This is a 2018 Ferrari 488. It costs $300,000. That’s a lot of money. Believe it or not, it’s even more than I make as a seminary professor in an entire year!
So now the question: is it always wrong for a Christian to buy this car just because she wants one?
I asked this question on a Twitter survey. Twenty-eight respondents resulted in a perfectly even 50/50 split:
Is it always wrong for a Christian to buy a brand new $300,000 Ferrari just because she wants one?
— Randal Rauser (@RandalRauser) December 8, 2017
Perhaps it is worth unpacking the question a bit more. To that end, we should remove the particularities of the question and reduce it to its bare parts: cost and motivation:
Is it permissible to spend X [cost] on Y just because one wants Y [motivation]?
In our original formulation X=$300,000 and Y=new Ferrari. But we can readily substitute other amounts and products:
Is it permissible to spend $30,000 on a new Honda just because one wants a new Honda?
Is it permissible to spend $1 on a new Ferrari Hot Wheels just because one wants a new Ferrari Hot Wheels?
Is it permissible to spend $300,000 on a new home just because one wants a new home?
Is it permissible to spend $800,000 on a new home just because one wants a new home?
Is it permissible to spend $300 on a bottle of French wine just because one wants a bottle of French wine?
Is it permissible to spend $8 on a lattefrappumocachino just because one wants a lattefrappumocachino?
Is it permissible to spend $100 on a concert ticket just because one wants a concert ticket?
I don’t even know how to begin adjudicating on these and countless other economic decisions that we make every day. So while I have my own intuitions about what is permissible (or preferable), it seems to me that opining categorically on such matters is a practice that will soon land one in a morass of legalistic casuistry.
During Christmas 1999 my wife and I were walking through Harrods in London when we came upon a designer canopied pet bed. It was a meticulous reproduction of a canopied pet bed once owned by Louis the XIV. As memory serves, it cost £12,000. That bed has always remained in my mind as the ultimate example of crass commercialism. Can I say it should absolutely never be purchased by a wealthy Christian — perhaps one that is already a famous philanthropist — just because she wants it?
To complicate matters, there are innumerable reasons a person might desire something. Could our rich philanthropist want the pet bed as a memorial of a beloved companion animal, for example? Or could she want it for what she perceives to be its timeless artistic merit and craftsmanship? If somebody can spend $450,000,000 on a Da Vinci painting, a mere £12,000 for a canopied Louis XIV pet bed might seem like a steal!