Thinking About Money? You Dirty, Rotten Scoundrel
Religion & Liberty Online

Thinking About Money? You Dirty, Rotten Scoundrel

A study from Harvard University and the University of Utah purports to show that merely thinking about money makes one unethical and more inclined to immoral acts. The Huffington Post reports:

Researchers split up roughly 300 participating undergraduate students into two groups. The first group was asked to perform activities that were associated with money-related words and images, and the second group participated in activities that were unrelated to money altogether.

Afterward, the participants were asked to make a series of illicit business decisions: to act dishonestly but earn more money, for example, or to hire a candidate who would share confidential information. The students who first participated in the money-related activities were more likely to engage in unethical behavior, the researchers found.

Without access to the full study, it is hard to discern whether the participants already had any propensity towards honesty or dishonesty. Even without this information, the declared outcome seems rather ludicrous. If merely thinking about money (or given word-scramble games with money-themes, as the participants were) causes one to be dishonest, it would be darn near impossible to find an honest accountant, financial consultant, banker, teller, or cashier. Watch out for that kid making change at the local fast-food joint; he’s on the fast track to becoming a dirty, rotten scoundrel.

One of the most misquoted pieces of Scripture is 1 Timothy 6:10. Many recount it as “money is the root of all evil”. Instead, the verse is, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (NIV, emphasis added.) Money, like food and drink, is neither evil nor good. It is our use of these things that is telling. Someone who over uses food is going to be ill; someone who loves money too much is greedy. Bear in mind that someone who is rich is not necessarily likely to be more greedy than someone who is poor. It is human sinfulness – not money – that makes us want to hoard and keep, to be dishonest and try to make things easier for ourselves. A poor person can be consumed with thoughts of money just as much as a rich person, but the Huffington Post article states that the rich are more likely to cheat and steal.

Perhaps what we can take from this study is another biblical ideal: “Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.” – Proverbs 16:3

Elise Hilton

Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.