Warren Buffett has had great success in the business world and more recently been lionized by the press and public for his charitable donations to a foundation run by Bill Gates. Still, DealBreaker was a bit surprised when our suggestions that Buffett was less than a saint met with such vituperative reactions. (Examples: here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.)
Warren Buffett himself was convinced we were wrong, telling a crowd at the New York Public Library that his gift had secured him a cushy place in the afterlife. “There is more than one way to get to heaven, but this is a great way," Buffett said, according to news reports.
So we contacted some religious leaders to ask who was right: Warren Buffett or DealBreaker? More concretely, we wanted to know: is Warren Buffett going to hell?*
[Warren Buffett's fate after the jump]
Father Richard Dillon, professor of theology, Fordham University.
“I’m not surprised to hear that a man like Warren Buffett believes there's nothing he can't conquer based on his money. Not even the Kingdom of Heaven. While no theologian has any insight that will let them state an opinion on the state of an individual's soul, I can say that one doesn't pay one way to Heaven. Then there is a matter of divine grace—which makes the difference,” Father Dillon says.
Dillon reminds us that the confidence sometimes rewarded in business is not always the best path toward otherwordly salvation. “Now I’m sure Buffett’s comment is probably not meant as a theological one. More an off-the-cuff sort of thing. But it is the kind of swashbuckling, self-satisfied remark that is typical of the great American entrepreneur. Once you get to a certain stage in life, with a certain level of wealth, you start to believe you can accomplish anything,” Father Dillon says.
According to Father Dillon, the tax-avoidance aspect of Buffett’s gift is also troubling. “It shouldn't be missed, that the one thing he did intend as a serious thing—getting out of taxes. I'm sure it would be an embarrassment to the whole nation to discover how little he pays in taxes,” says Father Dillon. “He might make a better example if he paid his taxes and let the normal paths of social welfare distribute his money so that it might make its way to people who the Gates foundation doesn't have in its view. And, of course, it will most likely to glorify them in the processs.”
Mike Bower, pastor of adult ministries, Woodland Park Baptist Church.
“Can Warren Buffett buy his way into Heaven with his charitable donation? I come from a biblical world view. I can give you several scriptures where the word of God says that’s not the case,” Bower says.
Bower also raised a red-flag about the very public nature of Buffett’s gift. “Mathew Six, one through four, says beware practicing your righteousness before men. Giving is not something we flaunt or publicize,” Bower tells us.
The key to whether Warren Buffett will enjoy the company of God in the next life is not something based on his accomplishments, but something that arises from the grace of God, according to Bower “If Warren Buffett could say hey God look, I donated billions of dollars, surely I ought to be on God’s right hand. But nobody can boast of it. We are saved according to his mercy. Warren Buffett doesn’t understand the truth.”
[*Our apologies to Spy Magazine, from whom we totally stole the idea for this line of inquiry. See November 1987's "Will Ted Kennedy go to hell?"]