I am a DIY investor. My inspiration was my grandfather, a man whose wealth paid for most of my studies including Northwest College, Regent College and the University of Cambridge–through loans to me, through an inheritance, and through my father paying the rest after inheriting the bulk of my grandfather’s estate. So I owe my studies to an investor.
Though I am what I am through investing, I feel attacked lately by the writings of Christian protesters at the Olympics (here, here). So I’ve been writing to explain my point of view; but others have not liked it. One commenter critiqued the Righteous Investor thus:
I get to the end of a post like yours and feel saddened by a kind of void without content, the sort of thing that passes for serious thought in our moment. From reading a few of your posts I see that your concern is to ask, “how can people call for the redistribution of wealth if they are against wealth.” But alas there is no inconsistency, paradox or contradiction: to be in favor of the redistribution of wealth is to be against all personal riches of financial sorts, or as Dave [Diewert] says, to ‘reject the invitation to use power and privilege to secure the personal comforts of political and economic domination.’
This Nathan also was evidently upset with me for my position about Dave Diewert. I explained that his exposition of Diewert’s thought is a direct attack on what I do. I am in the process of accumulating wealth in order to make wealth. That is what an investor does. That is what Warren Buffet does. To be against “all personal riches of financial sorts” is a condemnation of all investors. Are you investing for your retirement? Sorry. Are you investing in house? Well that’s personally comfortable isn’t it? Jesus rejected turning bread into stones, so you must also reject the fruit of your own labor and divest yourself immediately of all you own and become a ward of the state, just like what Diewert wants to make of Vancouver’s street people . I’ve noticed that Diewert’s solution for homelessness in Vancouver is that all the people of Canada must pay higher taxes (excerpts from interview with Dave Diewert):
The political elite are driven by an ideology that eases the tax burden on the wealthy members of our society and cuts the support systems for those in need. We are seeing played out before us a political agenda that views certain members of our society as disposable, useless, expendable entities. …
We need to insert our vision of the embrace of God for his whole world into the political arena, and challenge the leaders to take up this vision of care for all. The churches cannot be silent on the structural and political fronts if they are to really care for the outcasts of our society. Love of my neighbor who is homeless also involves speaking truth to power on issues of structural injustice and ideological blindness. Following the ‘Truly Human One’ (Son of Man) means working at all levels toward a truly human society, in which shared resources and mutual dignity and care are extended to all — especially the least.
And this from the Streams of Justice website:
We are finished with homelessness, tired of knowing that thousands of people across Canada are forced to sleep on the streets. Solving homelessness is not rocket science – it means providing houses and supports for people who need them, through a funded National Housing Strategy.
We call on the organizing community in Vancouver to join us in sending a message to the Harper Government that cannot be ignored!
Because it is hard to fault Diewert’s work among the poor, I think that many Christians might be unwilling to criticize his political activism. His solution however is the same tired liberal idea of high taxes and a nanny state that takes care of us when we fall; this is replacing the vision of the Kingdom of God with statism. But I contend that when you pay for poverty you will only get more of it. Get off the backs of the wealthy and they will invest their money, and those investments will create jobs and the whole society will begin to improve as more wealth is generated. I don’t know what the solution to homelessness is, but it certainly isn’t government. Government is a large part of the problem. Government takes away our money in the form of taxes, while itself verging always upon bankruptcy with its unfunded liabilities. To reduce this burden, the Canadian government allows individuals to have too seldom used RRSP’s and TFSAs so that we as working Canadians can have some of our own money to save and invest; but when taxes are so high, how many Canadians actually have any money to put into such investments? Dr. Diewert, Candians already pay enough in tax. The solution is not more government funding, but government getting off the backs of individual taxpayers so that they can fend for themselves. Consider the following story of resident of Diewert’s Tent City in an article that mentions him (nationalpost.com):
His name is John, and he has what he calls an “addictions problem.” It cost him his carpet-laying job at a swank new hotel and condominium development downtown. “I showed up wasted,” he says. “I didn’t get paid and I lost my apartment, and now I’m here.”
Here being the Downtown Eastside, Vancouver’s slum. Where, on Monday night, John wound up. He spent what little cash he had and got wasted again. He’s not feeling sorry for himself or making excuses. “I wrote my own story,” he says. “It’s my fault.”
So Diewert’s solution is to force responsible hardworking Canadians to pay more taxes to help irresponsible people like John. The end effect of this would be to force all of us onto the streets, because Diewert’s vision, as Nathan suggests, is the renunciation of all wealth of a financial sort. The Globe and Mail recently had a series on the failing pensions of hundreds of thousands of retired Canadians–if they had been allowed to keep more of their money when they were working, they would be less likely to fall into poverty now that they are retired. If governments exercised sound fiscal policy and didn’t run continual deficits to pay for all the excessive social programs, wanting to be our nanny, then there could be a stable currency and people wouldn’t have to put their savings into risky assets and end up being poor because the stock and the real estate markets crash. Government is already causing too much instability by extending itself too far and trying to do too much; through excessive taxes, the government has also greatly weakened and undermined all other institutions that might help the poor, including the church and the family.
Let’s get back to the question: Is investing a sin? It requires the accumulation of wealth that is then invested to acquire more wealth. If you accept Dr. Diewert’s view, I guess I am a “bourgeois Christian” (in the words of another of Diewert’s friend), and my investments are sinful. That is why they favor high taxes on the wealthy, so that nobody will have the personal capital left to become an investor.
Eventually a vision like that leads to poverty like what we see in Cuba or East Germany before it was reunited with West Germany.
Paul’s approach was different. After warning against the love of money, he urges Timothy with these words (1 Tim 6.17-19):
As for the rich in this world, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on uncertain riches but on God who richly furnishes us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good deeds, liberal and generous, thus laying up for themselves a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life which is life indeed.
Paul urges generosity and good deeds. By this standard, it is hard to fault even Warren Buffet who gave away billions to charity. But Paul does not demonize wealth itself but rather the love of wealth. The wealthy then demonstrate their detachment from wealth through their generous support of charitable work.
My answer simply is that investing is not a sin, provided that the one who invests is a righteous investor, as suggested by 1 Tim 6.17-19. Off the top of my head, here is a list of righteous investors who are considered men and women of God in the Bible: Abraham, Job, Barnabas, Erastus (?), and Priscilla and Aquila.