The Congregation at Duke University Chapel

Wrestling Mammon


Wrestling Mammon

A fresh read of John Wesley, The Use of Money

Allen Parker
Winter Spiritual Life Retreat, Congregation at Duke University Chapel
February 11, 2012

Our thoughts on money cover every emotion - from fear to greed, anger to euphoria - and few topics evoke such strong response. If you think about it, our thoughts about money often run in loops of suspicion, panic, and smug satisfaction in the span of a few moments. Why?

On one hand we hear calls for our time, talents, gifts, and service, and almost in the same breath we hear chastening cries against consumerism, income inequalities, and perceived injustices of the economic system. Some cry for the end of the very market system that, if you think about it, enables them to have a place to share such feelings.

We'll explore a classic text, John Wesley's sermon on the use of money, and discuss ways that his wisdom speaks to our current struggles.

Wesley suburbia Occupy

The 18th century finds England in the grips of the Industrial Revolution, with groups in America and France building on Enlightenment thinking to foment revolution. Goods, services, and literature become more widely available, and with that new access comes a rising outrage, a foreshadowing of movements against corporate greed, unequal distribution of wealth, and the plight of the poor. From the midst of this we have a text, a sermon by John Wesley (1703-1791) titled "The Use of Money," that speaks directly to the rising pressures and criticisms of wealth.

Modern times bring us similar criticisms and pressures - the 2008 financial meltdown, political campaign rhetoric, and Occupy Wall Street demands, to name a few. We hear essentially two lines of thinking: either an individualist track that leads toward greater division, or a collectivist track that leads toward social justice. What if a third track exists? Enter Wesley's text from centuries ago. Get ready to be surprised and fascinated by the way this theologian challenges conventional wisdom and provides an alternative to the bipolar rhetoric of today.

Money as the...

image of painting
George Frederic Watts, Mammon
  • grand corrupter
  • bane of virtue
  • pest of society

Chairman, Davos 2012

  • “We have a general morality gap, we are over-leveraged, we have neglected to invest in the future, we have undermined social coherence, and we are in danger of completely losing the confidence of future generations...”
  • “... solving problems in the context of outdated & crumbling models will only dig us deeper into the hole...”
  • “...capitalism in its current form has no place in the world around us...”


protester with Workers World Party sign
  • Where it means clean water
  • Clean living conditions
  • Access to medical care
  • and if Jubilee never happens
  • despair, without hope

Money and Anxiety

  • If we understood the true role of money in our lives, we would not think simply in terms of spending it or saving it.
  • Money exerts a deep emotional influence on who we are and what we tell ourselves we can never have.

  • Our long unwillingness to understand the emotional and spiritual effects of money on us is at the heart of why we have come to know the price of everything, and the value of nothing.

  • Money has everything to do with the pursuit of an idealistic life, while at the same time, it is at the root of our daily frustrations.

Is money like manna?

image of painting
Bernardino Luini, The Gathering of the Manna
  • manna ( Exodus 16) — survival, sufficiency
    • distributes likes human height, weight?
  • money - stored time, talent
    • Black Swan effects
    • distributes like human creativity, talent?

Money as...

image of painting
Georges de La Tour, Paid Money
  • Stored unit of value for time, talent
  • Relief from barter
  • Allowing for trade across different resource-rich or specialty regions

Money as...

image of painting
William Gropper, Piece Work
  • Wages evolved from piece-work, to wage-labor, to salaried positions
  • Depersonalized exchange
  • Separate public, private spheres
  • Freedom to enjoy the private sphere

Wesley: Save

  • Save all you can
  • Viewing money as a store of God-given time, talent, gifts
  • Spending becomes an expression of who you are and what you believe
  • Why cast it into the sea?

Velocity of Money

flow of money between investors, entrepreneurs, workers
  • Consumer
  • Hoarder
  • Saver
  • Middle Class


image of painting
Berthe Morisot, Getting Out of Bed
  • Who is the best steward of the hours you are given?

The Unjust Steward

image of painting
Marinus, Parable of the Unjust Steward
  • Luke 16:1-13 — cannot serve both God and money
    • diaskorpizo — scattered, squandered
    • oikonomia — household management
  • Wesley: if the world is shrewd, comfortable with money, why not also people of faith?

Wesley: Save

save 10% for emergencies, save 20% for lifestyle later
  • Providing for your household to live simply, not throwing it into the sea
  • Taking care against risks that may arise
  • Surplus happens...


  • What needs to be true for us to trust ourselves to be good stewards?
  • Can human beings can be left free as individuals and families to live their lives as they see fit?
  • Can they come together voluntarily to solve their joint problems?

A Great Irony

image of painting
Donna Walker, Simple Living
  • Living simply leads to abundance & surplus
  • Living extravagantly leads to scarcity
  • True for individuals
  • ... for households
  • ... for institutions
  • ... for creation

The Individual

  • Who is the individual?
    • Maximize individual utility?
    • Maximize community utility?
  • Curricula:
    • Household
    • Cultural norms
    • Madison Avenue
    • Species competition
    • Community of faith


spend, give, risk with money?
  • Discretionary spending
  • Private sphere
  • Depersonalized

Leveraging our numbers

  • Individual
  • Family
  • Church
  • Charities
  • Work group
  • State
    • Consent?
    • ... Compulsion?
    • ... Necessity?

Tragedy of the Commons

  • Hardin, 1968 — Individual utility vs Common good multiple individuals,
  • acting independently and rationally consulting their own self-interest,
  • will ultimately deplete a shared limited resource,
  • even when it is clear that it is not in anyone's long-term interest for this to happen
  • but what is “un-owned property”?
  • what arrangements constitute “common” property?

Human Condition


Growing Sum

x, y axes of graph, human condition moves from NW to SE

Zero Sum




  • To what extent...
  • On what basis...
  • ... do others have a claim on the hours you are given?


  • What needs to be true for us to trust a collective body to be a good steward?
    • Corporations
    • Governments
    • Institutions

Plato’s Societies

image of painting
Raphael, School of Athens
  • Society of Luxury — corrupts the individual, and then the state
  • Society of Need — minimal, but who guards us from the guardians?
  • The American project

Polybius and Anacyclosis

image of painting
Polybius (200-118), Histories
  • [cyclically repeat from below]
    • Despotism
  • Kingship
    • Tyranny
  • Aristocracy
    • Oligarchy
      • Federal Republic
  • Democracy
    • Ochlocracy
  • [cyclically repeat to above]


  • Charles Murray - America’s four “founding virtues”
    • marriage,
    • industriousness,
    • community,
    • faith
  • 1960-2010 America - from similar rates between the classes to markedly different
  • Each virtue
    • Limbic response
    • Neo-cortex response

homo reciprocans

  Prisoner B's Strategies
Prisoner A's
Do Not Confess      Confess      
Do Not Confess

1 Year

1 Year






20 Years

20 Years


  • Do cultural factors matter?
  • More individualist cultures (US, Western Europe)
  • More collectivist cultures (China, Korea, Japan)
  • Command economies
  • Market economies

Wesley: Earn

  • Knowing yourself and God
  • Without harm
  • Without delay

Creation of Wealth

flow of money from investors to entrepreneurs to workers

Keep it local

  • Community context
  • Phenomenon of Local Currencies
    • Pittsboro
    • Ithaca
    • Berkshire
  • Re-personalizing
    • Less private
    • Relationship-oriented

Does keeping it local work?

community at the intersection of collective and independent?
  • Community context
  • “Least worst” intersection?

Sabbath Economics

  • Maxim 2 of 3: Disparity of wealth...
    • ... is not natural
    • ... is the result of sin
    • ... must be mitigated by the community of faith practicing wealth redistribution


  • Which are finite?
    • manna, height, weight, water
  • Which are limitless?
    • talent, creativity, imagination

Human Value

  • What defines human value, worth?
    • United Nations: freedom, equality, dignity, rights
    • Judeo-Christian (Gen 1:27-28): imago deo
  • IQ?
  • Beauty?
  • Wealth?
  • Power?


champagne glass analogy - richest 20% receive 80.7% of the world's income        while the poorest 20% receive 1.4%
Kinsler & Kinsler, 1999
  • Worse now?
  • Better?
  • Years, decades, centuries, millenia


  • Are we talking about...
    • ... starvation?
    • ... stuff?
  • US poverty level, family of 4 = $22,350
    • say, living on 70% of that, saving the rest
    • Ranks in the top 12% of the world

Human Value

image of painting
Gustave Moreau,
The Wicked Rich and the Poor Lazarus,
  • If wealth is not what defines human value...
  • ... then is disparity of wealth “wrong”?

Poverty as pathology

  • David Wilson (Binghamton University)
    • “poverty” and “pathology” are not synonyms
    • social capital and financial capital are not interchangeable
  • Colin Campbell, The China Study
    • Diseases of poverty, affluence

Root causes?

  • What causes disparity of wealth?
    • Internal factors, both elective and fixed
    • External factors, both circumstantial and structural

Basic requirements
  • Institutions
  • Infrastructure
  • Macroeconomic environment
  • Health and primary education
left-to-right arrow Key for factor-driven economies
Efficiency enhancers
  • Higher education and training
  • Good market efficiency
  • Labor market efficiency
  • Financial market development
  • Technological readiness
  • Market size
left-to-right arrow Key for efficiency-driven economies
Basic requirements
  • Business sophistication
  • Innovation
left-to-right arrow Key for innovation-driven economies
  Stage 1
Transition from
stage 1 to stage 2
Stage 2
Transition from
stage 2 to stage 3
Stage 3
GDP per capita (US $) thresholds <2,000 2,000 - 2,999 3,000 - 8,999 9,000 - 17,000 >17,000

Black Swans

  • The left tails...
  • The right tails...
  • Extent of participating in economic growth
cover of book cited in resources at bottom of page

Speedbump: Do No Harm

  • Is this possible in a distributed ownership, depersonalized, market economy?
  • Effects of rooting out inefficiency
  • Schumpeter’s waves
photograph of Shumpeter
Joseph Schumpeter (1883-1950),
History of Economic Analysis

The Shumpeterian Cycle of Innovation and Entrepreneurship
  Shumpeter's waves accelerate
  Water power
Internal-combustion engine
Digital network
New media
Pace of Innovation
slowly rising, then steeply falling wave
slowly rising, then steeply falling wave slowly rising, then steeply falling wave slowly rising, then steeply falling wave slowly rising, then steeply falling wave
  First Wave Second Wave Third Wave Fourth Wave Fifth Wave
1785 1845 1900 1950 1990 2020
duration 60 55 50 40 30


champagne glass analogy - richest 20% receive 80.7% of the world's income        while the poorest 20% receive 1.4%
Kinsler & Kinsler, 1999
  • Wrestling with mammon is not new
  • Organizing to make decisions in the face of disparate...
    • Power
    • Wealth
    • Capacity

Malthusian Trap

Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834),
Essay on the Principle of Population
  • Classic economics (Adam Smith)
    • “Dismal Science”
    • Zero sum, scarcity
  • Thomas Robert Malthus
  • “sooner or later population gets checked by famine”

Malthusian Trap

image of painting

Viktor Vasnetsov. Four Horsemen of Apocalypse


graph of income per person, 1000 BC ~ 2000

The Great Divergence

graph of income per person, since 1979

Another Great Divergence

Sabbath Economics

  • Maxim 1 of 3 (Myers)
  • World as created is abundant, provided:
    • Human restraint on appetites
    • Live within limits
  • Echoes of Plato

Back to Manna

image of painting
Bernardino Luini, The Gathering of the Manna
  • Collective: from each according to ability, to each according to need
  • Zero-sum: hoard (& rot)
  • Welsey’s 3rd path...
    • Individual surplus, spills over to the household, then to the community

Sabbath Economics

image of cover of Robin Hood book
Classics Illustrated No. 7
  • Maxim 3 of 3 (Myers)
  • The prophetic message is “good news” to the poor because it calls people to practice redistribution

Life at the margin

image of painting
Navid Eghbalieh, In Wait
  • Should we...
  • How do we...
  • ... best help the poor, those at the margins?
    • health care, food, shelter
    • old age, disability

Surplus v Charity

image of painting
Adolph William Bouguereau (1883-1950),
  • Generosity / Charity
    • we’re in control, doing good works
  • Surplus
    • having lived simply and met our obligations to self, household
    • the natural result
    • no other use for it

Wesley: Give

self gives to spouse, then to household, then to community of faith         then to all people
  • Having earned all you can
  • Having saved all you can
  • Give all you can

7 Generations vs. 3

image of painting
Robert Albrecht (1966-), Iroquois
  • To the extent that we remain silent on...
    • Civics
    • Money
    • Sex
  • ... we cede to the default curricula of the society around us
    (Government, CNN, MTV, limbic)

graph of income per person in lowest 20% vs life expectancy,          in year 2000 in various groups of countries
graph of GDP per capita vs life expectancy,          in year 1960 in various groups of countries
graph of GDP per capita vs life expectancy,          in year 2009 in various groups of countries
graph of income inequality for families,          in years 1947 ~ 1998 from US Census Bureau data
graph of marriage rates in upper class and working class families,          in 1960 vs 2010
graphs of part time male workers in upper class and working class         families, in 1960 vs 2008, and reduction in religious observances         across same groupings in 1970s vs 2000s
graphs of median family income in high-income zip codes,         in 1960 vs 2000, and nonmarital birth ratios within         groups of mother's educational experience across 1970 thru 20008

Resources on the Web
The Sermons of John Wesley, Sermon 50, The Use of Money
Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan - The Impact of the Highly Improbable, 2007, Second Edition 2010
Garrett Hardin, Tragedy of the Commons, 1968
Sabbath Economics
Charles Murray, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, 2012
Beginning of a five-part critique of Charles Murray's Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 which does not differ with the data (or the statement of the problem), but which is concerned with the interpretations, reactions, and conclusions (or lack thereof).