by Demi Prentiss
“Greed is good.” In the 1987 film Wall Street, corporate raider Gordon Gekko (played by Michael Douglas) rallies stockholders with his rejection of the maxim, “Money is the root of all evil.” After all, the desire for more fuels the engine of the economy, creating more wealth. “Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit,” says Gekko. What’s not to like?
Perhaps in an individualist culture where resources are limitless, greed might be regarded as something less than sinful – what harm is it to you if I measure my happiness by my accumulation of more than I need? But in a community that perceives the interdependence of its members, greed is recognized as idolatry. In a world ruled by “I’ve got mine (and you’ll just have to get your own),” my greed places my needs at the center of my universe and exiles you and your needs from my consciousness.
Jesus treated the needs of others as holy. He indicts a rich man for being blind to the needs of the poor in a parable often called “Lazarus and Dives” (Luke 16:19-31). Dives, the rich man, is not condemned for his wealth, but for his utter inability to see Lazarus begging outside his gates. Such self-focus leaves no room for God.
“The Nuts Game” (http://www.g-r-e-e-d.com/Nuts%20Game.htm) offers a controlled demonstration of the deadly power of greed. In the game, players sit around a bowl of nuts and are told that the object of the game is for each player to amass as many nuts as possible within a series of 10-second intervals. Players are told that after each 10-second interval, the bowl will be restocked with double the number of nuts remaining in the bowl. This replenishment cycle will continue until either an arbitrary time limit is reached or the bowl is emptied by the players. Some 65 percent of the groups playing empty the entire bowl in fewer than 10 seconds.
Thomas Merton in New Seeds of Contemplation proposes that the word “illusion” can be substituted freely for “sin.” One of the petitions in his prayer against the seven deadly illusions reads, “Keep me from loving money in which [there] is hatred, from avarice [greed] and ambition that suffocate my life.” The soul-killing power of greed – as well as the other “deadlies” – lies in its corrosive and insatiable nature. The blindness it induces is cumulative.
Greed creates the illusion that we are all-important, and that our needs and desires are paramount. We lose sight of the linkage between our abundance and others’ need, and that “our common life depends upon each other’s toil” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 132). To be followers of Jesus requires daily practice in perceiving the holiness of others’ needs. Living a Christian life means re-centering our lives around the maker of all that matters.
Demi Prentiss is a former writer for The Church News. She now lives in Ft. Worth TX.
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