The Root Sin of Materialism
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1861), American philosopher, and author of Walden Pond and Civil Disobedience, proclaimed:
“For every thousand hacking at the branches of evil, there is one striking at the root.”
One of the major “root sins” is materialism – “building treasures on earth,” “having our hearts set on the things of the world.”
From this “root sin” grow the “branch sins” of:
Scriptures Condemning Materialism
A plethora of scriptures clearly condemn materialism, riches, and wealth.
- “The love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Tim 6:10)
- “A rich man can no more enter heaven than a camel can go through the eye of a needle” (Mark 10:25)
- “Riches will canker your soul” (D&C 56:16)
- “Many are called but few are chosen … because their hearts are set so much on the things of this world.” (D&C 121:34-37)
- “Seek not for riches” (D&C 11:7)
- “You cannot serve God and mammon [money]” (Matt 6:24)
- “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26)
- “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth” (Matthew 6:19-21)
- “They seek not the Lord but the substance of the world, which is their idol” (D&C 1:16)
- “Set not your heart upon riches” (Psalm 62:10):
- “Those who trust in riches shall fall” (Pro 11:18)
- “A good name is better than riches” (Pro 22:1)
- “Some were lifted up in pride …. because of their … riches, Now the cause of this iniquity of the people was this‑‑Satan had great power, unto the stirring up of the people to do all manner of iniquity, and to the puffing them up with pride, tempting them to seek for power, and authority, and riches, and the vain things of the world.” (3 Nephi 6:10-15)
- “If you would be perfect, sell your property, give to the poor, follow me, and you shalt have treasures in heaven.” (Matt 19:16-26)
- “Seek first the Kingdom of God” (Lk 12:22-34)
- Parable of the Rich Fool (Lk 12:13-21)
- Parable of the Rich Man and the Beggar (Luke 12:22)
(Notice the emphasis against wealth by rich Matthew, the Roman tax collector)
Dallin H. Oaks
“From the emphasis given to this subject in the scriptures, it appears that materialism has been one of the greatest challenges to the children of God in all ages of time. Greed, the ugly face of materialism in action, has been one of Satan’s most effective weapons in corrupting men and turning their hearts from God…” (Pure in Heart, 1988, 73-74)
The Myth of “The Eye of a Needle Gate”
Jesus declared that it is as impossible for a rich person to inherit eternal life as it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. His perplexed apostles questioned: “Then it is impossible for a rich person to get into heaven?”
Teachers and preachers have tried to minimize and rationalize Jesus’ declaration. They claim that there was a small side gate in the walls surrounding Jerusalem, which was used at night when the main gates were closed. Because the gate was so small, it was called “The Eye of a Needle.”
For a camel to enter that gate, it had to unload all the physical possessions. Then, the camel had to kneel and shimmy through the gate.
The lesson: if a wealthy person unburdens himself of his riches, and humbles himself before the Lord, he can enter heaven.
There was no such gate. The story of the unloaded camel kneeling and shimmying through the gate is nonsense.
First, despite extensive archeological research in Jerusalem, no such gate has been found.
Second, there are no historical records mentioning an “Eye of the Needle” gate.
Third, the Greek phrases used by Matthew and Mark clearly refer to a “tailor’s needle,” not a gate. (Matt 19:24; Mark 10:25 )
Despite the overwhelming evidence, this false myth continues to be perpetuated by preachers, teachers, and tour guides. Sometimes, tour guides identify inner pedestrian gates as the “Eye of a Needle” gate Jesus referred to.
Jesus often used hyperbole and exaggeration to emphasize a point. In this context, he meant what he said.
This false myth of the “Eye of the Needle” gate was perpetuated by clergy, who wanted their rich donors to feel comfortable with their wealth. The earliest mention of such a gate can be traced back to about the 11th century. (See: “Origin of the ‘Needle’s Eye Gate’ Myth,” Agnieska Zeiminska, New Testament Studies, Cambridge Univ. Press, 9 Jun 2022; “Through the Eye of an ACTUAL Needle: The Fake Gate Theory,” classictheology.org, Oct 12, 2021; “Eye of a Needle,” Wikipedia; )
Jesus wanted the wealthy, the proud, and the rich to feel uncomfortable. (See: Parable of the Rich Fool; Parable of the Rich Man and Beggar.) Christ wanted them to seek wisdom, not riches. He wanted them to use their surplus to build his kingdom and help the poor and needy.
Interestingly, “Saint Cyril of Alexandria (376-444) claimed that ‘camel’ is a Greek misspelling, and that kamelos meaning ‘camel’ was written in place of kamilos, meaning ‘rope’ or ‘cable’… But whether camel, rope, or cable, it is still impossible.” (“Eye of the Needle,” Fr George Corrigan, Friar Reflections, St Francis Parish, Aug 17, 2021)
Joseph Smith Translations Clarify:
“It is impossible for them, who trust in riches, to enter the kingdom of God; but he who forsaketh the things of this world, it is possible with God, that he should enter in.” (Lk 18:27 JST)
“With men that trust in riches, it is impossible, but not impossible with men who trust in and leave all for my sake. For with such all these things are possible.” (Mk 10:27 JST
Saints, Satan, and Money
The Lord’s servants should be satisfied with having “sufficient for our needs.”
On the other hand, Satan’s mottos include: “You can have anything in this world for money.” “I will take the riches of the world and rule.” Satan’s “Golden Rule” is: “He who has the gold, rules.”
“If a thing is of this world, you can have it for money. If you cannot have it for money, it does not belong to this world.“ (Hugh Nibley, “Leaders and Managers,” BYU Speech, Aug 19,1983)
Harold B. Lee:
“We are the inheritors of what they [early saints] gave us. But what are we doing with it? Today we are basking in the lap of luxury… as never before … It would seem that this is the most severe test of any we’ve had in the history of this church.”
David O. McKay:
“With all my soul, I plead with members of the church … to think more about the gospel; more about the development of the spirit within; to devote more time to the real things of life, and less time to those things which will perish.” (Gen. Conf. Apr. 1968.)
Brigham Young always feared prosperity among the saints more than persecution.
“The worst fear I have about this people is that they will get rich in this country, forget God and His people, wax fat, and kick themselves out of the Church and go to hell. This people will stand mobbing, robbing, poverty, and all manner of persecution and be true. But my greatest fear is that they cannot stand wealth…” (Preston Nibley, Brigham Young: The Man and His Work, p 128)
When the Lord Blesses the Righteous with Riches
Sometimes, the Lord blesses the righteous with riches. But it is a huge mistake to equate wealth with righteousness.
The temptations of materialism have led to the downfall of countless disciples of Christ.
To avoid becoming “rich fools,” we must use our means to care for our stewardships over our (1) immediate family, (2) extended family, and (3) ministering families. (Laws of Stewardship)
To avoid the sins of materialism, our surplus abundance must be consecrated to (1) building the kingdom of God, and (2) helping the poor and needy. (Laws of Consecration)
“Ye will seek [riches only] for the intent to do good – to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and to administer relief to the sick and afflicted.” (Jacob 2:19)
If the righteous rich buy mansions, luxury cars, costly jewelry, and extravagant “toys,” their hearts will become set “so much upon the things of this world,” the riches will “canker their souls.”
In Zion, “they had all things common among them; therefore there were no rich and poor … but they were all … partakers of the heavenly gift.” (4 Nephi 1:3)
The Downfall of Solomon
The downfall of Solomon is instructive. Because of Solomon’s righteousness, the Lord granted him “wishes.” Solomon asked for wisdom and understanding. The Lord noted that most men would have asked for fame and fortune. Although Solomon did not seek power or wealth, the Lord graciously gave them to Solomon anyway. This was the cause of his downfall. His heart became set on the “things of this world.” He turned from the Lord. And he jeopardized his eternal inheritance.
Where to draw the line between “sufficient for our needs” and the sin of materialism
Decades ago, I derailed my bishopric meeting by asking: “Is it a sin to own a million-dollar home?” (“$5 million” today)
We went through the scriptures and quotes from the prophets. Then, one of my counselors asked, “Where do we draw the line between having sufficient for our needs, and being a materialistic sinner?”
We reached the ultimate conclusion. “Anyone who has less than me is living righteously, with sufficient for their needs. Anyone who has more than me is an evil materialistic sinner.”