Thursday, 6 June 2013

Greed


In The City of God, Augustine believed that the Roman elites indulged in all kinds of questionable practices to blunt the fear of death that hung over them.  Augustine argued that 'the essential context for ambition is a people corrupted by greed and sensuality.'[1] The fear of death, argued Augustine, accompanied by fear of loss of status and power, caused the Roman elite to seek ways to make the memory of themselves last forever; war.  So a continued desire for power, status and wealth consumed the Roman Empire, and such desire seems to be replicated in our modern societies epitomised by our avarice. What we are left with is a society where we 'turn everything into a commodity, including the self.'[2] We then struggle to name greed now viewing it as 'being talented, smart and a careful steward.'[3] Greed however produces a desire for more and a resistance to giving. This may have had a disastrous effect upon the mission of the church in the West.

If we are possessed by our possessions then we will find it incredibly hard to give what we have away.  This holding onto what we have will be translated not simply into our material 'stuff', but also upon the 'stuff' of ourselves, namely, our knowledge of Christ and the call of discipleship he places on our lives.  Yet if we see that all that we have is but a gift from the Creator in the first place (Gen. 1:31), that nothing belongs to me, but that we belong to Christ (Phil. 4:7), then out of such a recognition should be the desire to make 'available to others what was God's before we had a use for it.'[4]

A common struggle that those within the life of the church in the West speak about is how they can share Christ in their day to day lives.  Save for church 'events' most people within our churches do not know a way forward in sharing their faith.  Yet if we are a people filled with greed then it is no wonder we struggle as we do not know how to give and share in grace and generosity the good news of Jesus to those who do not have the Gospel as their defining story; if we struggle to give away the things that we own, then we will struggle to give away our knowledge of Christ.  Not only that, but if our understanding of the Gospel is shaped through the lens of greed then the Gospel is reduced to 'a personal relationship with Jesus' because our greed tells us that we should have a personal relationship with everything that we own.[5] Jesus thus becomes another self-help commodity.  And if Jesus is just another commodity in a whole market of 'life improving' products, then we and the world can take him or leave him.  The desire to share the truth of the Gospel is lost because such a Jesus is nothing different to what the global capitalist market offers us.


[1] Augustine, City of God, 42, 1.31
[2] Dumm, Loneliness as a Way of Life, p 52-53
[3] Hauerwas, 'More, or, A Taxonomy of Greed' in Learning to Speak Christian, p 135
[4] Hauerwas, 'More, or, A Taxonomy of Greed' in Learning to Speak Christian, p 137
[5] Notice that advertising companies always direct their product at the individual and that their product will make you into the kind of person you have always desired to be.

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