The Root of All Evil – The Love of Money
What do Americans believe about wealth? The answer to this question depends greatly on what part of America you live in. In the larger cities throughout the United States people tend to have a more skewed view of wealth. In John Horn’s article “Mise-en-cents” Andy Davis, a Hollywood producer was quoted as saying, “I don’t know anybody – even people easily making $3 million a year – who would say to you, ‘I’m really, really rich.’ They think they are middle class” (49). However, people from smaller rural areas consider many who make more than $100 thousand a year as people of wealth. Throughout America, material wealth determines social status, measures success and hard work, and is chased at any cost. These attitudes are all problematic for Christians and can be an instrumental tool to discussion with non-Christians.
First, material wealth is the most widely accepted measure of social status in America. Throughout the country, Americans are trying to keep up with their neighbors or outdo them. As Christians it is important to remember, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:10). Also as a Christian, working for money and material success only takes our focus off of God and living the life of Jesus. “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matthew 6:24).
In the movie “Clueless” the main character Cher is oblivious toward the world around her. She looks at people with lower economic status as being gross and disgusting. She tells the young girl that she uses as her project that it is bad for her image to be caught talking to the boys with less wealth and social status. Cher’s attitude toward people who work for her father is they are less than human until the last half of the movie. The practices and attitudes of Cher in the first half of the movie are problematic for Christians because she is clueless to the needs of others in the world around her. Her idea of community service is increasing the popularity of a young girl, Tai and making a love connection for two of her teachers. When Cher first sets out to do her community service, she does it so that others will know how she helped these people, so she would be more popular. As Christians, we are not supposed to do things to make ourselves look better; we are supposed to do things that benefit the needy. Jesus said,
“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:1-4).
Fortunately Cher changes her attitude toward those of lower social status. However, she remains clueless of what community service is all about. Not all of wealthy protagonists remain clueless to the needs of those around them.
In contrast to “Clueless,” the movie “Scrooged” greatly critiques material wealth as an excepted measure of social status. Francis “Frank” Xavier Cross is a television executive who is only concerned about ratings and money. In the pursuit of his career he lost connections with the girl he was madly in love with, as well as his family. Money has such an important part of his life; he feels it should be equally important to those that work with him. This attitude constantly disrupts the life of his assistant Grace. Like the story A Christmas Carol that he is doing an adaptation of, Frank is visited by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. Their visits make him realize how wrong he has been throughout his life, and he works to regain the connections with his family and long lost love, Claire. Frank’s attitude throughout the movie is problematic for Christians because he is engrossed in his greed. We all must remember what Jesus said, “woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort” (Luke 6:24). It is also important to remember the parable of the rich fool:
“Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’ Jesus replied, ‘Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?’ Then he said to them, ‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’ And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ ‘Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’ ‘But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:13-34).
Next, in America success and hard work are measured by a person’s wealth. There are multiple ideas that tie into this mentality such as:
• If you are not wealthy you are “uneducated, lazy” and have a “lack of character” (Smith 95).
• “Any person who is willing to work hard has a good chance of succeeding” (Feldman 421).
• “If people work hard, they almost always get what they want” (Feldman 421).
• “Commandment 1. You Can’t Argue With Success. (Be A Success)” (Nussbaum).
• “Commandment 10. God Helps Those Who Help Themselves. (Work Hard)” (Nussbaum).
Unfortunately, many of America’s homeless are incapable of helping themselves due to poverty or mental illness. Many of the hardest working employees throughout the country are underpaid. However, many American movies portray the lower income employees to reflect the above ideas.
The character of Dupree of the movie “You Me and Dupree” reflects this embrace of this kind of character. In this movie Dupree really is a high energy and high activity character. However he seems to lack the idea that he needs or even wants a job. The movie is based around his friend Carl and his newly married wife Molly and how Dupree invades onto their home after losing his job. Throughout the movie Dupree shows no effort to get out of his situation. If anything he likes his position and wants to stay there. He sleeps all day, plays on the street with kids, and does nothing to move from unemployment. The filmmakers who created movie really made Dupree seem goofy or even worse, dumb. The worse aspect of this film is that people embrace this. The other characters around him seem to say things like “Oh, that’s just Dupree.” They seem to think that Dupree is a dumb guy who does not quite get it. This lack of wealth and his free spirit does not let people take him seriously. Even when Dupree does things that totally ruin Carl’s house, marriage and just life in general, Carl and the people around him seem to have an easy time just saying that he is unintelligent so they can look past it. They do not think he can sustain on his own. God definitely does not call for us to be lazy and not work, “Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth” (Proverbs 10:4), but he also does not call us to pull people down for their non-American views of success.
Likewise, in the movie “Trading Places” the Duke brothers make a bet that changes the lives of two men, Louis Winthorpe III and Billy Ray Valentine. One of the brothers believes that Valentine is not capable of properly running the company that they own because he is homeless. He insinuates that Valentine is not educated enough to properly run the business and make any money. However, Valentine is much smarter than they both expected. He figured out the Duke brothers wealth was gained due to them stealing crop reports before they were to be released. Much to their surprise, Valentine teams up with Winthorpe, who the brothers framed and fired. The newly paired duo comes up with a plan that has been well thought out. Their plan leaves the brothers destitute. The moral to this story is that a man who is homeless is not necessarily an unintelligent man. In the end, “Trading Places” has been a critique toward this idea of the poor.
Last, but certainly not least, many Americans have a do what you need to for money mentality. These Americans are willing or had been willing in the past to override their moralistic values in order to make money. Their acts range from minimal, such as taking legitimate jobs that go against their moral beliefs, to more severe acts, which often consists of crime.
In the movie “Scarface” Tony Montana wanted the American Dream. He murdered his way to the top of an organized crime ring. Many Americans cheered him on as he murdered his way to the top. No matter how much of what Montana had, it was never enough. He wanted his bosses wife so he took her. He wanted his bosses money so he killed his boss in order to get it. This type of attitude is problematic for Christians because we are taught that coveting your neighbor’s house and your neighbor’s wife is wrong. God sent this rule down to us through Moses in Exodus 20:17. Montana fell to temptation and used his desire for material gain to bring about great evils among those around him.
“But Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:6-10).
Similarly, gold diggers have recently gotten a reprieve from the American public. They are no longer looked down upon and many are respected. According to Ruth La Ferla in her article, “They Want to Marry a Millionaire,” “…in a flurry of plays a, movies and books, the gold digger has emerged as the unlikely protagonist.” In the movie “Heartbreakers” Sigourney Weaver and Jennifer Love Hewitt play a mother / daughter team of con artists. The mother woos men and marries them. The daughter begins an illicit love affair with them man only to be caught by his wife. This results in a divorce and a hefty alimony check. Throughout the movie the women work their magic on unsuspecting gentlemen. Just as unsuspected, the daughter falls in love and backs out of her con only to be rewarded for her trickery; she gets the guy, and American audiences loved her for it. From the Bible we learn, it is “Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred” (Proverbs 15:17).
On the contrary, one of the funniest movies that depict this gold-digging attitude would have to be Problem Child 2. This movie takes everything to the extreme, from gold digging to the extreme actions of the children. In this movie Ben Jr. meets the gorgeous school nurse (after the school’s satellite dish gets pushed on his head) and they, well he, believes it’s love at first site, until he meets LaWanda Dumore, a greedy business women who wants to marry Ben and send Junior to boarding school—in Baghdad! So Junior and his new friend, Trixie, must get rid of LaWanda (any way possible!) to bring their parents together! LaWanda represents the entire ideal of being greedy, ruthless, and incontent. LaWanda displays the inability to be comfortable about what she has already has and her ability to be successful on her own. The worst part of all is that she clearly does not have any type of trust in the higher power and his already apparent presents in her life. Paul says to the church in Philippi, no matter what state they are in to be content. Even though LaWanda cheated and swindled her way to the marriage ceremony, because of her ruthlessness and rudeness, the two children took out vengeance on her. In the same way God will see our greed and treachery and take out his vengeance on us. Our plans for greed and lust for money will always end up in failure, when we are not in line with God’s word.
All of the movies mentioned can be a key to the doors of discussion. For a matter of fact, the topic of wealth can be a doorway for a meaningful discussion with non-Christians just by starting a discussion about giving. They can give part of their wealth to the needy and the poor, which is a good thing to do and can make one feel better about themselves. From there it could go into the discussion about what Jesus did for the needy and the poor, which could stimulate more conversation about Jesus and Christianity in general. Using examples from movies that display wealth, whether they are good or bad examples, can take away from the preaching feeling that some non-Christians can get. Plus, movie and entertainment is such a big part of American culture so it gives them a better example for understanding the concept of wealth in Christianity.
Holy Bible, The. New International Version. Grand Rapids, Michigan: The Zondervan Corporation, 2005.
Horn, John. “Mise-en-cents.” Nation 268 (5 Apr. 1999): 48-50.
Feldman, Stanley. “Structure and Consistency in Public Opinion: the Role of Core Beliefs and Values.” American Journal of Political Science. 32 (May 1988): 416-440.
La Ferla, Ruth. “They Want to Marry a Millionaire.” Editorial. New York Times. 4 March 2001, natl. ed.: Section 9:1. Nussbaum, Stan. “The ABCs Of American Culture.” Global Mapping International. 2003. 15 September 2007. <“http://www.gmi.org/products/abcs_ten.htm>.
Smith, Kevin B., Lorene H. Stone. “Rags, Riches, and Bootstraps: Beliefs about the Causes of Wealth and Poverty.” The Sociological Quarterly. 30 (1989): 93-107.