“The social norms and institutions that encouraged frugality and spending what you earn have been undermined. The institutions that encourage debt and living for the moment have been strengthened.”
David Brooks is a columnist for The New York Times. Sometime back he wrote an article he entitled “Paying the Consequences of the Great Seduction.” He began the article:
“The people who created this country built a moral structure around money. The Puritan legacy inhibited luxury and self-indulgence. Benjamin Franklin spread a practical gospel that emphasized hard work, temperance and frugality. Millions of parents, preachers, newspaper editors and teachers expounded the message. The result was quite remarkable.”
Brooks went on to suggest that while the United States has always had many affluent people, we were not corrupted by our wealth. For most of our history our people continued to be “industrious, ambitious and frugal.” However, Brooks believes this has changed over the past 30 years. Again he writes:
“The social norms and institutions that encouraged frugality and spending what you earn have been undermined. The institutions that encourage debt and living for the moment have been strengthened. The country’s moral guardians are forever looking for decadence out of Hollywood and reality TV. But the most rampant decadence today is financial decadence, the trampling of decent norms about how to use and harness money.”
I couldn’t agree more. And the amazing thing is that it is all there in the Bible. We’ve been warned since the days of Genesis. Jesus never mentioned homosexuality but he talked constantly about how we use our money.
Brooks points out that “The loosening of financial inhibition has meant more options for the well-educated but more temptation and chaos for the most vulnerable.” He also reminds us that the sociology of our culture has changed. Research I did for my doctoral dissertation helped me realize we simply do not have the kind of social connections people had in the past that acted as controls on our economic passions. Brooks insists, “Social norms, the invisible threads that guide behavior, have deteriorated.”
Brooks identifies gambling as an example, especially the lottery. He reports that twenty percent of Americans regularly play the lottery. Called by some “a tax on stupidity,” some studies have suggested as much as ten percent of the income in relatively low income households is spent on the lottery. Government sponsored gambling is teaching people the way to get ahead is to win the lottery rather than hard, honest work.
For Jesus, few decisions in life are more important than how we use the resources given to us by God. Our attitudes toward the material things of this world are destroying us.
We will all one day stand before God and be accountable for what we did with what He gave us! Brooks concludes his article suggesting some ways we might deal with the increasing debt problem in America. He suggests the most important is to shift values. I agree. But not just about debt. We, especially Christians, need to seriously examine our values in every area of our lives.
QUESTION: What is most important in your life? The things of God’s Kingdom or the things of this material world?