Topic: Religion & Economics
Presentation Summary for Robert Walker, Buddhist
When I first looked at it, I thought the question would be stated: — how do religious institutions relate to the realities of economics? Some kind of green energy is necessary to survive, whether it’s actually money, or food/clothes/shelter via labor, natural resources, barter. Religious institutions, and their communities (adherents, devotees, whatever) consist almost entirely of confused people with difficulties relating to livelihood, sexual relations, and survival issues that include money issues. These are not outside of religious practice, but relate to the human condition which religious practice is supposed to address. After all, religions are practiced by confused beings. Shakyamuni Buddha wasn’t a Buddhist, and he didn’t need Buddhism for his path — he was already enlightened when he started to teach in his late 20s or early 30s, and the paths he made available were a gift to confused people.
I’ve heard it said by my teacher that people get into religion, in many cases, to tame themselves, and because they feel depressed and stuck. The Western world was ripe for various spiritual teachers in the 1970s, for instance, because people felt confused, overwhelmed, depressed, cynical about the oppressive and overpowering materialistic culture that was all around them and that they were subject to. People were sick of fake promises of salvation, fake advertising that will give you what you need to be happy — the right food, the right drugs, the right perfume, the right exercise program, the right spiritual path that’s the very best and perfect for you. At the same time these same people, the larger culture, who were so hungry for something real, were also still completely gullible and seduce-able into all sorts of materialistic garbage,. Still, because of the depression and yearning and intelligence of those times, it also became possible to present spiritual teachings that presented some actual discipline that related to life. Without some discipline of taming out-of-control habits, addictions, selfishness, there is little possibility of discovering any creativity or spontaneity in living. One finds oneself enslaved by habits, with no real time for love or creative work. Love, after all, is a verb. It’s not just what one feels, but what one does, how one puts one’s whole life together. And money is part of that. As Michael Philips says in his seventh law of money, and I paraphrase: there are worlds without money, but you don’t live in them.
For most of my “adult” life, money issues, “fear about survival issues,” have been a significant challenge for the religious institution that I have been connected with, both institutionally and in relation to individual people, including myself. “If we don’t raise this money, we could lose our building!”, etcetera. It takes bravery to earn a living. It means relating to the realities of the world. It usually means doing things that are unrelated to pleasure-seeking, but are merely related to what situations demand. This is true even if one’s work is exactly what one loves to do. Work, relationships, money, could bring us down to earth.
And one could become a whore to money. Out of fear, we could find ourselves doing all sorts of disgusting things, selling out our principles, in the name of personal survival, institutional survival. One could forget what we got into the whole thing for in the first place. With respect to another aspect of human life, one could be in love with someone, get married, but in living with them, we could find ourselves servicing each others addictions and fears more than we’re opening up our hearts with honesty to the challenge of being a human being. Marriage could be a beautiful, challenging discipline, some message of how to love not only that person, but everybody. But there has to be honesty, openness, bravery, and in particular lots of gentleness and nonaggression and forbearance. You can’t learn much if you’ve taken refuge in arrogance and think you have your life and the other person all figured out.
Back to money and livelihood: it’s part of life. It’s not the root of all evil. I think the verse actually goes, “The love of money is the root of all evil”, which I read: addiction to money, cowardice in relating to the natural fear of survival, leads to degenerate, evil activity. By evil I mean mistaken, harmful. Not so much bad, but you could wake up one morning to discover that you’ve pissed 2/3 of your life away with such cowardice. And what’s life for? Whenever we wake up to that, whether we’re 15 years old or 21 years old or 62 years old, we could be inspired to discover a genuine spiritual path.
In my career working with spiritual organizations, one in particular, there have always been money issues. Everything from timidity — the fear of doing something meaningful for others because it seems too expensive in time, labor, and money — to personal corruption, such as embezzlement, using funds of the organization (church) for personal projects.
Spiritual organizations, like all organizations, need money to function. It’s like family. The money won’t always be used perfectly. It’s important that the leader of the organization be free of the kind of cowardice mentioned above, and have some kind of fearless approach that cares more about benefiting others that about creating some kind of in-group that only serves itself. I think there’s always that dynamic tension. Once you have a good thing going in a community, the question arises: how much can we open this up to others? It’s a money, time, labor issue, and also a personal one: we may be selfish enough to just want to nest with our old friends instead of finding ways to open this beneficial situation – the situation we have benefited from — to others.
As for the selfish neurosis of the community members and leaders at different levels — first it’s important to acknowledge that religious organizations, for the most part, consist of unenlightened people — people who need to learn how to tame their extreme emotions, harmful behavior, and they have problems with money and issues related to fear of survival. Not only do they/we need to tame themselves in that way, but that’s part of the purpose of having a spiritual path altogether. So, there will be mistakes and imperfections.
If one accepts the mistakes and imperfections, the next step is to find a way to bring those mistakes and fears out into the open, with honesty, to go beyond the tendency to keep the dirty laundry secret. This doesn’t come about because of holding some ethical principle, but speaking for the Buddhist context I’m familiar with, it comes, first of all, from study and practice, which could be the basis for people making friends with themselves, being honest with themselves. I suppose prayer would be part of that step in some traditions.
Then, having developed some kind of sympathetic attitude and honesty in regard to ones strengths and weaknesses, accepting oneself as a human being, but being willing to look in the mirror, the next crucial important thing is to be available to others. There needs to be friendship, developing communication, and honesty. A true friend is someone who can love you and relate with you and be honest with you, warts and all, and does not give up on you. That takes time, interpersonal face time, as well as individuals gradually developing into caring adults rather than defaulting into acting like selfish children. This is not necessarily a function of age, being a selfish child. Anyone can do it. And anyone could be a loving adult, could grow in that direction.
When money issues come up — when bad conduct is discovered — are the relationships strong and loving and honest enough to air that out, bring the situation to some kind of spiritual path rather than purely destroying the situation. What might that look like? When such situations arise, we have to discover how to do that.
Presentation Summary for Frank Lucatelli, Bahá’í
The Baha’i Faith subsists on the contributions of its members only. Funds from other sources, such as appeals for money from the general public, grants and gifts from foundations or corporations, etc., are not accepted to support the Faith.
The following quotations are writings on the subject of money expressed by the founders of the Baha’i Faith: The Bab, Baha’u’llah, and Abdu’l-Baha.
“Economy is the foundation of human prosperity. The spendthrift is always in trouble. Prodigality on the part of any person is an unpardonable sin. We must never live on others like a parasitic plant. Every person must have a profession, whether it be literary or manual, and must live a clean, manly, honest life, an example of purity to be imitated by others. It is more kingly to be satisfied with a crust of stale bread than to enjoy a sumptuous dinner of many courses, the money for which comes out of the pockets of others. The mind of a contented person is always peaceful and his heart at rest. He is like a monarch ruling over the whole world. How happily such a man helps himself to his frugal meals! How joyfully he takes his walks, how peacefully he sleeps!” (Compilations, Baha’i Scriptures, p. 452)
A form of tithing ( Huququ’llah ) for Baha’is:
“The Centre of the Covenant (Abdu’l-Baha) has affirmed the obligation of Huquq in these words: “The Lord as a sign of His infinite bounties hath graciously favoured His servants by providing for a fixed money offering [Huquq], to be dutifully presented unto Him, though He, the True One, and His servants have been at all times independent of all created things.” This weighty ordinance, as testified by the Pen of Glory is invested with incalculable benefit and wisdom. It purifies one’s possessions, averts loss and disaster, conduces to prosperity and honour and imparts divine increase and blessing. It is a sacrifice offered for and related to God, and an act of servitude leading to the promotion of His Cause. As affirmed by the Centre of the Covenant, Huquq offerings constitute a test for the believers and enable the friends to become firm and steadfast in faith and certitude.” (Compilations, Huququ’llah)
The calculations for Huququ’llah:
“The Pen of the Most High (Baha’u’llah) hath ordained that the Huququ’lláh is payable on nineteen mithqals of gold. That is, the Huquq is levied on money equalling this amount. As to other possessions in silver or otherwise, it is payable when they equal this in value, not in number. The Huququ’lláh is payable only once; for example if a person acquireth a thousand mithqals in gold and payeth the Huquq thereof, the Right of God ceaseth to be applicable to that amount, except in regard to what accrueth to it through commerce and transactions; when such profits reach the prescribed minimum, one must carry out what God hath decreed. When however, the original sum changeth hands, the Huquq is again payable as it was the first time; in this event the Right of God must be given.”
“Beseech ye God — magnified be His glory — to grant that His loved ones may be privileged to take a portion from the ocean of His good-pleasure, for this would serve as the means for the salvation of mankind, and may of their own accordance carry out that which would purify them and cause them to attain everlasting life….”
“The Primal Point (The Bab) hath said that they should pay Huququ’lláh on the value of whatsoever they possess, but notwithstanding, We have in this greatest Dispensation exempted the residence and household furnishings; that is, such furnishings as are needful.”