30 October 2012

Misquoting Timothy

by Dr Philip Church

I have been thinking about bank advertisements lately. Most of them seem to be about market share. One bank has someone dedicated to helping people change banks. Another two banks who previously competed with one another even though they were part of the same corporate entity have decided to join forces, and three others are competing for the customers of one of them. Some ads seem to mock the two banks for joining forces, while others just offer great interest rates for people “thinking about changing banks.” And then there is the bank that seems to have taken the moral high ground with its ""is money good or bad"" campaign.

I find this intriguing for a bank to go down this road, and I, aging cynic that I am, am wondering if they are softening the public up for an announcement of a record profit, or perhaps a big salary increase for the CEO. I expect in fact that it is neither. If the business press is to be believed this short, sharp (just a few weeks) campaign has been very successful. It has the general public talking about money and talking about the bank. And surely that is the point of advertising. I am about to contribute to this chatter.

What I noticed was just a three part campaign (there may have been more that escaped my notice). There were three TV ads, a few full page ads in the newspaper and some billboards. The message was that money is neither good nor bad; rather, it is what you do with it that matters. Is that really the case?

The full page newspaper ad was a list of contrasting statements suggesting that money was neither good nor bad. The top line pretended to quote 1 Tim 6:10. That text says, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.” The ad says, “money is the root of all evil.” What Paul wrote to Timothy was that “the love of money,” or as my Greek Lexicon tells me, “miserliness,” or “avarice” is the origin of all kinds of evil. Paul is actually talking about something attitudinal, for as the rest of the verse says, ""in their eagerness to be rich some have wondered away from the faith.”

Of course the bank had to misquote to make the point they wanted to make – that it, that money is neutral, neither good nor bad. The quote itself, probably sits in the subconscious mind of most English speakers, having got there via the old King James Bible, and most of the population may not have even recognised that it was a quote from the Bible, or even a misquotation.

Is it really true, though that money is neutral? I think not. I would want to argue that money is good. Economic realities are different now, but for past generations, cold hard cash (and even bank notes) was represented by a stash of gold owned by the Reserve Bank. And this gold, these natural resources are part of God's good creation, over which God pronounced, “it was very good.” Wealth and resources are not a human invention. They are a good gift from the Creator.

And what of the bank's conclusion: “it is what you do with it that matters?” I am not sure that this is right on the money either. And I am not sure that Paul would have agreed. It is, as I have suggested an attitudinal think that Paul is highlighting. Moreover, the Timothy text is not about how people dispose of their money, but how they go about getting it, and what motivates them to get it. That seems to be more fundamental than what you do with it. Surely a bank should be aware that ethical trading is really important. And there are regulations that they have to deal with when people deposit large amounts of cash.

Of course what we do with money is important. I would not want to decry that. But even then, attitudinal things are important. Spending on what is necessary to live is good, investing some of what is left is good, and giving generously is good. Indeed to withhold from my neighbours what I have that they need is probably tantamount to theft. All these things are good. But even generous giving can be done out of something not totally right. “Certainly, I will give you money for your building, but I would like you to name it after me.” “I will sponsor the Paralympics, to be sure, but please make sure my name in up there in lights.” Statements like this may be more common than we think.

Nevertheless, I dare not take the moral high ground on any of this. I know my motives are always mixed. But I do think there are some issues with the advertising campaign. I am not sure it is as black and white as the bank would like us to think.

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