A Fear of Failure, A Fear of Need
“He who loves money never has money enough” – cf. Sirach 5:8
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” – Exodus 20:17
“But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, ‘You are my God.'” – Psalm 31:14
There are at least three forms of greed:
1) an obsessive desire for ever more material goods and the attendant power.
2) a fearful need to store up surplus goods for a vaguely defined time of want.
3) a desire for more earthly goods for their own sake.
The Greed of Power
In this form, earthly goods are chiefly a means to an end, which is really not that far off from a healthy view. The money, real estate, cars are simply things used to achieve, wield and display personal power. These things can be used to intimidate or bribe others, reinforce one’s own illusions about what is important or to build up a feeling of success. The “products of wealth,” as the Jethro Tull song (“Slipstream”) puts it.
The real problem here is more the desire for power than the actual greed. A common thread for sin in general is that it is often borne out of fear. A fear of helplessness or loss of control can turn into a lust for power as a way of preventing an undesirable situation. The parable of the man with an abundant harvest is well worth considering.
To destroy our desire for power, we must be generous in granting power to others. When appropriate, be submissive to others. Avoid jobs that are a temptation for a “power grab.” Share credit for successes with others, and claim a fair share of responsibility for failures being blamed on others. The idea is to stop trying to control everything and everyone. In parenting, this means encouraging children to find their own way, and respecting their choices. It does not mean abdicating legitimate responsibilities, but loosening our grip on others’ lives as well as our own. God will take care of us, He has the plan. We can’t control everything anyway, so we might as well learn to relax in God’s hands.
The Greed of Fear
Fear is a poor motivator for virtue, but an excellent one for greed. Sometimes, greed is simply a desire to have so much that we can’t possibly run out. The stock market could crash, we could lose our jobs or health, we could be sued. If we acquire enough stock, real estate, or T-bills, we think we will be safe from want. This is an illusion. There is no perfect preventative for want, but even if there was it would stand in opposition to the trust in God to which we are called. Jesus said, “Perfect love casts out fear.” Trust in God frees us from a need to build a massive buffer against poverty.
Part of the cure may be to embrace poverty. We may not become homeless, but we can learn to do with less. Serious campers try to leave their campsite in the same state they found it. Ideally, there should be no trace left when they move on. In the same way, try to use less of the world’s goods. “Live simply, that others may simply live.” Once this kind of freedom is practiced, we realize that we don’t need that much, anyway. This knowledge, in turn, reduces our fear and builds a kind of strength and confidence.
The Greed of Acquisition and Enslavement
This is slavery, plain and simple. We can reduce ourselves to a small and cold desire to accumulate more electronic gear, trading cards, antiques or other collectibles. It is far beneath the dignity of human beings to enslave themselves to objects of their own making. It is well said that our possessions in some ways may come to own us.
The obvious cure is to divest oneself of as much as possible, but another suggestion might be to consider the grave. When we die, we take nothing with us. If we are bound by “disordered attachments” to worldly goods, the separation forced upon us by death will be even more painful. If we are destined for eternal glory, the temporary enjoyment of trinkets in this life is simply absurd. Meditation on this begins to loosen the grip of objects on the heart.
For Continued Reading
“Mere Christianity,” by C.S. Lewis
“New Seeds of Contemplation,” by Thomas Merton
“The Little Flowers of St. Francis”