Greed and the Economic Crisis

And he said, “It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:20-23)
While he was speaking, a Pharisee invited him to dine with him; so he went in and took his place at the table. The Pharisee was amazed to see that he did not first wash before dinner. Then the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you. (Luke 11: 37-41)
And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12:15)
We have had a roller coaster ride on Wall Street and K Street this week. As I listened to the reports, I kept thinking “Greed.” Then, I read a blog by Jim Wallis. He talked about greed being at the root of this problem.
Left to our own devices, greed can enter in. Given human nature there is a need for some kind of regulation of our financial institutions but that is an argument for another day. In the Christian realm, Jesus mandate to love and serve one another counters our inclinations toward greed.
In the 70s, if my memory serves me right, there was a very popular book, Looking Out for Number One. The author wrote the book to encourage us to look out for ourselves. We learned the lesson well, really too well.
Luke would redirect our attention. Life is not about greed, amassing all you can and building new and bigger silos. “Life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
Greed is at the root of our current crisis. Free market economic policies which presume that the wealth that accumulates at the top will trickle down are faulty. The wealth that is going more and more to the top in untrickling right there as evidenced by the widening income gap.
While I certainly do not subscribe to fundamentalist concepts of direct divine retribution for our sins, in this case when we are confronting the sin of greed, I do believe that as the universe bursts forth what goes around comes around. The economic crisis is following on the heels of an immoral war for oil, water, and resources in Iraq. It was a war motivated by greed. We said we were bringing democracy to Iraq when in fact we were taking steps to assure the quality of our consumer life style.
We have spent trillions on this ill begotten war and yet very few bemoan the expenditure. Many are bemoaning the expenditure of a few billion by comparison to fix our economy. Let’s hope it is a fix and that it trickles down to the least among us.
The Convention for the Common Good which met this summer in Philadelphia reinforced a key concept of Catholic social teaching—the common good. We are here to love and serve one another—not to amass inscrutable fortunes. Jesus told us that we would be judged by what we have done to the least among us. Unfortunately, there are Catholic pew sitters who refuse to recognize that fact that every human being, every created person, has the right to food, clothing, shelter, education and health care. They will spend trillions on an immoral war while they campaign to reduce welfare.
We can write the first chapter in a new book for the 21st century—Looking Out for One Another. This book will ask whether WE will be better off four or eight years from now. Commenting on the Rule of Saint Benedict, Abbot Basil Pennington said, “Nobody seeks to do what is best for himself, but seeks to do what is best for his brother [The language–remember this is a chapter talk the Abbot is giving to his monastic community]. . . . And Jesus gave his whole life. For Benedict, we are to give ourselves, to be there, to do what is best for others rather than seek what is best for ourselves.” (At 190) In other words, we are committed to working for the common good.
Greed got us into this mess and we all are guilty to some extent. Loving one another and working for the common good will get us out of this mess.

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