What does ‘money is the root of all evil’ mean?
The phrase “money is the root of all evil” is a well-known saying that suggests that the love of money or an excessive focus on wealth can lead to negative outcomes, such as greed, selfishness, and unethical behavior.
The actual quote comes from the New Testament of the Bible, specifically 1 Timothy 6:10, which states: “For the love of money is the root of all evil.”
However, it’s important to note that the phrase “money is the root of all evil” is often misinterpreted to mean that all money or wealth is inherently evil, when in fact the quote specifically refers to the love of money as a potential source of evil.
In essence, the phrase warns against the dangers of prioritizing money over other important values such as honesty, integrity, and compassion, and suggests that focusing too much on accumulating wealth can lead to moral corruption and negative consequences.
Clearing Up Our Relationship with Money
You can hate money or love money, but it’s nearly impossible to be ambivalent about it. Whether you hate credit card debt, love the convenience of debit cards, wish you had more greenbacks, or are tired of working yourself weary for a paycheck, money plays a critical part in human life. With such a starting role in human well-being or misfortune, it’s no wonder money creates such strong emotions and feelings.
While the expression “money is the root of all evil” has a religious origin in the Bible, its sentiment is easily understood across religions and cultures. From anti-capitalist and occupy movements to anti-western societies, the anger over the seeming unfairness of financial matters tends to focus on money.
In the fourth century, St Jerome wrote vehemently against the wealth-accumulating activities of merchants, all but denying any possibility of their acceptance in the eyes of God.
Large-scale frauds make the news regularly while an individual’s long-term, slow-building investments remain private matters. Such media sensationalism colors society’s general feelings about money.
But aside from the history and credos behind our hatred of money, most consumers seem to go through various stages of their relationship with it, from ignorance to fancy, from estrangement and anger to acceptance and partnership.
History of Our Relationship with Money
Humans have an interesting, deep, but often confusing relationship with money. For nearly 3,000 years, since coins were first used in the kingdom of Lydia (much of present-day Turkey), we humans have been able to exchange our work for coins and then exchange those coins for other goods and services.
When compared to the previous monetary system of “gifting and debt,” not only did we have to change the way we thought about what was valuable, but we had to imbue much more collective trust into the process of exchange. Money had to be accepted by all as valuable, not just enforced from above.
Humans aren’t always the most trusting, and when our individual circumstances take a downturn, we often tend to seek fault elsewhere. Economically, that usually involves blaming the system. For three millennia, we have found money a favorite target to blame.
Add to our human tendencies some major religious beliefs that cast a potentially very negative light on money, and money can easily be seen as evil.
In the fourth century AD, the Christian monk, Evagrius Ponticus identified the eight evil thoughts that Pope Gregory I first transformed into the seven deadly sins in the sixth century and which Thomas Aquinas reinforced in the thirteenth century. They are vainglory (pride), avarice (greed), lust, envy, gluttony, wrath (anger), and sloth.
It doesn’t take much to see how money gets involved in most of these sins.
Vainglory or Pride
The more money and riches a person has, the greater danger they have of vainglory and pride. Vainglory requires a comparison of one’s circumstances with those of others to establish a sense of financial or ethical dominance. Such comparisons that involve differences in financial standing are among the easiest to make. Still, it’s not just the wealthy who make such comparisons. Currents of ill feelings toward the “rich” today still flow deeply and often openly. Consider the Occupy Movement of the early 2010s as an example. Based on generalizations rather than individual acquaintances, such divisions create a feeling of moral superiority over the target of one’s comparison.
Avarice or Greed
The relationship between greed and money is obvious. If your goal in life is to have more money, you’ll never have enough. This problem persists today when households make income levels or investment account balances their goals rather than what they can do with those amounts of money.
Sometimes considered as the equal but opposite version of Greed, envy has the potential to lead those without money (or enough of it in their own estimation) to break other laws, such as stealing.
Having more money than necessary to live securely and comfortably might be considered a possible origin of gluttony. Even now, we live in an age of hyper-consumerism because of our general affluence as a society when many households still live in poverty.
Wrath or Anger
Nothing evokes so much emotion as money. We imbue it with so many different meanings, from success, power, influence, and charisma to waste, suffering, deceit, and mistrust. It’s no wonder money is the topic of most arguments in marriages.
Sloth is much more than just being lazy. It insinuates a lack of diligence in many aspects of life, from the spiritual to the physical, from the management of home resources to the care for others. Ironically, sloth is associated with money because it often involves the state of being without the means to care for one’s own needs. Sloth insinuates willful neglect.
For those with extreme standards, sloth suggests that through personal effort, the individual could earn sufficient money to avoid becoming a burden to others. Such views ignore many external, socioeconomic factors that can have negative impacts on a household and an individual.
Money Is Not Evil
Clearly, money can be used for purposes that lead to harming others and dividing families and communities. However, money can also be used for charitable and beneficial purposes.
Money, then, is a tool and not an object with its own will to do evil. Paul clarified that it was the love of money that is the root of evil, not money itself. The two important words Paul used in Greek were philarguria (fondness for silver or money) and oregomenoi (craving). He rightly wrote that loving and craving money for money’s sake was the main concern and not its use to take care of our needs or to do good for others.
Stages of Our Relationship with Money
Even outside the religious context of our relationship with money, many if not most consumers go through a series of stages in which they are introduced to money, experience how it works, and finally learn to use it wisely.
Ignorance of Childhood Surrounding Money
Young children and even many adults in highly sheltered circumstances feel ignorant of how money works. By age two, most children know that an exchange takes place at the checkout stand of most stores because they see money given and goods received.
Still, they remain in the dark as to how the money is earned, where it comes from, how much it’s worth, and how much goods and services cost. When you introduce other forms of payment like debit and credit cards or digital wallets, the child’s ability to understand the checkout exchange becomes even less obvious.
Parents of young, teenage, or even grown adults who think that they are shielding their children by taking care of all their financial obligations only extend this period of financial ignorance. Without understanding the nature and value of money, the individual will remain in a state of financial dependence rather than moving toward independence.
The first and most important step out of ignorance is to understand that we only value money if we exchange something for it. These exchanges usually involve effort and/or time (work), ideas, or assets we care about.
The Fancy of Youth and Money
Often around middle school, youth begin to develop their consumer tastes and behaviors. Around the same time, they often begin to find opportunities to earn money through neighborhood jobs like babysitting and yard work.
Because their needs are generally taken care of by their parent or guardian, such youth find the concept of money intoxicating. They often feel that any money they earn can be spent on fun and pleasure such as toys and games.
As they begin to use debit cards, their sense of pain at having to hand over hard-earned money diminishes, and they further lose any level of restraint that cash purchases provided.
Many young people head off to college and find that they can borrow thousands of dollars each semester to “pay” for their college tuition with nothing more than a filled-out form and a signature promising to repay the debt at some ambiguous future date.
Money, during this stage, seems like a magical and loyal friend who will always be there to help the young person get anything they want.
The Anger of Youth Adulthood toward Money
As young adults begin experiencing many of the negative consequences of mismanaging money, they may swing their view of money from fancy to anger. Late fees resulting from overextended credit cards lead to frustration. Defaulting on student loan payments can lead to feelings of powerlessness and even vulnerability.
When poor credit card behavior leads to poor credit ratings, young adults (and older) can feel like money has become a barrier between them and their goals in life. Qualifying for a loan to purchase a home or start a business becomes impossible with a low credit score.
In such circumstances, you might quickly change your opinion about money from favorable to even spiteful. Although there are situations when an individual finds themselves in very difficult financial situations for reasons beyond their own control, many people who feel angry about money (or the lack thereof) find it easier to accept a victim mentality. If they can blame someone else (the system, the rich, the politicians, the government, etc.), they don’t have to come to terms with their own ineffective or even harmful behavior in the past.
Accepting Money as a Tool
Until the individual accepts their own role in their financial situation (free of the external influences noted previously), he or she will remain in a state of frustration and anger when it comes to money. Unfortunately, many adults remain in this state of anger for their entire lives.
Only after recognizing your own role in your personal finances can you begin to make changes to your beliefs and your behaviors that will result in better outcomes. Identifying habits that need adjustments lead to increased effectiveness in managing money.
This acceptance of your personal responsibility to make a difference in your own financial life will naturally lead to the next and highest stage of our relationship with money.
The highest form of human relationship with money is a partnership. It means that you accept money as a tool to help you achieve your life’s goals rather than seeing it as an object to desire.
As with any tool, money can be used for good or for harm. It can help you build something or destroy something.
Once you see money as a tool, you will naturally want to acquire and build the skills necessary to use it more effectively. This will include reading about money, listening to podcasts about money, watching videos about money, and having conversations with mentors and others about the topic. Then, you will practice using money.
When you learn to drive a car, you start by studying for and passing a test about the rules of the road. In no way does that qualify you as a good driver. Next, you either enroll in a driver’s education course or sign up with a driving school program, both of which will give you hours of practice behind the wheel under the guidance of a certified and skilled instructor. Even those who forgo such training programs need to spend time behind the wheel and will likely make a mistake here or there.
The same goes for our partnership with money. We will make mistakes and may even cause or be involved in accidents from time to time. But, the more mindful we are with our money, the more skilled we become at using it.
The Good of Money
Too many people do too much good with money to call it evil. Beyond the personal effects money has on the person who possesses it, that individual can use the money for good in her or his home, neighborhood, city, state, country, or around the world.
To be sure, wealthy individuals of questionable character have long made major donations to good causes for various reasons, including attempts to clean up their own poor reputations.
Is the good done in communities and for households by causes diminished? While outsiders can easily say the money is tainted, beneficiaries of the good works generally care less about the source and more about the actions made possible with the donations.
The generosity of means and the power of financial donations permit nonprofits to relieve suffering, address affordable housing, provide the hungry with food, and offer training and services to those in need.
To sum up, while the value of money is found in what we are willing to exchange for it, the power of money is in its usage.