Ethos Education

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: To what extent is money morally good or evil?

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Learning Objectives:

  • Understanding of Christian perspectives on the uses and responsibilities of wealth.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Reflect upon the influence of money as a motivating force in life for many people.
  • Determine reasons why the desire for wealth can be a bad thing in modern society.
  • Reflect on the difference between the false idea that money is bad, and the concept that the love of money can lead to bad things.
  • Understand biblical teaching about the relationship between rich and poor people.
  • Understand biblical teaching about the responsibilities of wealth.
  • Evaluate how a modern day Christian might seek to meet these responsibilities.

STARTER: 

Ask the students to brainstorm a list of things that motivate people or make them happy. If they need prompting, suggest one or more of the following:

  • Money (if they don’t suggest this one on their own, make sure that it is included in the list)
  • Power
  • Ambition
  • Excitement
  • Protecting the environment
  • Helping others

Once you have generated a reasonable list, ask the students to agree which are the more influential factors. Pick two and ask the students to vote between them to determine the one that they think is a strong influence on the majority of people. Repeat this process until the students are satisfied that you have arrived at a reasonably accurate ordered list. Pick out money and ask if anyone is surprised at its place in the order. Why do they think that money is such a powerful motivating factor for many people? Explain that in today’s lesson you are going to be looking at Christian attitudes towards money.

MAIN ACTIVITIES:

Introduce the clip from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Warner Bros/MGM, 2012, certificate 12). Click here to buy the DVD online.

Explain that this scene sets the historical context of Bilbo’s adventures, telling of the fall of the great Dwarven Kingdom of Erebor. Ask the students to pay particular attention to the part that money and wealth played in both the rise and the fall of the Kingdom.

  • Start time: 0.02.02 (in chapter 1 of the DVD)
  • End time: 0.07.15
  • Clip length: 5 minutes and 13 seconds

The clip starts with the camera panning across a map. The first line is the old Bilbo (Ian Holm) narrating, ‘There was the city of Dale…’. The clip ends before the army of elves appears on the horizon. The last line is the narrator saying, ‘For a dragon will guard it’s plunder for as long as he lives.’

Remind the students of the line, ‘Thror’s love of gold had grown too fierce. A sickness had begun to grow within him, it was a sickness of the mind.’ Do the students think that a desire for wealth can be a bad thing in the real world (where dragons are unlikely to smell it out and attack you for it)?

Read 1 Timothy 6:6-10 with the students. Why do they think the writer says that ‘godliness with contentment is great gain’? What has contentment got to do with people’s attitude towards money?

Draw their attention to verse 10, point out that contrary to popular opinion the Bible does not say that money is the root of all evil; it says that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. In other words, money itself is neither good nor evil, what matters is the attitude that people have towards money.

Now split the class into small groups and ask each group to look at the following Bible passages. Amos 4:1-3; Amos 5:11-16; Amos 8:4-7. If you don’t think there will be enough time for each group to look at all three passages, you could ask different groups to start with different passages, which will mean that even if each group only tackles one passage, all three will have been looked at by someone, allowing feedback to be presented to the rest of the class. For each passage the students should answer the following questions:

  • What attitudes and actions are the wealthy described as having/carrying out?
  • Why do you think the writer considers this to be wrong?
  • What consequences does the Bible say will result (this question may need to be answered for the three passages taken together, rather than for each individually).

Take feedback from the different groups, and draw out the overall picture painted by Amos – that the rich were enjoying their wealth, even to the extent of oppressing the poor and needy (you may need to explain that oppressing means keeping the poor in a bad situation and actively preventing them from improving their position. You might like to point out some of the comparisons between the passages, such as the description of wealth leading to injustice, and the mansions of the rich, both of which are mentioned in chapter 5.

Bring the students’ focus back to the present day, and ask them how they think rich people should use their wealth – is there anything wrong with them just enjoying their money, or should they feel some kind of responsibility to those who are in a less privileged situation? It might be helpful to point out to the students that since the early 1980s the gap between the richest 10% in Britain and the rest has consistently increased. In 2012, the poorest 10% of the population had only 1.3% of the total wealth, whereas the top 10% had 31% of the wealth – more than the bottom 50% put together. In the last ten years, 80% of the extra wealth created has gone to the top 50%, with 40% going to the top 10% alone. If some of the students feel that there is a level of responsibility that goes with wealth, ask them how wealthy somebody has to be before they should be expected to use their wealth for the sake of others.

You might want to allow this discussion to go on for a little while. Some students may feel that only the very rich should be expected to use their wealth to help others. Whether or not this is the case, point out to the class that when we think beyond national boundaries, everybody in the classroom could be considered as rich – in 1980 the Brandt report found that the developed nations (such as Britain and America) contained 25% of the world’s population while consuming 75% of its resources whereas the developing nations (sometimes referred to as the ‘Third World’) was trying to feed 75% of the global population with only 25% of the resources. Merely by virtue of living in a country like Britain, the students are likely to be in the world’s wealthiest 10%. Ask the students to consider the implications of these figures in the light of their thoughts on the responsibilities of wealth, and invite any comment that they may wish to make.

Explain that there are many passages in the New Testament that reflect the belief and practice of the early church regarding the responsibilities of wealth. Split the class back into their small groups, and give each group one of the following passages: Matthew 25:31-46; Mark 10:17-31; Luke 12:13-21; Acts 4:32-37. Ask each group to look at their passage and to answer the following questions for it:

  • What does the passage say about the attitude a Christian should have towards money?
  • What does the passage say about how Christians should use money?
  • Who is likely to benefit from this?

Allow time for the groups to feed their answers back so that everyone can hear the content of each passage. If more than one group has tackled some of the passages, give an opportunity for the students to discuss any differences of opinion as to the meaning of the verses.

SUMMARY AND ASSESSMENT OF LEARNING:

As a final exercise, ask the students to write two blog entries for two very different people. One of the people should be someone who loves money and is very strongly motivated by adding to his or her personal wealth, while the other should be by someone who seeks to use what money they have for the benefit of others. At least one of the blogs should make reference to Christian belief about attitudes to money, to demonstrate the student’s understanding of the content of this lesson.

YOU WILL NEED:

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