This article is written by Consumerism Commentary’s new columnist, Ellen Cooper-Davis. Ellen’s column will look at the role of spirituality within the context of personal finance. This first article serves as an introduction to this new column, and your feedback is welcome.
Give me your credit card statement, and I’ll tell you your theology.
Well, I may not be able to say for certain whether you believe that Jesus was the literal son of God, or just a good teacher, or whether you believe in God at all, for that matter. But the choices we make about where to spend–and not to spend–our money offer insight into what we really believe is important, what we value deeply, and what we think the world needs. Some people do this by shelling out extra cash for organic vegetables. Some do this by patronizing local businesses over chains. Some do this through direct political or charitable donations.
Sometimes, there is a gaping chasm between what we say is important to us, and what we actually spend money on. For example:
- We might say the environment matters, but buy bottled water.
- We might proclaim ourselves pacifists, but let our retirement funds be invested in weapons manufacturers.
- We might claim concern for and solidarity with the world’s poor, but purchase clothing manufactured by sweatshop labor.
In other words, our spending can say something about how we are or are not living out our spiritual values.
Whether or not you have a religion that you practice, every human being on this planet has spirituality. Our spirituality is our relationship with the big picture. What is most important? What matters? How should I live? What are my responsibilities? Human spirituality is the capacity we have to explore our connection to that which is, in the words of 20th century theologian Paul Tillich, of Ultimate Concern. For a Jewish person, that might be God. For a secular humanist, that might be the whole of humanity. Either way, our spirituality points us beyond our own selves to wonder about our connectedness to something bigger.
Money and spirituality are not always easy companions. In many religious communities, money is practically a taboo subject, until the annual fund drive comes around. Similarly, I’m pretty sure that gathering a bunch of Wall Street hedge fund investors for a candid conversation on how their spirituality plays out in their work probably wouldn’t go over well. But the reality is that both are important tools in how we build our lives as human beings, and both can be important indicators of what we think that life ought to be about.
So nevermind the taboos, the sideways glances, the polite chit-chat. Once a month, we’ll meet here at the intersection of spirituality and money, and try to get the two talking about life, the universe, and everything. Let us know if there are particular questions or conversations you’d like to see explored here. And in the meantime, the next time you swipe that card, ask yourself how many points you still need to rack up in order to get to heaven.
What is most important to you? Does your relationship with money reflect those spiritual values?
Editor’s note: See the “About the Author” section below to learn more about the author, Ellen Cooper-Davis. Ellen’s column will appear monthly on Consumerism Commentary.
Published or updated August 5, 2011.