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Archive for Friday, January 18, 2002

Faiths offer guidance to balance spending, spirituality

January 18, 2002

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Can you be materialistic and still be a spiritual person?

Or does the desire to buy high-priced commodities a fancy car, a good bottle of wine, an expensive home dull the senses and lead one away from God?

These are questions that face some people of faith in the United States, a country blessed with material abundance.

Americans are bombarded each day with countless messages to consume at a frantic pace, and most people would admit they buy into it at least to some degree.

So how does the urge to constantly acquire new possessions affect a person's spiritual life?

When it comes to spending money to buy more, it's important to maintain a sense of balance, according to Capt. Kirk Schuetz, pastor and commanding officer of The Salvation Army, 946 N.H.

"My personal opinion is you can have nice material things and still be spiritual," he said. "What gets you in trouble is when you hold things more important than service to God."

The problem is that possessions can become like idols, he said.

"If you were to buy a new camper or boat, your attention would be concentrating on those material things, and that would draw you away from the service of God," Schuetz said.

Being wealthy or liking nice things doesn't preclude spirituality, he said, but it can be a trap. People can become slaves to their belongings, working harder and harder to acquire even more.

"The important thing is managing your money. We believe in tithing one-tenth to the church. You should set aside tithes and offerings for God's worth," Schuetz said. "If you have money left over for a hobby, I don't see anything wrong with that."

Good versus greed

Simply having money, or spending it to buy a new possession, doesn't make a person less spiritual.

That's the viewpoint of Judy Roitman, guiding teacher of the Kansas Zen Center, 1423 N.Y., a Jew who has also practiced Buddhism for about 25 years.

"There's a lot of examples of people in this world who are good people and who also have a lot of material goods. This is not a bad thing," Roitman said. "If you're acquisitive and greedy and you think only of yourself, that's a bad thing."

No one can really dictate to another person how best to spend money in order to buy something he or she enjoys, she said.

"Everybody finds the balance in their own life," Roitman said. "That's not a particularly Buddhist point of view. That's just common sense."

Within Hinduism, there are views on the struggle that exists between materialism and spirituality.

As with other faiths, much depends upon whom you ask for an opinion, according to Robert Minor, a Kansas University professor of religious studies.

"You can find people of the monastic traditions who say you have to give up material desires to achieve salvation or liberation," said Minor, who specializes in South Asian religions. "Others would say you can be prosperous as long as you don't gain those riches by means that are inappropriate, stepping all over people."

The Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi is an example of a Hindu who tried to reduce his earthly desires and his consumption of goods in order to stay on a spiritual path. Other Hindus believe differently.

When it comes to the topic of materialism, Minor likes the Daoist tradition.

"There's a saying: 'The more things you own, the more things own you.' If I own a Mercedes, I'm going to spend a lot more time taking care of it than a used Buick," he said. "Does religion teach me that I have a right to live in a style that requires me to spend $10 million a year? I have a hard time justifying that by any tradition."

No need for denial

The ideal possession for Jews is knowledge of Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible), according to Rabbi Judith Beiner of the Lawrence Jewish Community Center, 917 Highland Drive.

But Jews who do not have a monastic tradition aren't encouraged to deny themselves of pleasure that's derived from the physical world.

"The enjoyment of material things needs to be put into perspective. If you're rich and you give as much to charity as you do to your own pleasures, you can be a good person," Beiner said. "For the person who is lying and cheating and stealing to buy the bigger house and never look back, that's a problem. Life becomes just a journey of acquisitions. We don't want that.

"For the Jew, our life should be one of good deeds, study and observance. But it doesn't exclude the material world."

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