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Never underestimate the significance of cultural conditioning in creating beliefs that you have held for all your life. The world's major religions often falsely teach us that many things are evil that are, in fact, intrinsically good. Sex and money come immediately to mind as examples.
Some religions and even some "New Age" philosophers put forth the extremist notion that all desire is evil and that it is wrong to want. We need to distinguish between right desire and wrong desire, but moral desires provide impetus for moral acts. I most certainly should desire wisdom. I should want knowledge. And good sex. And good friendships. And a host of other goods.
And I should also have a proper and moral desire for financial success and material goods. Money, ethically earned, provides for a better quality of life. Money provides for enrichment of body, mind, and soul. Money can be used for education. Money can be used for charitable giving. Money can be used for much good. But I digress ...
Never underestimate the power of suggestion.
All of us heard sayings when we were young that we immediately and passively accepted as true without giving them any logical scrutiny. Some of those sayings are false. And it would only take a modicum of good logic to reveal the falseness of these sayings. These false clichés, accepted in an instant of suggestion without critical scrutiny, are often retained for a lifetime. These false clichés get passed from generation to generation, and sometimes this continues literally for centuries.
Some of these false statements, accepted as true when they are not, have deleterious results. Many of these false and deleterious sayings are related to money, material possessions, and financial success.
First consider, as I have already asserted, that there is nothing whatsoever wrong with the simple desire of wanting financial success and material goods. A good life is a life of balance. That balance includes both the intangible and the tangible, the immaterial and the material, so that a certain amount of material goods is indispensable to a good life. (A handsome article of furniture does not detract from a good conversation.) As long as you do nothing immoral to achieve financial success and material goods and these good things are earned through your own honest effort and through positive contributions to society as a whole, there is no evil whatsoever in earning and having money.
Now consider these sayings that we have all heard countless times and that many have accepted as true at an early age without ever giving them any critical evaluation: "Money does not contribute to happiness." "Money does not contribute to peace of mind." "Material things do not contribute to happiness." However, instead of just accepting these statements as true, consider that any person with good reasoning would find them to be patently false if he or she were to give them hard, critical evaluation.
I own a home with four walls and a roof, which protect me from the elements. If I were homeless, that would adversely affect my happiness. A home is a material thing. The statement "Material things do not contribute to happiness" is obviously a blatantly false statement.
Activities of all kinds require material things. If you enjoy fishing, a rod and reel and tackle box are necessary material things. If you enjoy camping, camping equipment is a necessary material thing. If you enjoy motocross, you need a motorcycle, a material thing. If you enjoy painting, you need canvas and paint—material things. If you enjoy video games, you need a video game console, a material thing. If you enjoy photography, you need a camera to take pictures, and a camera is a material thing. If you enjoy astronomy, you may need a telescope, and a telescope is a material thing. If you enjoy kite flying, a kite is a necessary material thing. If you enjoy playing music in a band, you need a musical instrument—a material thing. If you enjoy cooking, you need a cooking utensil—another material thing.
A well-known New Age philosopher – actually a recent best-selling author – recently wrote: "We can never honor things if we use them as a means to self-enhancement." This is a false statement perpetuating a myth that leads to immoral thought and behavior. There is no evil, no evil whatsoever, in using things for self-improvement, self-enhancement. Only when things are used for evil are they dishonored.
Jimi Hendrix used a guitar for self-enhancement. Jimi Hendrix did not dishonor that guitar in any way. Ted Williams used a baseball bat for self-enhancement. Ted Williams did not dishonor that baseball bat. Bobby Fischer used a chess set for self-enhancement. Bobby Fischer did not dishonor that chess set. William Shakespeare used a quill pen for self-enhancement. William Shakespeare did not dishonor that quill pen. Pablo Picasso used paint and canvas for self-enhancement. Pablo Picasso did not dishonor the paint and canvas.
I use weights and weight machines for self-enhancement, to strengthen my muscles and bones and to maintain good health. I do not dishonor those weights and weight machines by doing so. I collected a library of good books for self-enhancement, to read for intellectual stimulation and enjoyment, to strengthen my mind, to improve myself intellectually, psychologically, and spiritually. I do not dishonor those books in any way by using them for self-enhancement. I use my computer to access the Internet for quality entertainment, general knowledge, and investment and financial education; to improve my job skills for my profession; and to perform useful services, such as to disseminate investment advice to friends and relatives. I do not dishonor my computer in any manner whatsoever by doing any of that.
An invention that seems to attract quite a lot of unfair criticism is the television. The same New Age author that I alluded to previously actually averred that watching television results in a loss of consciousness. However, I use my television to improve my mind and enhance the quality of my life. I get most of my news from television, and in that way I stay informed about what is going on in the world. I watch many intellectually stimulating, quality programs, from documentaries on PBS to others on the History Channel, the Discovery Channel, and so on. There is nothing at all wrong with occasionally watching a comedy show or a good drama if that brings you occasional pleasure. There are those who misuse television, but that is the fault of the television watcher, not the television.
Again, statements like "Material things do not contribute to happiness" or "You dishonor things when you use them for self-enhancement" are blatantly false statements.
Wallace D. Wattles wrote, "In order to know more, do more, and be more we must have more; we must have things to use, for we learn, and do, and become, only by using things."
I do not believe there to be any good, logical argument for the assertion that money does not contribute to peace and happiness. I believe that it is a logical impossibility to offer a valid and sound argument for the contention that money does not contribute to peace and happiness. When someone attempts to argue that money does not contribute to peace and happiness, such attempts invariably result in rationalizations and informal logical fallacies.
For example, I will describe an exchange that I recently had with a family member. It is one that I have had numerous times with many others over the course of a lifetime. With noticeable indignation, she asserted, "There are individuals with enormous wealth who are still nonetheless unhappy!" My response to her was to bring attention to the fact that if someone were unhappy because of, for example, ill health or a failed relationship, that if that person were also impoverished, then that individual's unhappiness would be greatly compounded. Still indignant, her response back to me was, "Maybe!"
But there is no "maybe" about such a situation. If someone were unhappy because of ill health or a failed relationship and that person were also starving and did not have protection from the elements, of course that person's unhappiness would certainly be exacerbated. I am always dumbfounded when I have to explain the consequences of poverty like that, because those consequences should be obvious.
While writing this book, I was discussing my writing with another family member, who recently became a follower of a New Age philosopher who condemned money and financial success, equating money and things with evil. This family member, with a degree of anger, parroting the thoughts of this philosopher, said to me, "Money and things do not sustain the spirit!" No matter how one defines "spirit," again, a modicum of good, logical thought reveals that money and things do, in fact, aid in sustaining the "spirit."
This family member and his wife were able to leave jobs they both detested and take early retirement because they had enough money in retirement accounts to do so. Money made that possible. Because of money, they no longer experienced the agony of having to go to jobs every day that they detested. Because of money, they could start to lead a life of leisure. Because of money, they were much better able to sustain their "spirit." Money unequivocally has aided them both in sustaining the spirit, however they might define "spirit."
The many excellent books in my library on kindred subjects—psychology, philosophy, ethics, metaphysics, history, economics, finance, personal achievement, and so on—books that aided me in psychological healing, books that allowed me to learn moral values and intellectually perceive the universal of the Good, books that brought me countless hours of intellectual pleasure, books that aided me to advance in my career, all these books are things bought with money, and these things bought with money unequivocally helped sustain my spirit. When I lost two full bookcases filled with books in a house fire—including many that I could not replace—that definitely adversely affected the quality of my life. Fortunately I had adequate money after the fire to replenish much of my wonderful library of books.
This individual who fatuously asserted that money and things do not sustain the spirit was a musician who also asserted that "music sustains the spirit" without realizing the instant contradiction he made with that second statement. Musical instruments are things. One cannot create music without musical instruments. His stereo and library of music CDs, which have brought hours of aesthetic pleasure, were also things bought with money.
I could go on and give hundreds, thousands, even millions more examples of how "money" and "things" "sustain the spirit." I do not think that is necessary.
The statement that "Money and things do not sustain the spirit" is not only a blatantly false statement; it is also an evil one because it leads to immoral thought and behavior, which I will expatiate on in subsequent chapters. But for now, here is a true and righteous statement: "Money and things mightily aid in sustaining the spirit."
So, I have put forth that money aids one in establishing peace and happiness. But are there other happenstances besides money that contribute to peace and happiness? Most certainly. What are some of those happenstances besides money that contribute to peace and happiness? At one point in my life, I created a "happiness" list. (So as not to be accused of plagiarism, I must confess that I borrowed these ideas from the success writer Napoleon Hill and then modified them somewhat.):
Things that make for happiness
A labor of love as an occupation
Sound physical health
Peace and harmony in one's interpersonal relationships
Freedom from all forms of fear (admittedly, this one is rather broad)
Economic security and material goods
If any person has done without any particular happenstance from this list at any time during his or her life cycle, that person knows how that particular happenstance contributes to peace of mind and happiness. Anyone who has had to work a job he or she detests knows how much a labor of love can contribute to peace of mind and happiness. Anyone who has experienced extreme ill health knows how much sound physical health contributes to peace of mind and happiness. Anyone who has experienced extreme disharmony in any personal relationship knows how much peace and harmony in one's interpersonal relationships can contribute to peace and happiness.
Please note that this list includes economic security and material goods. To aver that economic security and material goods do not contribute to peace of mind and happiness and to aver that economic security and material goods are evil are blatantly wrong assertions. Economic security and material goods are not evil.
I am grateful that I had the money to buy things that have improved the quality of my life. Money is not evil per se as so many have been intellectually blindly conditioned to believe. Money buys the clothes you wear and the food you eat. Money sustains your life. Money bought my library of good books, my music library, my fine wardrobe of clothing. Money can be used for education. Money can be used for charitable giving. Money builds hospitals, museums, libraries, schools, parks, and recreation areas.
A desire for money, financial success, and material goods is a proper, moral desire to have because it is simply a desire for a better life. One ought to have such a desire for a better life. There is nothing wrong with wanting money for the pleasures that quality entertainment can provide. There is nothing wrong with wanting to send your children to the finest schools and universities if you could afford to do so. There is nothing wrong with wanting to travel and see distant lands if that is something you enjoy. There is nothing wrong with having large sums of money in retirement accounts so that you can look forward to a halcyon old age. None of these are sordid desires. I very much appreciate this quote from Albert Camus: "It is a kind of spiritual snobbery that makes people think they can be happy without money."
(I can anticipate already some remonstrations to this philosophy; I shall answer them in the chapters that follow.)
I want to return in this chapter specifically to the contention made in the first chapter concerning the false and deleterious notion that there is virtue in poverty because this contention needs special emphasis and scrutiny. At the risk of seeming redundant, I want to once again reiterate some of the arguments against this contention to give it the special significance it deserves. (Although I will also attempt to approach the arguments again from slightly different perspectives).
Many of the world's major religions teach that there is virtue in poverty. But there is no virtue in poverty. Many religious orders require a promise of poverty, sometimes even requiring a vow of poverty. Not long before she died, there was a famous nun who headed a religious order in India who was treated for malnutrition even though she could afford to eat a healthy diet. She said she intentionally malnourished herself because she wanted to eat only what the poor eat. There are religious sects that require monks to starve themselves nearly to death in order to find enlightenment. You do not need to be starving and malnourished to find enlightenment. Starvation and malnutrition are things we should hope to eliminate from the world, not deliberately seek out. If you can afford to eat a nutritious, healthy diet, you most certainly should eat a nutritious, healthy diet; there is nothing moral about intentionally starving yourself or intentionally making yourself malnourished.
I wrote in the last chapter about a recent best seller by a New Age philosopher who put forth the view that economic advancement, prosperity, and abundance were evils. There is nothing moral about a philosophy like that.
Another widely circulated false notion often, or at least sometimes, promoted by religious indoctrination is the idea that poverty somehow provides peace of mind. Financial security, not poverty, aids in establishing peace of mind. Financial security certainly is not the only factor in providing peace of mind, but financial security is still a major factor in establishing peace of mind. Other circumstances of life aid in establishing peace of mind and happiness, such as a labor of love as an occupation, sound physical health, and peace and harmony in one's personal relationships. But we must not ignore economic security and material goods. Do not believe in religions that teach poverty produces peace.
Excerpted from The Virtue of Money by Daniel Arthur Nelson Copyright © 2012 by Daniel Arthur Nelson. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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