One of the more underreported sins is greed. It is easy to conclude that greed is something manifested by “that other person,” who has more than I do. Yes, that rich guy over there, the one who earns a dollar more per hour than I do; he’s greedy, but I’m not.
But honestly, does any one of us ever come to a point in our life when we say, “I earn more than enough money. I’ll just give the rest away”? Not on your life!
Almost never would such a thought even occurto the average person. Instead, most of us respond to a pay increase, for example, by expanding our lifestyle and continuing to complain that we don’t have enough. At some point, we ought to admit that we do cross over into greed.
What is greed? It is the insatiable desire for more. It is a deep drive in us that, no matter how much we have, makes us think that it’s not enough. We still want more, and if we get more we want more still. This is the experience of greed.
Familiar though this sounds, too few of us are willing to consider that greed is really a problem for us. Greed is always something that other guy has.
Of course it doesn’t help that we live in a culture of consumption, which constantly tells us that we don’t have enough. Commercials tell us that the car we’re driving isn’t as good as this other car we could be driving. And so even though we have a perfectly good car, one with four wheels, a working engine, and probably even air conditioning, it still it isn’t good enough. So it is with almost every other product or amenity that is sold to us on a daily basis. The clever marketing experts of Madison Avenue are great at making us feel deprived. As a result, it almost never occurs to most of us that we may have crossed the line into greed. Despite having even six- and seven-figure incomes, many still feel that they don’t have enough.
This is all the more reason that we should spend some time reflecting on the nature of greed. Greed is a deep drive of sin, one of the deadly sins, and it brings with it a kind of blindness that causes us to mistake mere wants for true needs. As we entertain this illusion, there’s very little to prompt us to consider that we actually have more than enough. There’s very little to cause me to say, “Gee, I’ve gotten greedy” or to work toward curbing this insatiable desire for more.
No, it’s the other guy who’s greedy; I’m not. It’s a problem that those nasty rich and powerful people have. Never mind that I’m pretty darned rich myself, living in a home with running water, air conditioning, and maybe even luxuries like granite countertops and widescreen TVs.
When was the last time you heard a sermon on greed? If you did, it was probably the priest talking about some abstract group of people (not those present, of course) who probably also hold the “wrong” political opinions, etc. Yes, greed is always someone else’s problem.
When do I honestly look at myselfand wonder if I am greedy? When do I ever conclude that I have more than enough and need to be more generous with what has become excessive in my life? When do I ever apply the old precept that if I have two coats, one of them belongs to the poor? I do understand that it’s good to have something laid up for a rainy day, but do I ever ask myself if I’m really trusting in God or just in my rainy day fund? When do I ever wonder if I’ve crossed the line into greed?
I realize that some of you who read this post will find it disturbing. So do I. These are uncomfortable questions.
Let me assure you that I do not write this post from a political perspective. I do not want the government mandating how much I can or should earn, and how much I can or should give away. I am referring to a very personal moral assessment that we all should make.
I also do not write as an economist. I realize that market-based economies are complex and that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with meeting people’s needs with products and services. I am also aware that markets supply jobs. But still, I must insist that we all ask ourselves some personal questions about limits. We cannot simply conclude that greed is the other guy’s problem.
Greed is one of the seven deadly sins; we ought to take it more seriously than many of us do. Somewhere there’s room for most of us to reflect on one of the most underreported sins: greed.
*Image: The Sower by Jean-François Millet, c. 1865 [Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, MD]