The Monetized Heart: Kuyper on God and Mammon
Money can entice one to all kinds of sin; in fact, there is almost no sin imaginable to which it does not entice. However, this is merely the consequence of the core corruption money brings as soon as it becomes for someone what his God alone can and may be for him.
That struggle also goes on for a long time in the heart. Our human heart needs a point of support on which to depend, rest, lean, and rely and from which it derives the peace, rest, and calm of life. At first, things fluctuate. At one time the heart finds this support in God, at another time in money or capital. Then follows a period of constant swinging back and forth, depending on the afflictions and dangers threatening us. As long as these threats can be countered with money, God takes second place. But if the threatening affliction or danger takes on a character against which gold can no longer fight, then in most people our God’s name once again rises to the surface as the heart again seeks comfort in the God it had forgotten.
The Monetized Heart
For many, their adherence to money gradually becomes so dominant that it begins to rule their entire soul and all their senses. The more money people have at their disposal, the more assured and certain they feel in their capacity for managing such a monetary treasure. They begin to look down almost in pity on those poor souls who have hardly any money and who seek consolation in prayer and thanksgiving and in their dependence on a purely imaginary God. They do not begrudge them this, since these poor souls after all need something in order to keep going in their poverty-stricken state. The rich, however, feel themselves to be beyond that. Those poor souls chase after a dream, while these folk hold on to reality. Gold is the real god, so why would we also add the unreal God of the imagination?
The contrast thus becomes sharper and sharper. Religion is for the poor and destitute who gaze at mere semblances, but money and gold constitute the real power for those with possessions. It is their rock, their support, and their strength. In this way, money first comes to stand beside religion; then there follows a period when money drives religion out of the heart; and in the end, a mystical veneration for money itself arises in the heart.
At first one serves both God and mammon. Then the soul becomes entirely monetized until all religion appears to be erased. In the end, not only the worship of God falls away forever, but under a different form something of that old worship reappears and develops into a sort of religious veneration of money and mammon. This is exactly how Christ said things would go. First, you try to serve both God and mammon. This cannot be done, however, and is impossible in the long run. You cannot serve God and mammon. For that reason, if you do not want to break with mammon, the religion of your God can only die off in your monetized heart, so that in the end nothing remains but the money-god, mammon.
The sad process that affects individuals addicted to money becomes reality for entire social circles and even countries. Especially those countries that are devoted to the business of wholesale trade and banking experience over time the incredible power that money has. In that way, they ultimately become so impressed by that enormous world power that only in periods of high spiritual elevation in the circles of this powerful commercial world does one still see a religious tone reign.
Over the course of the last century, this ugly phenomenon has spread out in ever widening circles and has gradually assumed a worldwide character. World life in its entirety now stands under the sign of money-power. In the international community there is hardly any sensitivity for higher interests anymore. Almost all governments openly show that their only goal is to increase their population’s riches and welfare. This orientation in government policy has pushed material and financial interests to the foreground. All conflicts between states, whether they involve war or not, aim at obtaining the greatest possible financial advantages for their own country. This spirit has penetrated downwards and placed its grasp on all levels of society. The battle, the fierce struggle of the so-called proletariat against capital, had no other cause. From those wide circles the same thirst for money worked its way into families and people. The lust of the current generation is to accumulate wealth, to better one’s position, and to have at our disposal the greatest amount of money possible.
It is no longer the man from a family of high standing, the man of character and high intelligence, the man of noble spirit, who presides at the nation’s table. The place of honor is now reserved for the merchant, for the one who has much money, for the millionaire. This passion has proved itself to be so infectious that even families of standing have cast their higher calling aside and now strive to match the financial power of the nouveau riche; yes, even kings and princes exert themselves to earn honor and respect among the money magnates by acquiring as much capital as the magnates do—or even more. Without wealth you are nothing. All doors are open to those with immeasurable capital, and so they automatically climb higher and higher on the social ladder. Wealth covers everything; without wealth you are helpless.
Resisting the Power of Money
How could the worship of him who created heaven and earth ever survive when faced with the enormous growth of money’s power in the unregenerate human heart? Worship of the only true God reaches very deep. It does not tolerate you placing your confidence in some creature, in something other than him alone.
However, we are faced with a mystery at this point. It pleased God in his unsearchable design to allow the power of money to establish its throne on earth and to wave its scepter over the kingdom of this world. And—let us not hide the truth—in money, there rules a power that closely approaches God’s omnipotence, at least insofar as the satisfaction of the needs and wants of one’s outer life is concerned. God himself mysteriously raised that power to life in order to confront us more than ever before with the choice for or against him. After all, you can expect all you desire from the power of money; you can ask and receive it from mammon.
This places you before the question that your God asks you in your conscience: Is it your determined choice to reject all these things, to recognize that they are nothing, and to place your only, unwavering, and full trust in me as your God?
This commentary is adapted from a chapter in Abraham Kuyper, Pro Rege: Living under Christ’s Kingship: The Exalted Nature of Christ’s Kingship, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016), part of the twelve volume Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology series sponsored by the Acton Institute.