Money, religion and faith

On a recent TV show, there was a question: “does heaven exist?” Setting aside the answer to the question for now, I want to address an argument that a member of the religious side made in response to the secular side.

The secular side made the statement that religion was based on faith which is by definition belief without any proof. In return, religious person equated the faith required to believe in a God with a faith in money, implying that any person person was guilty of a similar crime if they used money. On first reflection this might appear reasonable: money doesn’t exist as a tangible good so requires faith to use it. But it feels false, this equivalence.

The obvious first point against this is that money’s tangible existence is really irrelevant because it’s simply a useful construct we’ve adopted as a society to allow us to manage value more easily. In particular, it allows us to shift value forward and backward in time.

It’s possible to argue, however, that a type of faith in money is required to allow this to happen. Let’s study the types of faith at work in these sentences in more depth. I think the core of the money-faith argument is that one must have faith that money will continue to retain its value, as otherwise accepting money in return for a good or service wouldn’t be terribly wise. In essence, you must have faith that everyone else will continue to believe in the value of money. The core of the religion-faith argument is that of believing something even though there is little evidence to support the belief; faith is required to support the belief.

From this it’s simple to spot the problem with equating money-faith with religious-faith. There’s plenty of evidence that money will continue to hold its value tomorrow, simply based on previous days and years. While this isn’t proof, it’s certainly good evidence to base a belief that money is a worthwhile manner to accept payment. We can also study collapses of the system. In fact this argument takes us further because it shows that the comparison is truly false: we have solid observational evidence to base any assertion of why we believe in the value of money. Faith is not required.

There we have it. Why a faith-money vs. faith-religion argument feels intuitively wrong, even if the first impression of reflection is that it may be correct.