Wealth is one of the most significant words in any language. It’s universally associated with material prosperity measured in the currency of accumulation. One dictionary definition of wealth says: much money or property; great amount of worldly possessions; riches. Another definition: stock or assets capable of earning an income.
Wealth is also associated with power and success.
Wealth is actually a compound noun. The OED defines wealth more helpfully in terms of the root meaning of its two parts: weal –well-being and th – the condition of. Wealth means the condition of well-being or happiness.
Wealth can no longer be narrowly defined in terms of money-value of material possessions but must include the many, often-intangible things, that contribute to our quality of life including our spiritual wellbeing, hope, happiness, joy.
We are called to expand the concept of wealth to include human wealth, social wealth, and natural or environmental wealth. Combining these forms of real wealth with financial or monetary wealth and built wealth (infrastructure, buildings, roads, hospitals, etc) leads to a more genuine or authentic understanding of all the conditions that contribute to our wellbeing, both individually and collectively.
Wealth is normally defined as material possessions and prosperity. Both of these are seen as indicators of God’s blessing as long as wealth is obtained ethically and wisely, i.e. obtained in a way that does not adversely affect the wellbing of other individuals or the community. Wealth that results from exploitation is condemned. Overall, wealth is understood as something entrusted to us and not something we own exclusively. All wealth belongs to God and entrusted to us for our wise enjoyment. Wise enjoyment is the result when we allow our dealings with wealth to be regulated according to God’s will. God’s will is for us to enjoy a right relationship with wealth.
Jesus and Christian Tradition
Jesus never refers to wealth as such in his teaching referring only to the consequences of not living in a right relationship with it: what good will it be if a man gains the whole world but forfeits his soul? You cannot serve God and mammon at the same time. It’s harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.
Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations 1776
Real wealth is the annual produce of the land and labor of the society. What surprises is that Smith has a broader definition than just material possession for he includes labor as wealth. Labor is stored capital.
John Ruskin the 19th century artist and philosopher:
There is no wealth but life, including all its powers of love, of joy, and of admiration. The country is richest that nourishes the greatest number of noble, and happy human beings; that man is richest who, having perfected the function of his own life to the utmost, has also the wisest helpful influence, both personal, and by means of his possessions, over the lives of others.
Genuine wealth includes all the conditions of life that contribute to our individual and communal wellbeing. We live in a commonwealth – common-wealth – a state of well-being collectively defined by reference to the common good.
Practice of Spiritual Inventory
Spiritual Inventory requires an audit of our value system. Values structure our decision making, our sense of right from wrong, in short our values constitute what we believe in.
- What beliefs and principles of economic life do we consciously or unconsciously live by?
- What values currently form the foundation of our modern economics?
- Is there a dissonance between the values espoused by our capitalist, free market society and the values that constitute a spiritual or holistic concept of well-being and all that is included in the measurement of well-being?