Thursday, September 1, 2011

Some really bad advice

I had the opportunity a few days ago to attend an excellent management seminar; at this event I was able to hear live some amazing speakers: Rudy Giuliani, Gen. Colin Powell, Steve Forbes, Terry Bradshaw, First Lady Laura Bush, Krish Dhanam, and Lou Holtz, among others. Overall it was an amazing seminar.

But there were two very, very bad seminars. Bad for me as a Christian, not necessarily personally. The two seminars (by businessmen named Bob Patel and James Smith, in case you're curious), were financial advice seminars. And both were dangerously anti-gospel--all the more surprising that one was hidden behind the terminology of spirituality. I'd like to take a moment to discuss the anti-gospel behind their advice.

The two peddled slightly different financial advice (which, of course, you could learn more about if you bought access to their upcoming in-depth seminars, just coincidentally). So I will treat them differently.

The first I would call financial gnosticism. It is the proposition that there is some secretive, hidden knowledge that can set you free from all the issues of the world. If you just buy his website's tools, you will find out the 'inside info' that no one else knows, which will allow you to outperform all of the experts. (Of course, he never adequately answers why it is that he doesn't just keep the knowledge to himself and become a billionaire.)

He was a great orator, and told hilarious stories; but these stories all subtly built into his agenda--follow me, he seems to say, and you will have a life like mine: where you work so little that the neighbor boys think you're unemployed; where your business partner buys a Ferrari; where you can buy your son a car for breaking state records in track and field; where you have so many vacations that travel gets obnoxious.

The second speaker peddled a sort of prosperity gospel: God wants to bless you with plenty, and Satan wants to keep you down. I'm not putting words in his mouth either--he was extremely evangelical (when he wasn't cursing), once even saying specifically, "Satan wants you to be scared and sit on your money" while God wants you to buy property. It is a strange reading of the parable of the talents, I suppose. He also said that Jesus was a carpenter, so I guess that means He approves of real estate deals? And of course his speech was full of the typical trite things such speakers say: "Can't is the language of losers," "You can do anything if you'll just take the first step", "Life is all about positioning yourself for success", yada, yada, yada.

They both preached a "financial freedom" that was anything but free: one required you to pay for his service and perform frequent day-trading of stocks; the other was peddling a system whereby you had three sources of income (investments, work for a company, own your own side business).

But worst of all, what both speakers shared that was so dangerous was a very materialistic end vision: do whatever it takes to protect your retirement. They both said, several times in fact, that you must choose one of two lifestyles: do nothing and be poor and homeless in retirement, or follow them and be a millionaire able to do whatever you want when you reach old age.

I have a number of problems with what they said, which I will try to succintly sum up in four points:

1. Tomorrow is not guaranteed, but eternity is. Do not store up treasures on earth, but upon heaven--be using your money now to invest in other people, not to invest in your future leisure. If your focus is constantly upon how to make money for your retirement, then your retirement becomes your God. I think someone kind of important said that.

2. Both talked about the importance of creating margin in your budget now, so that you can invest that money in your future. While this is good sound financial advice (I'm a big fan of margin-based budgeting, which we do), it is wrong when you violate #1 above. One used the example of having created $3900 of extra money and starting to invest it. Well maybe this is bad advice from me, but...when I get $3900 (as we did when my beautiful wife did extra taxes this year), I don't want to invest it in a potential retirement for me, some 30 years from now. Instead we are going to take our family to Disney, getting to take more than a week to fully enjoy some fun time as a family. Those memories are much more valuable to me than a potential future cash flow.

3. CS Lewis once said, "Aim for heaven and you get earth thrown in. Aim for earth and you get neither." Despite the pseudo-Christian language used by one of the speakers, these kind of anti-gospels are the very definition of earth-based thinking. I don't see a lot of books of the Bible telling you to make sure and provide for your retirement; I see a lot telling you to give until it hurts, forgive debts even when it doesn't make sense, refuse to charge interest when loaning, to loan without expectation of return, and to embrace a lifestyle of providing for others instead of yourself.

4. When I hear these guys speak, I just get tired and sad. Their version of security is a large bank account, earned through a lifetime of pinching pennies, investing in careful risks, Scrooge-like management of your funds, and working tirelessly at all times. I'm sorry, but as for me--I will embrace the real Gospel, which promises rest and eternal security.


  1. Very good post. It reminded me of something very similar I see a lot from other Christians online. There are many who are sort of survivalists, who think you need to own lots of guns, gold, and have your own rural redoubt for the coming collapse of civilization. The problem I have with this idea is that it's not remotely Christian, and sounds like the exact opposite of how the early church reacted to persecution. Whether it's finances or the end of the world as we know it, our fates are ultimately in God's hands regardless of how well-prepared we are.

  2. Kyle, your post makes me think of Glenn Beck's recent pronouncement that Hurricane Irene is God's way of warning us that we ought to stock up for the oncoming collapse of society. I wanted to say to him: "Mathew 6:31, dude."