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Five Questions for Avoiding Religious Follies

Posted: 06/01/11 12:16 PM ET

There is a never ending parade of financial and religious follies. This does not mean that one should have nothing to do with money or religion. Both have a place in human life. The problem is intelligently evaluating proposed courses of action. Here are five questions to ask in the religious arena. These questions may prove to be difficult to accurately answer. Study and research are required. Coming from a Christian perspective, I cite the Bible in support of asking these questions.

Religious appeals may be calls for individuals to join a religious group, donate or otherwise utilize resources in a way that the religious group approves, or even undertake an individual action apart from group affiliation or organized activity. Hence the term "appeal" as I use it is broadly based and must be viewed in the context of the specific call to action. For example, an individual may be promised exalted status, in this world or an afterlife, if she or he joins the group, donates or utilizes resources in an approved manner, or acts in a specific manner. There are many varieties of "appeals" and one must look to the essence of the call in this list of questions to consider.

1. Is the appeal made to selfish motivations? Philippians 2:3-4 "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others." In both financial Ponzi schemes and religious manipulation, the frequent appeal is to self-aggrandisement and selfishness. Pride may well precede a fall.

2. Is the appeal based upon principles that have stood the test of time? Luke 6 discusses the house built on a rock. We have contemporary financial evidence that claims of having extinguished market cycles occurs prior to market collapses. In religion, individuals who claim privately revealed hidden wisdom are in like manner frequently shown to be mistaken. In examining the essence of human interactions, it may well be true that there is nothing new under the sun.

3. Is the appeal creating unity or division? I Corinthians 13 is the famous discourse on love. Among other things, love "keeps no records of wrongs." Our modern financial and religious worlds are global. It is worthwhile to focus on points of agreement rather than points of division. The history of destructive economic and religious conflicts should validate this idea.

4. Where are the conflicts of interest or hidden agendas within the religious group? I Timothy 6:5 condemns those "who think that godliness is a means to financial gain." Financial and religious follies frequently have leaders with hidden agendas or conflicts of interest. These may take many forms, financial and sexual being only two common examples.

5. What happens to the resources that are created or acquired by the religious group? Luke 12 contains the famous account of the rich fool who hoards wealth in bigger barns. Financial and religious follies may well involve inward-looking hoarding rather than outward-looking investment of finances and energy that improves the world.

This is not an exclusive list of questions and may not adequately address every situation. Nevertheless, I believe that it is a worthwhile starting place for informed decision making.