Is investing a sin?

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.

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.
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5 thoughts on “Is investing a sin?

  1. It’s interesting that you “feel attacked” by the posts to which you link. After all, Dave, and I, and others certainly weren’t thinking of you when we wrote what we did.

    A friend of mine suggested that you were responding so vehemently to these things (matters of wealth, poverty, justice, faith, and so on) because you actually might have a deeply rooted sense of guilt about your own life and privilege (which, according to my friend, you might then be trying to repress, ignore, or overcome). I was unconvinced by this explanation — I thought it might be a bit of facile pathologizing and ‘too easy’ of an explanation. I responded to my friend by saying that, although I don’t know you, I suspect that you actually feel very little (if any) guilt about these things. Instead, my suspicion was that you were responding as somebody who had become accustomed to intellectually bullying and writing-off (without seriously engaging) people who hold opinions that differ from your own.

    However, the statement that you feel personally attacked when these matters are discussed suggests that I might be wrong. So, I’m curious, Peter, why are you writing so many (sloppy albeit passionate) posts in response to Dave, and I, and others? What is it that motivates you to engage in this discussion?

  2. Hi Dan:

    Thanks for the comment. I love the fact that you can’t even manage to ask an honest question without being insulting.

    My family has nothing that we didn’t earn by working hard in the real world or by risking that hard earned capital in the form of legitimate investments. Why should we feel guilty about that? I write with passion because I take you people seriously, and your positions on Scripture as a serious threat. In a way, that is flattering to you, don’t you think?

    Craig Carter wrote to me on his blog when I asked him about Christians in favor of socialism and why they felt so strongly that he had betrayed them as moved to a solidly conservative position:

    Peter,
    It is difficult to understand, but in the worldview of these folks all intelligent and right-thinking people are socialist. It is just something to be taken for granted as obvious and anyone who dares to disagree is a country hick or uneducated or an apologist for the multi-national corporations which exploit workers all over the world. They don’t even see themselves as taking an ideological position by advocating socialism: any more than it is an ideological position to be in favor of traffic regulations. That is why Adam thinks I’ve suddenly gone all ideological because I question socialism, whereas he is just a normal right thinking person with no ideology.

    At the same time, they also seem to be convinced of the inevitability and permanence of global capitalism, which is curious, given that they believe in Providence. They don’t really think about what socialism would actually entail as an economic and political system because they never expect to see it. (Don’t look now but Obama is running GM.) They aren’t even that interested in the details of socialist theory and practice. You won’t catch them discussing the labor theory of value or whether labour unions would be necessary in a socialist society.

    They use socialism (neo-Marxism really) as a stick with which to beat on the current system. They are much more into “rage against the machine” than building the new socialist order. Pressed for details, they will claim that they are not intrerested in “running the world” yet they get very upset when the Religious Right tries to exert influence on how the world is run. The Religious Left – well the only thing wrong with them is that they aren’t numerous enough to totally crush the right.

    They are much more interested in excommunicating anyone who questions socialist orthodoxy than excommunicating anyone who departs from biblical and historic orthodoxy. So Rowan Williams is a hero for trying to keep The Episcopal Church in the Anglican Communion instead of disciplining them for going against Lambeth 1998.

    For them Yoder’s work implies socialism, as does all right thinking theology. For a Yoder scholar to question that is what this is really all about.

    I responded:

    Craig:

    Thanks for your response. I find it remarkable.

    You’ve become an advocate for hard-working Christians who work with their hands so that they have something to give (cf. Eph. 4.28).

    Obama’s socialism is insidious. He promises hope and change, but he has given us class warfare. So not only is his plans for wealth redistribution a further violation of the sixth commandment against stealing, the class warfare incites the violation of the 10th commandment against covetousness. That is perhaps why the leftists couldn’t abide by Roy Moore in Alabama and his monument to the 10 commandments–it calls into question the very foundation of socialism: envy and stealing.

    I want to defend hard-working Christians who are doing their best to advance the Kingdom of God. Dave Diewert et al. are in favor of statism. The more powerful and successful the government becomes, the weaker other institutions become. We are seeing this in the US with the federal government eating up all the capital, becoming a behemoth while private businesses and family wealth are shrinking; and they are also reducing tax credits for charitable giving.

    I write with passion because I am genuinely afraid that you folks might be successful in implementing your agenda. That will lead to massive poverty, chaos and misery. Then the 3000+ poor people on the streets of Vancouver will become a nation of people living in misery and squalor. As I’ve said, over 100,000,000 people were murdered by communism in the 20th century. Isn’t that enough? I write with passion because I don’t want Canada or the United States to become the next North Korea.

    And that’s where you would take us; your friend wrote:

    First of all, I think events like protests are important because our commitment to an economics of life necessarily requires us to confront, expose, and demolish the economics of death. In order to construct a society that is more just, less just ways of organizing life together must be destructed. This should be obvious.

    But you would be destroying what is easily the most humane forms of government on the planet. You complain about 3000+ homeless in Vancouver–but what about the millions of poverty stricken people around the world? Certainly you can see that can’t you? You attack our form of economics while people from Sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean, and all other parts of the world long to live here. They vote with their feet to come here all the time–just like my own grandparents and my wife’s grandparents; they escaped poverty to make a life for themselves here. Every year, many thousands of people are still making this same migration here for the same reason–it is better here than where they live. Did you know the number of people who became US citizens is in the thousands, and the number who expatriate is in the hundreds? So you and your friends have unfairly judged our countries and our economic systems. And you stand in judgment of “bourgeois Christians” like myself.

  3. Interesting stuff, Peter. There might be some comfort in recalling that the most often repeated command in the Bible is “Fear not!” or “Do not be afraid!” There’s a great scene in Con-Air (an otherwise terrible movie) when Steve Buscemi’s character — a totally crazy, psychopathic criminal — is on a plane that is crashing and he begins to sing, “He’s got the whole world in his hands…” I’ve always loved that scene.

    As for me, growing up in a home marked by unexpected violence caused me to live with a lot of fear. I have since learned the truth of the saying that “perfect love drives out fear” (1 Jo 4.18). Now I’ve learned not to be afraid when walking in sketchy alleyways at night, when breaking up street fights, when confronting riot police… or when conversing with those who use the Bible in death-dealing ways. I don’t fear your position — it leaves me feeling sad, heart-broken and often angry (a pretty standard response to heart-break), but I don’t feel fear.

    Anyway, I mention this because, if you can overcome your fears, you might find that your rhetoric will shift and a different sort of conversation will become possible. Heck, you might even find your position shifting as well. After all, fear has a way of blinding us to a good many things — like, for example, what it might actually mean to love God and love our neighbours.

    • I don’t lay awake at night worried that PoserorProphet is coming to get me. That’s not what I mean. Let’s put it this way: I love Canada. I want Canada to be the best place it can be, a place of wealth where people around the world still want to come because it is the best place in the world. I don’t want to see your agenda fulfilled because I know it will lead to widespread suffering and it will increase poverty exponentially. If God knows when a sparrow falls from the sky, then he cares for the well-being of every soul in Canada, both those who love him and those who don’t and that is why he makes the rain fall and the sun shine on both the good and the evil.

  4. Pingback: Would Jesus have opposed the Olympic Games? « The Righteous Investor

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