What is your attitude about money?

Recently, I read Ken Honda’s book, Happy Money: The Japanese Art of Making Peace with Your Money. I don’t recommend reading the book. I do recommend pondering his basic question, “What is your attitude about money?”

Honda suggests that many, perhaps most, people live with attitudes of fear and anxiety about money. These people fear they will have insufficient money to fulfill their wants and needs; they are anxious that their money will not afford them adequate security against hunger, houselessness, etc. He contends that our individual attitudes of fear and anxiety originate in a broader societal attitude of scarcity. Never will there be enough money for all to be happy and for all to live abundantly.

Honda believes that money symbolizes energy. A person may achieve happiness by becoming a “money magnet,” i.e., someone whose persona attracts the flow of money. Once a person becomes a money magnet, then s/he person needs to manage their money in a way that produces personal happiness.

He describes himself as a self-help author focused on the connection between money and happiness. This best-selling author has sold seven million books in Japan. He characterizes the book that I read as pointing to the Zen of money.

Although Honda consistently emphasizes the importance of generosity as a help in learning to hold money loosely and as a source of happiness, I found his message strangely at odds with the Christian attitude toward money. His thought does resonate with the “prosperity gospel,” a warped interpretation of Jesus’ teachings premised the idea that God wants everyone to enjoy material wealth.

Christianity, understood more traditionally, teaches that money, per se, is unimportant. Money is a tool for facilitating exchanges (e.g., buying food) and storing value. Money is not a source of happiness.

Happiness always and only comes from a person’s relationship with God, a relationship frequently manifest in our relationship with other people, with creation and with self. Abundant living, as Honda acknowledges can be found in impoverished people, e.g., a person who has chosen a monastic lifestyle or among the people of Bhutan, often identified as the happiest people in spite of their very low incomes and levels of wealth. Research in the U.S. and other developed nations consistently suggests that above a certain income level (now about $75,000) a higher income is no assurance of increased happiness.

By ancient design, communion wafers resemble a coin in shape. The IHS imprinted on many communion wafers represent the first three letters of Jesus’ name in Latin, evocative of coinage minted with the monarch’s name or bust. (The dollar sign, incidentally, is a stylized form of the IHS symbol.) And as with; money, the bread and wine of Holy Communion are called species.[1] In other words, God claims our money as God's own because all things ultimately belong to God, creation’s author. As Jesus said, one cannot serve God and mammon.

Consequently, each person, according to Jesus, is God's steward responsible for using her/his talents, time and treasure in a Godly way. Life is not about me. Life is about us, us understood in its broadest, most inclusive sense. (For more on caring for creation, cf. Restoring God's Earth: A Year of Personal Action.)

Furthermore, faithful stewards acquire an attitude of thankfulness (Honda calls this arigato, the Japanese word for thank you). Honda fails to link thankfulness to stewardship. Thankfulness transforms anxiety and fear into peace, trusting that our security and well-being depend not upon money but upon relationships. A young Mao Tse Tung reportedly said, “Money is the father and grandfather of the mean of spirit.”[2] Thankfulness develops as we cultivate mutually life-giving and loving relationships with others, with the world around us and with our innermost self. Thankfulness points toward life’s deepest mystery, that which we call God.

[1] Mark C. Taylor, About Religion (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), p. 154.
[2] Max Boot, Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present (New York: W.W. Norton, 2013), p. 434.


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