The Seven Deadly Sins: Greed

One of the more underreported sins is greed. It is easy to conclude that greed is something manifested by “that other person,” who has more than I do. Yes, that rich guy over there, the one who earns a dollar more per hour than I do; he’s greedy, but I’m not.

Honestly, does any one of us ever come to a point in our life when we say, “I earn more than enough money. I’ll just give the rest away”? Not on your life!

Almost never would such a thought even occur to the average person. Instead, most of us respond to a pay increase, for example, by expanding our lifestyle and continuing to complain that we don’t have enough. At some point, we ought to admit that we do cross over into greed.

What is greed? It is the insatiable desire for more. It is a deep drive in us that, no matter how much we have, makes us think that it’s not enough. We still want more, and then if we get more we want more still.

Familiar though this sounds, too few of us are willing to consider that greed is really a problem for us. It’s the other guy who’s greedy.

Of course it doesn’t help that we live in a culture of consumption, which constantly tells us that we don’t have enough. Commercials tell us that the car we’re driving isn’t as good as this other one we could be driving. So even though we have a perfectly good car, one with four wheels, a working engine, and probably even air conditioning, it still it isn’t good enough. So it is with almost every other product or amenity that is sold to us on a daily basis. The clever marketing experts of Madison Avenue are great at making us feel deprived. As a result, it almost never occurs to most of us that we may have crossed the line into greed. Despite having even six- and seven-figure incomes, many still feel that they don’t have enough.

This is all the more reason that we should spend some time reflecting on the nature of greed. Greed is one of the deadly sins, and it brings with it a kind of blindness that causes us to mistake mere wants for needs. As we entertain this illusion, there’s very little to prompt us to consider that we actually have more than enough. There’s very little to cause me to say, “Gee, I’ve gotten greedy” or to work toward curbing this insatiable desire for more.

No, it’s the other guy who’s greedy; I’m not. It’s a problem that those nasty rich and powerful people have. Never mind that I’m pretty darned rich myself, living in a home with running water, air conditioning, and maybe even luxuries like granite countertops and widescreen TVs.

When was the last time you heard a sermon on greed? If you did, it was probably the priest talking about some abstract group of people (not those present, of course) who probably also hold the “wrong” political opinions. Yes, greed is always someone else’s problem.

When do I honestly look at myself and wonder if I am greedy? When do I ever conclude that I have more than enough and need to be more generous with what has become excessive in my life? When do I ever apply the old precept that if I have two coats, one of them belongs to the poor? It’s a good idea to have something saved up for a rainy day, but do I ever ask myself if I’m really trusting in God or just in my rainy-day fund? When do I ever wonder if I’ve crossed the line into greed?

I realize that some of you will find this post disturbing. I do too. These are uncomfortable questions.

Let me assure you that I do not write this post from a political perspective. I do not want the government mandating how much I may or should earn nor how much I may or should give away. I am referring to a personal, moral assessment that we all should make.

I also do not write as an economist. I realize that market-based economies are complex and that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with meeting people’s needs with products and services. I am also aware that markets supply jobs, but still I must insist that we all ask ourselves some personal questions about limits. We cannot simply conclude that greed is the other guy’s problem.

Greed is one of the seven deadly sins; we ought to take it more seriously than many of us do. There’s room for most of us to reflect on one of the most underreported sins: greed.

7 Replies to “The Seven Deadly Sins: Greed”

  1. Greed is indeed a sin, and a serious one. This can be seen in the old Law commandment against covetousness, a form of greed. Ex 20:17 It’s one thing to make one’s own money, but to cultivate a desire for another’s money is a sin. How can this be done? One way is being involved with gambling.
    Most common forms available to us redistribute money from one player’s pocket to anothes. State lottery winners are paid a part of the total take from players, who are people like us. The same is true of less obvious forms like Bingo. In that case especially most or all the players are members of the same social group. Is it right to hope for a “bingo” at the expense of a friend or a spiritual brother? We also see a bad effect in the use of “lucky” items like a special shirt worn to every event, or a “lucky scratcher” for lottery tickets. The Bible tells us God’s view, at Isa 65:11 NJB. “But as for those of you who abandon Yahweh … who lay the table for Gad…” A footnote identifies Gad as the Aramaean god of luck.
    Notice also that we got a principle from the Bible that eliminates a need to have a rule for every possibility.

  2. One of the things I struggle with is the problem of saving for retirement. I am single, have no children and come from a line of people who live to be very old. I know I am not to horde more money than I “need”, but how much do I need? It makes it hard for me to know if I am being greedy or prudent when I try to save more money that could potentially go to charity.

    1. Slats —

      Do you suppose that all that money will save you from death? Assuming the answer is “no,” then that is one aspect of greed that would not appear to be a concern in your case.

      But about your savings. Do you put your acquired wealth — which you intend to use for living expenses when your employment ends, i.e. retirement savings — under a mattress? Or in a box buried in your yard? Do you keep it locked away in a treasure room like the nobility of old?

      Or do you put it in a bank or invest it in stocks or some other assets? If so, what do you think happens with that money, since it is not sitting there in your own possession?

      Of course, that money put in a bank, etc., is put to use by that institution to provide the funding for loans — loans to other people so they can buy houses or cars, loans to companies to create businesses and give other people jobs which allow them to support themselves and their families. Or if it is in stocks, it provides the capital for companies to create and expand their businesses, etc.

      Now, isn’t that something good and positive? Isn’t that the very notion of “sharing the wealth” to help others in need? Providing them the means and opportunity to improve their lives and to no longer be poor, but to obtain gainful employment? Isn’t it charitable to do that?

    2. Slats, there are any number of agencies on the web and on the street that can give you the numbers you want.
      Start with your banker to get some ideas. One source I can recommend for its common sense is Kiplingers Magazine. It has access to various charts and plans the editors have researched and revised. Another is Consumer Reports, ditto. Neither one will try to sell you any investments, although Kiplinger’s advertisers, and your banker, will.
      Notice that none of this has anything to do with religion or the bible. You made the money, you decide what to do with it.
      There are many charities available. Not all of them, it seems, are full of charity [from L. caritas, love]. The magazine The Week recommendations one each week that meets independent high standards for accountability and low expense ratios.
      Or, you could put your spare time and money into carrying out the Great Commission. Mt 28:19,20; 24:14.

  3. Also, if the retirement money saved proves to have been more than you needed, you can leave it to a charity in your will. There will always be people in need in the future too.

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