Do you remember that epoch-defining moment in the film Wall Street, when Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) –on behalf of corporate fat cats everywhere- extolled the virtues of greed. Greed runs capitalism, enables democracy. Greed is good. It was a spellbinding moment and powerfully corrupt (as the film eventually –somewhat grudgingly!- conceded).
Is greed good? Gekko was lining it up with ambition, drive and good old American Get-up-and-go. Was he right in any way? The apostle James answered: “Where do war and conflict come from? Don’t they come from the greedy desires of your own mind?”
The old word is covetousness. The principle is enshrined in the tenth commandment. Don’t covet anything belonging to someone else (ox, ass, maidservant –you name it, don’t covet it.). It’s presence in the Decalogue reminds us that the short exchange in Luke 12, where Jesus rounds on a covetous legacy-hunter, demonstrates something of a universal condition. Covetousness, that is to say, belongs to all of us, to the oppressed as well as to the oppressor.
That means that there can be innocents here. It’s not the devils who oppress and the angels who are oppressed. Injustice has no social class favorites. The Greek word that I’ve translated “greed” means the desire of having more – not of having more because there is not enough, but simply a craving after more for its own sake.
More when you’ve not enough.
More when you have enough.
“How much is enough?” Someone asked Rockefeller. “Just a little more” was the sad reply.
This is a condition, a lifestyle, a modus vivendi, which is fairly associated with the West. Other cultures and societies are less driven by Gekko’s spirit.
But the West has this craving in excess, in the proportions of an epidemic, a virus, a dreadful disease. If Greed is the source of America’s greatness, Mr Gecko, it is also the source of its baseness. It is, simultaneously , both glory and shame. It drives trade yet instigates foreign wars. Greed creates wealth and prosperity, and yet fosters inequality and social cruelty. It promotes industry and invention, and yet corrupts their usage and exploits their discoveries.
And yet we go on accumulating as if we could enjoy more by having more. You remember George Carlin‘s line? “A house is just a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff.”
This is the root of it. Our craving is, in the proper meaning of the term covetousness. Not the desire of enjoying more, but the desire of having more. And if there be a society, a people to whom this warning is specially applicable, it’s us in the West. I simply must hear the warning: “Take heed and beware of covetousness.”
But what’s the remedy?
(Tune in tomorrow)
- Day 10: Do not Covet (marshillpastors.com)
- Jesus & the Money-gods of the West (Part 2) (tithebarn.wordpress.com)
- Why does capitalism stillneed defending? (humanevents.com)
- Day 444 Paranoia of Greedy People (atruthseekersjourneyintolife.wordpress.com)
- Greed is Good… (2jtrader.wordpress.com)
- Not for the Money! (quietshores.wordpress.com)
- Overcoming Greed (shawnmichaelfollis.wordpress.com)
- Jesus & the Money-gods of the West (Part One) (tithebarn.wordpress.com)
- Sunday (August 4): “Beware of all covetousness” (shechina.wordpress.com)
- Coveting Idols (ubicrux.com)