Saturday, February 14, 2009

Greed and the Spiritual Life

pic by tashamichele

According to the dictionary greed is “an excessive desire to acquire or possess more than what one needs or deserves, especially with respect to material wealth.”

I believe greed stems from dissatisfaction. I once heard the word “zehnzucht”(spelling uncertain) used to describe a deep longing for “that which we know not what”. C.S. Lewis said, "If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world." We Christians recognize it as a longing for our creator, for God. We are restless. We know we are restless for something outside of ourselves. The satisfaction of consumption sooths it for a while, but only for a very little while. In fact, from my own experience (for I do not claim to be immune to this myself) feeding this need with buying or acquiring is like getting a sugar buzz. One feels high for a short while, but then the feeling fades and sometimes even leaves one feeling a bit sick. These are the consequences of filling the need with objects or money. Some begin to desire the high itself. They need the money to support their consumer high. They cannot stop buying or they discover that their things are not truly filling the ache. It’s just not soothing the longing. They are craving something very Other. Only God can satisfy that need.

Greed is also a problem of security. People who are afraid and don’t have a trust in divine providence struggle for money as a safeguard against the hollow echoes of the future. Money becomes a pacifier and a life preserver. The idea that money can guarantee a secure future breeds the greed to acquire it. Where there is no trust in a good God, there is only fear of chance.

Pride also feeds greed. It is a greed that struggles to keep up an image or keep up with the Jones’. There is a desire to be liked or to be looked up to; a desire to be held in awe because of what one owns or the lifestyle one maintains. This kind of greed feeds on our need for love and affection. It feeds on our need for simple communion with others. We are so afraid that we are not enough in and of ourselves. We are terrified that stripped of our stuff, we are lacking in likeability. Thus we seek to inspire awe based on what we own, our stylishness and even the power we have acquired. A person secure in God’s love has no need for such things. May I suggest the Litany of Humility as a safeguard against this type of greed? A person secure in God’s love has no need of frivolous trappings.

Greed is an affliction of the lonely, insecure, frightened and the lost, grabbing for something to nourish, sustain, protect, build up and reassure them. However, money is a poor god.

A person who resists the temptation to fear, trusts in providence, is secure in their identity as a beloved child of God and allows their faith in that relationship to fill that aching space in their soul has little need for mere things, for they are fulfilled. Greed is unlikely to be a serious temptation. May we all aspire to live such a simple and trusting life. May we desire to be rich in the things that matter most.

(Disclaimer: I am by no means anti-stuff. I like my stuff and collect neat stuff, but I am also aware that the simpler the life the better. I really should get rid of some of my stuff. *sigh*)

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