Greed, II

As I have been thinking lately about greed, I have been thinking about things that money can and can’t do. It’s an interesting exercise, really. I mean the Beatles said, “Money can’t buy me love.” An old adage asserts that, “Money can’t buy happiness.” So I got to thinking about what can be done with money.

 For example,

 You could hoard it, but then it isn’t actually doing anything but causing concern and worry about keeping it, and usually getting more.

 You could use it to buy politicians and even a government, but you’ll never be able to buy true loyalty, especially from the people.

 You could spend it on the best health care available for yourself, but you can’t spend enough to buy enough life to ultimately avoid death.

 You could spend a magnificent sum on a single and singularly sumptuous feast; but in the end, food is food, and it only ends as does all such matters.

 You could spend it on the most expensive books, but if they are never opened and read, they are worthless trifles.

 You could spend money to make more money, but in the end, all you have is more of something that you really don’t need.

 I was thinking that even if I had all the money in the world, and could afford the very best of anything and everything, there is no sum of money that can take away my son’s autism. No matter how much wealth I could shovel at it, it will never go away.

 The measure of a man is not in his bank account, no matter what some may say. The measure of a man is in the values by which he lives, and in what he is willing to offer, whether money or time or effort, to a cause or to someone in need, with no expectation of return. The greatest among us achieve greatness not by getting, but by giving. Think about it: who has had greater impact on history: a Rockefeller, a Vanderbilt, a Koch or a Walton or Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Theresa, or Jesus of Nazareth?

Greed is the enemy of progress in fighting environmental problems. The very industries at fault in generating most of the offending pollution have generated phenomenal wealth. And with wealth has come power. And that power has been used to make ever more money, with no concern for correcting the wrongs that the wealth has caused. The greatest hindrances to the development of sustainable and clean energy have been the giant oil corporations and the greedy men at their helms.

 Where might we be if not for greed? The world would be cleaner because the expense of cleaner technology would not be an impediment to doing the right thing. The world would be safer, because the cost of implementing safety protocols would not deter conscientious business leaders and government from doing what is right. There would be less disease and less suffering as a result of an inability to afford medical care and medications, because profit, while necessary for any business venture, would not supersede compassion.   There would be less frivolous and costly litigation, because when we are convinced that others are indeed acting in the best interest of all and not only themselves, we will be more forgiving. The impetus to litigate would diminish, because cooperation and altruism are not only forgiving in response to the actions of others, they are fundamentally giving in the first place, providing a foundation for positive interaction. There would be less emphasis on insubstantial superficiality such as monetary income and more emphasis on human dignity.

 It is an impossibility to embrace greed and be good. To be good is to do good. I continually return to a favorite passage from the book of Micah (6.8),

 “He has told you, O man, what is good;

   and what does the Lord require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,

   and to walk humbly with your God?”

 Greed is the antithesis of justice. It would pervert justice whether judicially or socially at every juncture. Greed is in diametric opposition to kindness. In fact, greed cannot coexist with true kindness, because kindness is born of compassion and love for people, not possession and love of money. And finally greed precludes any person, old or young, male or female from walking humbly with God. There is no humility in greed. At its core is a desire to be superior to all others.

 Consider the following argument: John tells us that God is love. Paul explains that “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor. 13.4-6). Greed fits none of those descriptors, thus greed cannot be from God nor can it glorify God, because God is love.

 I realize that this argument is hollow to any who might not embrace a life of faith. However, to those who do, I hope that this gives a reason to think seriously about our attitudes toward money and wealth. We must not idolize or honor those who are defined primarily by their money.

Everyone knows and frequently quotes the first part I Timothy 6.10: “10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.” But Paul continues on in the second part with a warning: “It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” These are apparently universally understood truths, as witnessed by the observation of the Taiwanese proverb, “Greed will cause pain.”

 Greed is not good. It outwardly hurts others to gain more needless wealth for the greedy, and inwardly destroys him like an aggressive cancer of the soul. But unlike a physical cancer, those who suffer from greed tend to refuse treatment, choosing to feed the tumor until it consumes them completely. The odd thing is that we usually feel sorrow and sympathy for the one with bodily cancer, but some show admiration and respect for the one with greed. And yet, both are lethal.

 I would prefer to live in a world where there is peace among mankind. Money can’t buy that. I would prefer a world where I could depend on my neighbor and he could depend on me. Greed would only allow that if there were a significant enough reward. Perhaps if we wake up to the dangers of greed, we might some day decide to put it in its place. In my opinion, there is only one place for it: the past. But it must not be forgotten, however, because if it were, we would only be susceptible to its unwitting and pernicious recurrence.

The happiest man is the one who can find contentment. He will never be greedy, and his greatest wealth will be the fruit of his generosity, the good will that he freely gives and humbly receives.

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