Wealth Without Work

Every week during Lent, we’re looking at Mahatma Gandhi’s Seven Social Sins. So far, we’ve considered Politics Without Principal.

When my sons were in college, they had some friends who didn’t have to work. In fact, some of their parents didn’t work. The boys referred to them as trust fund kids. Somewhere in a previous generation, someone made enough money to endow in perpetuity subsequent generations of the family. As nice as all of that sounded, these families were not without their serious issues. Maybe there is more to Gandhi’s seven social sins that we need to consider, particularly wealth without work.

The Bible has a lot to say about money, but one thing it does NOT say is money is the root of all evil. The real quote is The LOVE of money is the root of all kinds of evil (I Timothy 6:10). That clarifies the subject a little, but we still have a love-hate relationship with the topic of money.

Money is one of those topics considered tabu to talk about in polite company. Interestingly, we like to hear rags to riches success stories, but we don’t like the wealthy people behind those stories! Think Donald Trump or the PR beating Mitt Romney is currently taking in the Republican primaries. Wealth and money are complicated and they aren’t the same thing. I think Gandhi had a reason for highlighting wealth and not money in his list of seven social sins.

Money is tangible. It’s what is earned by working or selling things or what’s used to buy things. It’s used in exchange for products or services. Wealth, on the other hand, applies to abundance of something. Many times it’s associated with money and property, but it can also be something intangible like experience or knowledge. Interestingly, there are many who see themselves wealthy because of the richness of their relationships or personally life with no regard to their financial status. However, most often wealth is associated with money and possessions.

So why does Gandhi talk about wealth without work as a social sin? I think it’s because, almost all the time, wealth is a result of money or advantage that’s passed on from one generation to another. Even if there financial benefits aren’t passed along, access to education or employment connections are an advantage not available to everyone. Yes, the individual must do their part, but there are advantages nonetheless.

There’s also something grounding in work. Work is a reality for most people, if only to receive money for what’s necessary to live. When someone with wealth doesn’t work, their attitude of separation between those who have and those who don’t have widens. When someone doesn’t work (or even volunteer), the tendency is also to associate only with those like-wealthed, adding to the us versus them mentality. Once that mentality has the opportunity to take hold, it’s not long before someone becomes blind or indifferent or disdainful of those with less.

Jesus had a lot to say about attitudes and judgements toward those “different” than yourself. He also had something to say about treasure: For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Luke 12:34). It’s that old adage about chasing two rabbits. You can’t chase two rabbits and expect to catch either one. The same holds true for treasure, or wealth. When wealth becomes the focus to the exclusion of other things, it’s an indicator of misplaced devotion.

One of the challenges of being human is that we were created for community. There’s plenty of room for individuality, but we need one another for survival. When we become isolated, either through our own efforts (removing ourselves from those different than us) or the efforts of others (being excluded because we are different), we start to erode those things that are important for us to survive. Today’s global economy binds us together more now than ever before in the history of humanity. What happens on the other side of the planet affects us on this side, and vice-versa.

Gandhi was right. Wealth without work is a social sin that does affect all of us.

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