Usually they say that money is the root of all evil. It’s actually a Biblical quote and, interestingly enough, comes from the same letter to Timothy that has “Don’t let women into any position of spiritual authority” injunction by Paul I mentioned a couple of days ago. We, the Hare Kṛṣṇas, are not particularly fond of this saying about money but we understand the sentiment.
We can refer to Mahārāja Parīkṣit banishing the personification of Kali to reside in gold, ie money. The other four places allowed to Kali were where gambling, drinking, illicit association with women and animal slaughter are performed (SB 1.17.38-39). Śrīla Prabhupāda explained that gold was asked and permitted because during the reign of Mahārāja Parīkṣit there were no places where four illicit activities were practiced but gold would eventually attract all of them. Thus our actual beef is with breaking regulative principles rather than money itself.
Being attached to sinful activities is an offense against the holy name and committing them while hoping that the holy name would clear our sins is another offense on top of the first one. Offensive chanting keeps us from realizing the Name’s full glory and, therefore, there’s no spiritual life for those who keep sinning. It’s simply impossible no matter what they claim. God can forcefully reveal Himself to anybody, of course, but sinful people do not have necessary clarity of vision to perceive Him otherwise.
Hmm, one could say that without Lord’s mercy no one can see Him, sin or no sin, and it is true, but spirituality is a big area, seeing personal form of Godhead is a pinnacle of it and lesser aspects of it are automatically revealed according to our purity. Impersonal Brahman realization, for example, can be achieved by anybody through his own efforts (or so it seems to advaitins themselves), and it’s usually the impersonalists who claim to have spiritual visions while still leading gross and sinful lives. They can’t have them, these claims are fraudulent. Same goes for Christians who think that reading the Bible qualifies them to have a personal vision of Christ – jñāna in this case won’t work for them just as it doesn’t work for sinful advaitins. It’s a separate topic, though.
Anyway, money as the root of all evil, or love of money and greed, to be exact, is a common realization across the whole western world. Stephen Fry brought it up during the debate but, as usual for him, he twisted it to imply that money makes Catholic Church evil, too.
He was ranting about limbo and introduced purgatory and was about to reveal the real evil purpose behind it – money. Here’s what he said:
“A soul needs to be prayed for in order to go to heaven… And for many hundreds, indeed over a thousand years you’d be amazed what generous terms those prayers came at. Sometimes as little as two thirds of a year’s salary could ensure that a dead loved one would go to heaven. And money could ensure that your baby, your dead child, your dead uncle, your dead mother could go to heaven. And if you were rich enough you could have a chantry built and monks would permanently sing prayers so that that existence in heaven for a child would go up and up and up until they are at the table of the Lord themselves.”
I don’t think I have any illusions about Vatican greed throughout history, I still remember stuff about selling ingulgencies so that one may commit any sin safely. I think this argument resonates deeply with the public but we should look at the bigger picture and consider Church’s own view on the subject, too. I can’t claim to speak for the Church but I see where they might be coming from.
In the modern world money isn’t only the root of evil, it is also the common currency to determine the value of practically everything. There are insurance payments for the death of a child on terms that parents have negotiated and agreed on. It’s not exactly a price of a child but it certainly a monetary expression of child’s value. Insurance companies calculate values of everything, no one loves them for that but our modern life wouldn’t exist without insurance. It’s not just insurance either – we have the price for everything and, at the end of the day, everything is expressed in dollars and cents. Maybe not all the time but people with money know that they can buy practically anything they want, it’s only a question of price.
Why should the Church be ignorant of the value of money? Why wouldn’t it use such a convenient yardstick in its everyday dealings? Note how it was the price of two thirds of one’s yearly salary, not an absolute amount, demanded for the prayers. This distinction is significant, let me explain why.
What earns people points with God is sacrifices. Unless one has pure devotion, acts completely selflessly, and sees everything as God’s property, he must make sacrifices. Sacrifice is, at its heart, a relinquishment of one’s claims over Lord’s property. We, the spiritually condemned thieves, see at least parts of the world as ours to enjoy and control. This vision is born of ignorance, of course, and there’s no other way we can cure ourselves from our thieving propensity – we must give whatever we can back to the Lord.
People were asked to sacrifice two thirds of their work, not money. I don’t know where the specific number mentioned by Fry came from but I don’t think it was actually “salary”. Most likely it was two thirds of whatever one produced, probably in the form of grain or chickens. Until very recently no one paid salary big enough to donate two thirds of it and survive anyway.
Fry made it sound like fraud, implying that no way anyone in the Church could have prayed any dead soul into heaven and it was a simply money grab but he didn’t consider the personal sacrifice aspect of it. As long as the priest comes from line of disciplic succession, which is still the case with Catholics, his personal qualifications do not play a big role in the success of a sacrifice and how the Church spent the money should not be a consideration either. Once the work/money is offered to the Lord the sacrifice is over, in fact one should offer it without reservations and conditions and without trying to keep an eye on it as if it’s still his.
And the Church asked for money so that their priests could pray, which is another form of sacrifice – saṅkīrtana! It was especially clear in the case of building chantries. Somehow even Catholics recognized that the most spiritually efficient way of passing someone’s sacrifice on to the Lord is chanting.
It wasn’t about money, it was a pure karma yoga elevated by the Church to pure saṅkīrtana. Well, not pure but close enough, and Fry didn’t understand any of it, making it into a caricature and missing all the important points. We should know the principles of it and spot such attacks a mile away if anyone tries it with ISKCON.
Oh, and money in this case becomes the source of one’s liberation, just as it’s taught in Bhagavad Gīta.