Trying to find financial salvation

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Religious beliefs often influence behavior, but the economy’s current woes have people searching for financial direction infused with faith. And the key to this religion-based economic model is understanding that money should be viewed as a gift from God.

“Money provides things and comfort and fun, and that tends to become the key motivation,” said Dan Ewing, a deacon at Lexington, Ky.’s Tates Creek Christian Church who has taught money management there. But Ewing, who uses the principles set out by Dave Ramsey’s popular Financial Peace University, said there is more to it.

“The money we have is money that is provided by God, and we are just managing it,” he said. In that light, it is both a tool and a responsibility.

Ramsey, who has a syndicated radio talk show and newspaper column, is the most well-known purveyor of financial tools infused with Christian values.

But the view of money as a gift from God that should be used responsibly is common.

“God is the ultimate owner” of financial riches, said Suleiman Darrat, senior lecturer in Islamic studies at the University of Kentucky.

The responsibilities of the human trustees are spelled out in great detail throughout the Quran, said Darrat, who teaches a class on the Islamic economic model.

One of the key factors is that Muslims are not allowed to borrow or lend money with interest. Although Darrat carries a credit card, he said he pays off the balance every month before interest in accrued.

Fast and easy credit is often the center of people’s financial woes, said Jennifer Phelps, who facilitates Financial Peace University part-time for workplaces. “You just don’t register the pain when you swipe” a credit card instead of paying cash.

Studies have shown that people spend 10 percent to 12 percent more when they don’t pay with cash.

Over the years, Phelps said, people lost sight of the value of money. She said her grandparents are a good example of how things used to operate: They bought only what they could pay for on the spot.

“They just didn’t borrow for cars or clothes or furniture. They would never dream of buying any of that sort of thing on credit,” she said.

But the flip side to curbing spending is recognizing the true value of money as measured by the good it can do in the world.

An important tenant of Islam dictates how much of a family’s income should be given away, Darrat said.

The Quran spells out eight areas, such as education and community welfare, where the money should be spent.

“If we go by these principles, we will find balance,” he said.

Similarly, the Bible’s Old Testament speaks of tithing, or giving 10 percent of income to the church. The program also suggests donating 10 percent of income to the community.