"Money is the root of all evil," so went my grandmother's warning to her many students in sixty some years of teaching in one-room schools. And I think many in my generation grew up with exactly that negative feeling towards making money, and especially the spending of it!
There is a lot of talk in religion about the spiritual excellence of the meek and the poor, and how difficult it is for a wealthy man to enter the gates of heaven, etc., etc. But there are serious problems for the betterment of human society from viewing money and prosperity in such a negative light. It isn't money that is the root of all evil, but rather the love of money that provides the downfall. And the resulting mindset must be overcome if poverty is to be eliminated worldwide.
Bahá'u'lláh, the Prophet/Founder of the Bahá'í Faith, teaches both that His followers must be detached from the world, and that all the good things of the earth are available and permissible to enjoy--but with the caveat: "Know ye that by "the world" is meant your unawareness of Him Who is your Maker, and your absorption in aught else but Him." And He adds, in the same statement, "Should a man wish to adorn himself with the ornaments of the earth, to wear its apparels, or partake of the benefits it can bestow, no harm can befall him, if he alloweth nothing whatever to intervene between him and God, for God hath ordained every good thing, whether created in the heavens or in the earth, for such of His servants as truly believe in Him." - Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 276
So for Bahá'ís, detachment from material goods as the only source of happiness and security is necessary, and requires practicing both personal economy and social generosity. Without moderation, money issues can become stress and distract from the true purposes of this earthly life--to develop spiritual virtues. It requires an understanding of the true importance of spiritual wealth before acquiring material wealth.
'Abdu'l-Bahá, the son Bahá'u'lláh and His appointed successor, described some criteria for defining spiritual wealth. It involves:Once such a mature understanding is achieved, wealth is actually necessary in order to use that understanding for the betterment of individuals as well as the world.
- the love and knowledge of God
- universal wisdom and intellectual perception
- justice, equity, truthfulness, and benevolence
- natural courage and innate fortitude
- respect for the rights of others
- rectitude in all circumstances and serving the truth under all conditions
- the sacrifice of one's life for the good of all people
- kindness and esteem for all nations
- obedience to the teachings of God
- guidance and education of the nations and peoples of the world
"Wealth is praiseworthy in the highest degree, if it is acquired by an individual's own efforts and the grace of God, in commerce, agriculture, art and industry, and if it be expended for philanthropic purposes.... If, however, a few have inordinate riches while the rest are impoverished, and no fruit or benefit accrues from that wealth, then it is only a liability to its possessor. If, on the other hand, it is expended for the promotion of knowledge, the founding of elementary and other schools, the encouragement of art and industry, the training of orphans and the poor--in brief, if it is dedicated to the welfare of society--its possessor will stand out before God and man as the most excellent of all who live on earth..." - 'Abdu'l-Bahá, The Secret of Divine Civilization, pp. 23-24
And although the ultimate purpose of wealth is the betterment of mankind, concentration upon its acquisition must not become an end in itself. The Bahá'í Faith teaches that fundamentally there are spiritual solutions to all economic problems in the world. A cornerstone of its social teachings is the promise that extreme poverty, and extreme wealth, will be eliminated when mankind fully matures. The time of that maturation--as promised in sacred texts over the millennia--is this time in history. This is that day when God's Kingdom can be built on Earth as it is in Heaven.
It'll take some work, but Bahá'ís believe it is happening, little by little, day by day.