Jan 13

As I often do, I was surfing through some fellow blogger posts. I came across a question posed on Debt Free Adventure

Should one pay off their 20 year remaining student loan, fixed rate below 3%, or use the money to aggressively pay a higher interest mortgage? There is no correct answer, just more questions. That’s about the cheapest fixed rate money one will even see, and with inflation likely to return in the next few years, I’d bet that one could do better than 3% on average over the next 20 years. One could buy a mix of stocks or corporate bonds with a higher dividend than 3% and take any increase in price as a profit.

The turn that caught me by surprise was one comment suggesting that the borrower should have never taken on a mortgage while the student loan was still outstanding. That God’s word says we should avoid debt and therefore not have both those debts at the same time. Specifically, the comment said “Christians have an obligation to repay debts, and to be debt free.” I am curious about the mix of religion and money. The more I blog and read others, the more I run into this. Not that I’m uncomfortable with God or religion, I’ve just never viewed God and finance as being related at all let alone as closely related as others are suggesting. I recently read a book review in which the reviewer discussed the book in a positive light, but commented that he felt the author should has injected some discussion of God or faith in the review. No, I don’t think the reviewer was at all crazy, I’m just trying to keep an open mind. When I see Star Wars (The original, 1977 release) I see good and evil, the Force and the Dark Side. A discussion of God might naturally follow. When I am talking about debt, money, mortgages, etc, I just don’t see where the injection of religion adds to the dialog.

It happens that both the book reviewer and the debt discussion were referencing Christian views of money. Are Christians more debt adverse than other religions?  Is is all Christians or just certain denominations? Do blog authors lose their non-Christian readers by tailoring their discussions to that approach to money? Am I a bad person for really liking the 2% cash back credit card I use?  Just my thought for the day.

Joe

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17 Responses to “Is Debt Anti-God?”

  1. Kevin@OutOfYourRut Says:

    I’m a Christian personal finance blogger, and I’ll try to answer your question.

    The Bible isn’t specific on financial issues, i.e., payoff debt before investing or payoff one loan before incurring another. Some in the Christian pf realm do get a bit too specific on faith and money issues and draw tie-ins where none exist.

    But the Bible is clear that debt represents bondage (“the debtor is the slave to the lender”). It also says that God is a “jealous God”. Money has all the potential to be a false god, and we see that all around us in the world. The pursuit of money for its own sake, more is better, etc. NONE of that is biblical and the believer needs to stear clear of it. Money and debt aren’t sins as such, at least not until they cause us to fixate on them and away from God.

    Does this make any sense?

    BTW, I’m a regular reader of Debt Free Adventure and in my opinion, Matt Jabbs has a solid handle on the faith-finance connection.

    (Excellent post topic!)

  2. Matt Jabs Says:

    Great questions Joe, as you know when dealing with faith there is never any blanket answer that makes sense to everyone. This topic is more of a personal preference per reader.

    Regarding the referenced commentator on DFA, what he said regarding the biblical view of debt is correct for the most part. The bible teaches to avoid debt at all costs if possible, equating the borrow to a servant and the lender to a master (which translates quite well even in today’s economy.) This will lead the bible follower to avoid debt while leading a non-bible follower to see the debt differently.

    Regarding the mix of God and finances… for those who try to live their lives according to the framework of their faith will consider their faith in all areas of their lives, including finance. Those who choose not to live their lives by the framework of any particular faith will most likely view finances and most other areas of their lives from outside the sphere of any faith based framework.

    I think it’s really as simple as that.

  3. JOE Says:

    I appreciate the comment. As someone whose thought process is very concrete, I often struggle to understand issues that are gray.
    Let me pose a simple question that would help me a lot. You graduate school, have those 3% loans, fixed, 20 years. Say $100K. On graduating, you find Treasuries (read that as a zero risk investment) yielding 6%. Enough so the coupon just about makes the payment. You also find a check from mom and dad for the $100K. Do you simply pass it along and eliminate the debt, or buy the treasuries and look forward to a $100K face value 20 years hence? I’m ok with either answer, just trying to frame the decision in my own mind, is it an extension of the risk, or aspect of ‘debtor’?

  4. Evan Says:

    Joe,

    I think you and I have similar blogs that we check out on a daily or weekly basis, and I have often wondered about this exact issue.

    I think what I have come down to, after discussing it with The Wife, (who runs her own blog on trying to conceive, and sees the exact same thing) is that those blogs would have discussed God and religion regardless of what the main subject of the blog was about.

    So while I consider myself a Christian, my day to day activities are not trenched in religion, and I think that is the difference

  5. Mrs. Micah Says:

    Actually, Islam is so debt-averse that you’re not supposed to get into it in the first place. Of course, some would say Christianity is that way too, but you see more of it in the Muslim world. My husband has a number of Muslim exchange students from all over the near and Middle East and has had the chance to discuss this kind of thing with them. Some don’t have savings accounts, for example, because of the issue of interest being made off of other people’s debt.

    That’s not to say there isn’t high finance and debt in the Muslim world, but things like mortgages are not as de rigeur as they are here.

    To my thinking, there are things you’re supposed to be doing with your wealth if you’re a Christian. Mostly giving it away at frighteningly revolutionary levels. And if you’re in debt, then you’re prevented from doing those (thus the oft-quoted phrase about the borrower being slave to the lender) because the honorable thing to do is pay off your own debts first. Getting out of it as quickly as possible frees you up to live better.

  6. Jeff Says:

    I’m “pro get the hell out of debt”. That means if one’s belief system helps them to navigate the tough water of debt, then good for them. If one believes that credit and debt are like Darth Vader, good for them. I believe that anything that will help to motivate a person to make a change for the better is a GREAT thing. I personally enjoy reading the Christian blogs because of their view point. Just like I enjoy reading this blog because of the analytical view point. The best part about personal finance is that it truly is personal. We all seem to love the topic for one reason or another. We all are working different systems with different results for a varity of different reasons. The take away is – We are all trying to make a better life for our families.

    I still like Joe even if he uses a credit card to get 2% cash back. Maybe one day when I’m out of my self created mess I may look differently at his choice.

    May the Force be with all of us…

  7. Matt SF Says:

    I’m not a religious person, but I do think various religions provide a solid social construct by openly advising its followers how they should conduct themselves. So by setting rules about being a good neighbor, thou should not kill, and even advise them how to conduct their finances, it strengthens an already solid foundation at how to be a productive member of society and maintain some semblance of order.

    In asking is “Debt is Anti-God?”, I think it’s a simply a means of reducing any potential for future conflict between its followers.

    After all, a person who is in debt often has high anxiety and willing to do take extraordinary means to acquire more money (e.g. steal, pillage, kill). Such things are frowned upon by most religions, so why not throw a few PF tips in there to prevent them from occurring.

  8. JOE Says:

    Admittedly, I may be putting too much thought into this. There’s probably no line where right is on one side, wrong on the other.
    Thanks for commenting.

  9. Elizabeth Barrette Says:

    Looking at the Torah, the Bible, the Koran, etc. indicates that God has tried repeatedly to explain to people that debt causes problems. A society riddled with debt is a stressed-out, unstable, and unhappy one. God keeps recommending that people not loan money for interest. People listen for a century or few and then go right back to practicing usury. (Of course, not all the advice in those books is good; there is quite a lot of advocacy for violence, especially against women.) It’s worth noting that the Muslims have some very clever “halal mortgage” arrangements in which two parties share ownership of a house or whatever, without any debt involved at all — that is well worth investigating if you wish to buy real estate.

  10. Jason @ RedeemingRiches Says:

    Joe – great question. Actually you asked quite a few questions at the end of the post, but I’ll try to answer the title question.

    I have to agree with Kevin’s answer that debt itself is not so much anti-God, but money has the potential to represent a “false god”. Something that we place more importance on than God himself.

    I don’t know if Christians are more debt-adverse than other religions, but I do know that Christians need to be very careful to not make hard and fast rules where hard and fast rules shouldn’t exist – that leads to legalism.

    We do however have the obligation to be the best stewards, or managers, of God’s resources. Money is not ours, it’s His. So we have to look at how we are spending, saving, living etc and ask ourselves if this is bringing Him the most glory.

    It really comes down to a heart issue – meaning that I could be completely debt free and yet be the most greedy and coveting guy on earth! Yeah, I’d be debt free, but my attitude towards my money isn’t bringing God more glory.

    On the other hand, even from a non-religious view – debt, for the most part, is bondage. It typically causes more stress on our lives and on our relationships especially when it gets to be too much.

  11. Jason @ RedeemingRiches Says:

    To answer your question of “Do blog authors lose their non-Christian readers by tailoring their discussions to that approach to money?”

    As you know I write about money and finances from a Christian view and I don’t know if I lose readers or not. I hope not, but my guess is I probably do.

    But, I have to write what I am passionate about and if I find myself skimping on what I believe to be a biblical view of money then I feel like I would be selling out.

    I hope that my content and writing style is good enough that people will want to read what I wrote and be open to me challenging their belief system.

    I try to write some good general PF information as well as some thought provoking and challenging posts that get to the heart attitudes we have about money.

    What I’ve found is that I’ve ended up challenging myself probably more than anyone and I think I’ve grown as a person and a Christian because of it.

    But I can definitely understand why some would be turned off by mixing faith and finance.

  12. Sam Says:

    Interesting post! This is something I’ve been thinking about lately (and have been blogging about some, as a result). There seems to be a correlation between many PF bloggers and their religion (a pleasant surprise for me).

    I like the way Kevin summed it up above. I was raised in a Christian family and basically grew up in a church. I’m still a Christian but until doing some research, I wasn’t fully-aware of the link between God and debt. I’ve been learning more and more about this and I believe that God doesn’t want us to have obscene amounts of debt. Having a mortgage and student loans is different from having maxed-out credit cards!

    The Bible does say that we’re obligated to repay debts (Ecclesiastes 5:4). But it’s also an issue of doing the right thing. If I take a loan out and agree to pay it back, it’s not acceptable for me to suddenly decide I don’t want to pay it back.

    I don’t think debt is anti-God, but I do believe that Christians should consider the Bible and their faith in all aspects of life, including finances.

  13. Kevin@OutOfYourRut Says:

    I agree with Sam’s take, but I’m not sure of a distinction between mortgages/student loans vs credit cards. Strickly speaking, the Bible doesn’t differentiate on types of debt. Debt is debt.

    An outsized mortgage, or a student loan that’s out of all proportion to the income the graduate can reasonably be expected to earn is no better than maxed out credit cards. Secular society blesses mortgages and student loans and calls them good debt. The only faith influence here might be in a direction toward moderation.

    As believers, we are to be ***generally*** debt adverse. My own opinion on “good debt” vs. “bad debt” or how much debt to carry is that those are arguments from a secular perspective more than from a faith one. When we get into those discussions we’ve largely abandoned a faith perspective, and the discussions become mostly subjective.

    Even as people of faith we tend to draw lines around our own preferences. Alas, we’re NOT perfect…

  14. Peyton Says:

    Also, on the note about muslims. I’ve heard from friends who’ve been on trips to muslim predominate countries (ex. Turkey) and saw half built houses. Upon asking why they were half built, the guide responded by saying they did not carry debt, so if the project ran over, they would stop until more money could be saved. An interesting and enviable perspective.

  15. Friday Roundup Olympic Edition Says:

    [...] Joe asks an interesting question: Is Debt Anti-God? [...]

  16. This Week in Personal Finance - January 15, 2010 | Redeeming Riches Says:

    [...] Joe Taxpayer is confused why so many Christians seem to look at all debt with such disdain and asks an interesting question, “Is Debt Anti-God?” [...]

  17. debt management uk Says:

    Nice post! This is something I’ve been thinking about lately (and have been blogging about some, as a result). There seems to be a correlation between many PF bloggers and their religion (a pleasant surprise for me).

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