Money & Religion

Commentary by Dr. Ursula A. Falk

Religion and Money


In all Western religions, money plays a big role.  A considerable emphasis is placed on giving to the “poor.”  How do the poor give, and how much honor do they get or feel from the not so poor who attend or do not attend the synagogue, the church, or other structures where the folk meet for prayer, for solace for forgiveness, for connectedness, or other needs that the participant/attendant has?  In the Christian religions a collection plate is passed for depositing money for the “church.”  In the Jewish congregations money is collected by fees that are assessed and paid yearly for being a part of whichever congregation the person or family belongs.  Religion has also been taken to television.  The preacher, minister, leader, or other recites prayers, holds speeches and urges the onlookers to send as much money as they can.  The more that they send the greater is their blessing and their relationship with the “Lord.”  The leader of the holy words is the human dispenser of all the good things that will happen to “he who gives” to the “poor, the needy” and all those who are the true believers and “righteous.”  The more they give the greater will be their reward in this world and the next.  If, on the other hand you are poor, there is no reward except possibly more poverty and deprivation. There are differences among the very wealthy congregations, the middle class participants, and the poor.  The folk who attend the former are honored, their suggestions are respected, and they are not overlooked.  The less wealthy are afforded less status and the poor are often ignored.  There are innumerable examples of this in literature, which shows this so clearly.  Let us look at the story of the “Verger” by Somerset Maugham.  He was a poor man who was hired by the priest to be the cleaner, the servant of the church.  For this he barely scraped enough to support himself and his family.  One day he was given the chore by the priest to introduce a very important gentleman who came to participate in the Sunday worship.  He was given a paper with the visitor’s background and accomplishments.  Unfortunately the verger was illiterate.  He explained this to his employer, the priest, and was summarily dismissed from his job.  The poor verger was desperate.  Being in this position with his last paycheck he bought a box of cigars.  With those he peddled from house to house selling his wares.  With his profits he bought more and more.  Eventually through his needs and hard work he succeeded and was able to start a cigar store.  Every week he personally went to the same bank to deposit his profits.  One day the young teller in the bank asked the former verger to sign the deposit slip with his name instead of using an “X.”  The response was an honest one .  The teller asked him  out of curiosity:  “Imagine what you would be if you could read and write!”  The speedy reply came: “I would be a verger.”

In the smaller religious congregations where material possessions are sparse, people care more about one another and there is little money to give.  Of course, the structure has to be in relatively good repair and the preacher has to have some income to be able to sustain himself and his family.  In the small “Stuble” (room) that was popular in Eastern Europe and to some extent in the USA,  people know each other and have similar feelings and beliefs as well as practices.  These tiny congregations are often comprised of orthodox congregants whose strictures are seriously observed, following the practices very closely and compulsively.  The members know what the necessary rituals are and how they must commence.  The beginning and end of the Sabbath and the holidays are ordained and must not be broken.  No labor must be performed on the holy days; “Schabbes” is a time for rest, synagogue attendance, and much more.  It begins with the lighting of candles welcoming the beginning of the Sabbath. Money is not handled on this weekly observance, and therefore cannot be given inside of the synagogue during this observance.  Any dues or gifts must be given before or after the approximately twenty-six hours of observance.  

There are constant requests for money for charities, synagogue needs, children's gifts, a possible new building or repairs to the old.  Those who do not contribute are “persona non grata” and their status decreases with the refusal or inability to contribute for the requested causes.  Thus money or lack thereof has a definite and decided influence upon a member's prestige. Folks who contribute generously  frequently can see their name on plaques which hang on the walls of the temple hall.  The poor are excluded from being able to attend many of the special parties or affairs, trips, and other occasions which require additional funds that must be paid in advance.

In summary, money separates folks even in the practice of religion.


Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the author of several books and articles.

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