Glad You Asked: Is it a sin to be rich?

On this episode of the podcast, theologian David Cloutier talks about the church's moral teachings on wealth.

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While the phrase “biblical morality” is popular among many Christians, it is not especially meaningful, since Jesus is ambiguous on a lot of topics, in his teachings, and other topics he doesn’t address at all. But there’s one theme on which the teachings in the gospels, as well as the rest of the Christian and Hebrew scriptures, are straightforward: Those who have wealth are obliged to help the poor, and woe to them if they do not. 

Some scriptures even indicate that being wealthy at all is morally problematic: “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24). The internet is filled with articles attempting to explain that such passages should not distress the well-off, or why in these particular cases Jesus didn’t really mean what he said.

But given how extensive and unambiguous biblical mandates about wealth are, Christians should take them seriously. We need to consider whether being rich is sinful, and if so, how sinful. But this means assessing what is meant by wealth or riches. How rich is too rich? What about different standards of living, from one culture to the next? And what about rich people who give a lot to the poor?  

On this episode of the podcast, hosts Emily Sanna and Rebecca Bratten Weiss talk to guest David Cloutier about the church’s moral teachings on wealth. Cloutier is a professor of theology at the Catholic University of America. His recent books are Walking God’s Earth: The Environment and Catholic Faith (Liturgical Press) and The Vice of Luxury: Economic Excess in a Consumer Age (Georgetown University Press). Cloutier is a regular contributor to U.S. Catholic‘s “Salt & Light” column. 

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Glad You Asked is sponsored by the Claretian Missionaries.