therefore, Sufis’ position on wealth seeking cannot be treated as the correct one, as it is not well grounded.
Main differences between the positions of Christianity and Islam on wealth-seeking
Ultimately, Christianity and Islam have different positions on wealth-seeking. While the Islamic scriptures and tradition are compatible with economic ambition, the Christian scriptures and tradition describe wealth creation as a hindrance to faith.
The Bible gives numerous proofs of the sinful nature of craving for wealth. The New Testament presents various examples of Jesus’ teaching directed at condemning wealth-seeking and describing it as a sin. At the same time, poverty is presented as a virtue, which gives more chances of salvation to a person. The Quran states that striving for material well-being is a natural form of enjoying the good given by Allah. While the Bible blames people willing to achieve riches, the Quran gives restrictions on the ways of attaining and spending the wealth and encourages people to do it in a fair and righteous way.
Christian tradition explains the impossibility of being equally interested in material prosperity and spiritual development. Therefore, attempts to create wealth present an obstacle to serving God with joy. The Islamic tradition considers creating wealth an essential part of serving Allah. While Christianity tends to praise people who reject attempts to attain wealth, Islam denounces asceticism.
Both traditions emphasize the sinful nature of attaining excessive wealth by abusive means. They also stress that wealth-seeking can overshadow one’s faith and lead the person to iniquitous deeds.
There are numerous controversial positions on wealth-seeking inside one religion, and sometimes it is difficult to define the most commonly accepted one. Studying the scriptures the religion relies on helps to determine the real attitude of religion to different issues. The Bible and the Quran give a notion of initial opinions of Christian and Islamic traditions on money matters.
The official position of religion on the compatibility of wealth-seeking with faith can also be analyzed based on viewpoints expressed by official representatives of the religious community. While Christianity tends to condemn economic ambition, Islam regards wealth creation as a part of righteous life and favors it. Therefore, Islam appears to be more compatible with wealth seeking.
Austin, Michael. Reading the World: Ideas That Matter. 3rd ed. 2015. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. Print
Biema, David, and Jeff Chu. Does God Want You to be Rich? 2006.
Holy Bible: New International Version. Biblica, Inc. 2011.
Mileant, Alexander. St. Seraphim of Sarov. 2001.
Miller, David. “Wealth Creation as Integrated with Faith: A Protestant Reflection.” Muslim, Christian, and Jewish Views on the Creation of Wealth: Proceeding of a Conference Held 23-24 April 2007 at University of Notre Dam, Hesburgh Center Auditorium. Word file.
Mother Teresa Biography. n.d.
Omer, Spahic. Islam Rejects Excessive Asceticism and Monasticism.
Quran in English. Clear and Easy to Read. Trans. Talal Itani. 2015.