One of the topics that I find interesting that people rarely talk about when it comes to FI/RE is the intersection of a FI/RE mentality and religion. I don’t consider myself a deeply religious person, but I was raised in a religious tradition and many of the values impressed upon me continue to guide my decisions. I clearly remember learning the many lessons on the evil of greed. When I first learned about FI/RE there was a part of me that worried that placing such an emphasis on the accumulation of wealth was exactly the greed I was raised to reject. For those of you who may be wrestling with that question, allow me to share what I have decided in grappling with this question. I will pull my example texts from the Christian Bible, but I believe my conclusions are equally applicable to any religious tradition.
If you are like me, then you recall the message clearly relayed by the New Testament:
Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters, because either he will hate one and love the other, or be loyal to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and riches!”
Luke 12:15 He told the people, “Be careful to guard yourselves from every kind of greed. Life is not about having a lot of material possessions.”
1 Timothy 6:9-10 But people who want to get rich keep toppling into temptation and are trapped by many stupid and harmful desires that plunge them into destruction and ruin. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.
So by placing the focus that FI/RE does on accumulating wealth, are we in direct conflict with what our religious traditions are teaching us? Is FI/RE teaching us to be greedy? I strongly believe that the answer to this is a resounding “no”. In fact, someone following FI/RE is more likely in line with what religious traditions teach us than someone going through their life, blind to their financial situation.
On its face this may seem like a counterintuitive answer, but allow me to explain. Webster defines greed as “a selfish and excessive desire for more of something (such as money) than is needed”. The key here is that greed is desiring more than is needed. A key component of FI/RE is figuring out how much is exactly needed. In most cases it is about critically looking at expenderatures and questioning whether they are really needed. Ecclesiastes does a better job highlighting this difference.
Ecclesiastes 5:10 Whoever loves money will never have enough money. Whoever loves luxury will not be content with abundance. This also is pointless.
FI/RE is clearly not about loving money because it is exactly about getting to the point of having enough. It is about rejecting luxury and abundance. It is about ensuring that your spending is in line with your values and principles.
I firmly believe that much of the evil in this world is driven by greed. Where does this greed come from? For most, I believe it stems from the fear that people will not be able to provide for themselves and their families. People who aren’t thinking with a FI/RE mentality don’t have a clear picture of what it takes to have enough money to put food on the table. So they act instinctively and try to amass all the resources they possibly can, hoping that it is enough.
On the other end of that spectrum, consider someone who has reached their FI/RE goal. They know that for the rest of their life they are guaranteed to have food on the table and a roof over their head. What drives such a person? What motive would they have for stealing from their neighbor? None. Instead, time and time again what we see from members of the FI/RE community who have reached their goal is that they shift their efforts to help others who are aspiring to the same goal.