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Part 3: Greed
By Felix Carroll (Mar 4, 2015)
Let's talk about sin, shall we? The following is part three of our weekly Lenten series on the Seven Deadly Sins.
We don't call them the Deadly Sins for nothing. Greed kills. It kills living things — people, animals, and plants. It kills the quality of the air we breathe and the water we drink. And all the while, greed puts our spiritual lives in critical condition.
What does greed look like? Look at the multitude of corporations that barely pay a living wage to their employees while those in upper management make six, seven, eight figure salaries (regardless of company performance). Look at the fact that the wealthiest 1 percent controls more than 50 percent of global wealth. Just 80 billionaires now control the same wealth as the world's 3.6-billion poorest, according to Oxfam.
Meanwhile, more than 1.3-billion people live in extreme poverty. According to UNICEF, poverty causes the death of 22,000 children each day.
Pope Francis — a pope of the poor — points to greed as the leading cause of hunger and malnutrition, the struggle against which is "hindered by market priorities, the primacy of profit, which reduce foodstuffs to a commodity like any other, subject to speculation and financial speculation in particular."
In his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), the Holy Father wrote scathingly of the injustices from an economy that puts profit above people.
"Just as the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say 'thou shalt not' to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills."
Look at the wars waged throughout history. Name a single war in which greed did not play a significant role.
Look at the trade in diamonds and other precious minerals in Africa and the child soldiers it has spawned. Look at the ivory trade and the continuing mass slaughter of one of the planet's most magnificent creatures: elephants. Look at the violation and destruction of ecologically critical rainforests and old-growth forests in the Amazon, Asia, North America, and elsewhere. It's estimated that dozens of plants and animals go extinct every day — every day! — due almost exclusively to the acts of one species: ours.
"[F]or the most part, it is man who continuously slaps down nature," Pope Francis has said. "God always forgives, but the earth does not."
What these examples have in common is that a small minority benefits at the expense of the common good.
To be sure, the Church makes it clear that seeking personal wealth, possessions, and a comfortable lifestyle is not problematic in and of itself. It becomes disordered when it comes at the expense of others, of the natural world, and of our relationship with God. It's disordered when it becomes our purpose in life.
Of course it's a cinch to point fingers at examples of others' greediness. But in the culture of greed, we are all culpable.
Look at our own everyday shopping habits, for instance. We quite reasonably seek out the most rock-bottom prices, but do we consider where these goods are coming from? Are they produced by overseas sweatshops whose employees often have no healthcare coverage, no paid sick days, no maternity leave, and no occupational safety regulations to safeguard the workplace? Do we rise up, sign petitions, and hold those companies accountable?
At the end of Shakespeare's "The Tempest," Prospero, the perplexing protagonist, owns up to the monster he helped to create: ''This thing of darkness, I acknowledge mine." Yes, and I acknowledge mine, as well. What is my own potential for greed? How might I behave if presented with the opportunity to make stacks of money (maybe have a beach house in the Caribbean) even though it might come at the expense of others' wellbeing or the wellbeing of the environment? I pray I'd do the right thing.
To my knowledge, I haven't been directly responsible for the ruination of a stream or the death of an endangered creature. I haven't directly caused hunger or malnutrition. But I also know I haven't done a great deal to support those organizations that fight these tragic consequences of greed. Moreover, I know full well that the greed that leads to calamities of hunger, poverty, and the degradation of the natural world is kindred to the very desires that separate me from saintliness. It's greed whenever I give the lion's share of my free time to superfluous endeavors rather than to God through prayer and works of mercy. It's greed when I don't tithe. My greed stems from the same contaminated soil where havoc is wracked upon the world, where weeds grow rampant and choke the heart.
The fact is, the barometer of our individual wealth should be gauged only on what we give to others and what we give to God. And we have no excuse to think otherwise. God does not favor the stingy. He makes it clear throughout Scripture:
Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one's life does not consist of possessions (Lk 12:15).
No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon (Mt 6:24).
You get the point.
How can we be anything but generous when we have a God who is so generous that He died on the Cross for the sake of poor sinners?
Our greed kills Him all over again.
The Seven Deadly Sins