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Many are familiar with the word Mammon, which translates from Aramaic to "riches." Some translate Mammon as greed or avarice, but most often, the word Mammon is used to personify riches, or greed. Although some consider it to be a lost Syrian god, no evidence of a Syrian god or demon by the name of Mammon exists. Later, Mammon was used as a demon in Piers Plowman and in John Milton’s Paradise Lost.
The name Mammon is often thought of in connection with the New Testament. In Matthew 6:19-24, Christ is quoted as stating: “No one can serve two masters; for either will he hate the one and love the other… You cannot serve God and Mammon.” As well in this passage Christ enjoins people to “not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth… but lay up for yourself treasures in heaven.”
In essence the passage can be seen as a rejection of acquiring wealth, or Mammon, in preference to serving God first. The passage is often used specifically to point to those who claim to be Christian but then seem to place the “getting and spending” as their first priority in life. Many Christian denominations despise the representation of Christianity by some televangelists who seem to "serve two masters," by focusing on donations more than on converting people to Christianity and holding God’s work above that which results in prosperity.
For many of religions other than Christianity, the trouble of reconciling the need to serve Mammon while still practicing a religion based on good works is challenging. If Mammon or money is needed in a global economy, how is one supposed to live without occasionally serving Mammon?
The answer given by many is that while piety and charity are of first importance, God, or a person’s conception of God also wants people to live, and sometimes living requires money for food or shelter.
Some religious practices other than those of Christianity definitely favor a spiritual life rather than one in the pursuit of Mammon. For example many orders of Buddhist nuns and monks take vows of poverty and depend upon the charity of others in order to live. However, depending upon someone else’s charity means someone must make money in order to have enough to give to charity, thus someone must still serve Mammon.
The same holds true for Catholic nuns who take vows of poverty. They must depend upon someone, somewhere serving Mammon in order to survive. Many differentiate however between being a servant of Mammon and a slave to avarice, rather than simply operating within a money based economy.
For many, Mammon is evil, whereas one must “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” also from the Gospel of Matthew. Essentially, do what you must, pay taxes, feed your family, and et cetera. However, give God his full share by leading a spiritual life.
Striking a balance between acquiring what one needs and stockpiling money is precarious and it concerns many people of various faiths, and many who don’t practice any religion. In a sense, serving Mammon means one is greedy, or one who has wealth far in excess of one’s needs. Yet Western Culture remains somewhat obsessed with those who acquire a great deal of wealth. Forbes magazine’s wealthiest people in the world list catches quite a lot of attention, as do shows like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.