In some ways, wealth is like sex.
"Sex can be a beautiful thing," said David Miller, executive director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture. "Or sex can be objectified, perverted and painful."
Like sex, wealth has both a functional purpose and an aesthetic purpose in modern society, Miller said Tuesday morning at the Hesburgh Center Auditorium during a Notre Dame conference on "Muslim, Christian and Jewish Views on the Creation of Wealth."
Though the word "sex" may seem like an unlikely way to engage in a discussion about religious views, it helped to illuminate the fundamental concept of wealth creation and, of course, to draw a few laughs along the way.
Speakers say wealth creation is a topic worth illuminating since it has an important place in
the Christian, Muslim and Jewish traditions alike. But it's a concept, they say, that still poses
There's one strand of God's voice that describes wealth as a blessing, Miller said. But there's another voice that describes wealth as a danger.
In discussing three prevalent Protestant attitudes toward wealth creation, Miller said some people view wealth as an offense to faith, exemplified by the historical emphasis on renouncing worldly pleasures to follow Jesus.
Others view wealth as an obstacle to faith, indicated by the account in the book of Mark in which a wealthy man is reluctant to sell all of his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor for the sake of following Christ.
"His wealth had become his first god, before Jesus," Miller said.Still yet, some people view wealth as the outcome of faith, he said. Such is heavily emphasized by prosperity gospel preachers and faith-related books that focus on wealth.
"This is a seriously flawed and dangerous perception of wealth creation as an outcome of faith," Miller said.
What we need instead, he said, is wealth creation integrated with faith, which promotes a healthy means to focus on humanity's needs.
"All (the other attitudes) distort God's views," he said.
Wealth is nothing more than a necessary means to approach our goal -- to be God-like, said Nasser Elahi, director of the Center for Economic Studies for Mofid University in Iran. And without sufficient wealth, he said, society's stability is jeopardized.
That's why Muslims, who strive for moving society toward prosperity, aim to create sufficient
public and private wealth, he said.
Elahi went on to discuss some of the key Islamic principles for wealth creation, one of which is a balance of hope and fear -- hope for mercy because of God's grace and fear of God's wrath because of our sin and our lack of value.
Elahi, later noting that Muslims should increase their propensity to save more than the typical secular person, also emphasized the importance of faith, which is fruitless without good deeds and practice.
For Moses Pava, material wealth is simply one value among other values.
"The ethical problem isn't in being self-interested," said Pava, Alvin Einbender chair in business ethics for Yeshiva University in New York. "The ethical problem is in being only self-interested."
Today, we must really learn how to live in the moment of dialogue, he said. One of the best gifts religion can give in terms of the creation of wealth is not another list of do's and don'ts, but a model of how humans could and should interact with one another, Pava said.
"It is here that wealth is truly enjoyed...and our deepest human desires are likely to be fulfilled," he said.