by Stephen Foster

What is greed?

Normally, I would now furnish a dictionary definition; but is there a need in the case of greed? The meaning of greed is amorphous; not unlike that of the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of pornography—“I know it when I see it.”

In western culture, especially in America, there is a tension as to the question of whether greed is actually socially beneficial. The fictional cultural icon Gordon Gekko of Wall Street posited that “Greed, for lack of a better a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed in all of its forms: greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge, has marked the upward surge of man; and greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the U.S.A. Thank you very much.”

Is there truth in this statement? Perhaps a better question is, “Are there people who believe any of this is true?”

If it is true, what does it mean, what are the implications for society?

If it is not true, if greed is not good, what are society’s options?

Gekko’s speech, again, written for a fictional character in a film with an agenda—The Greed Creed—represents what SDAs are historically warned against: truth mixed with error.

This is what I mean: “greed for life, love, [and] knowledge” is not the same thing as the greed for money.

Money is inanimate currency used to exchange goods and services. Money is not evil. As a matter of fact, to the contrary, money, says Ecclesiastes 10:19, answers everything.

The problem is that the scriptural flip side is “the love of money is the root of all evil” (1Timothy 6:10).  But why is the love of money—an inanimate currency facilitating exchanges of goods and services—so different than that for life, or knowledge (for example), that its love is “the root of all evil?”

Is there a connection between the love of money being at the root of all kinds of evil and the scriptural idea that it is nearly impossible for a rich man to get to heaven?

The answer would appear to be obvious. The character challenges presented by great wealth, or the pursuit of it, seem overwhelming. These challenges are related to love of self, in juxtaposition to love of “neighbor.”

In my view, this reality is manifested in social policies whereby selfishness is fostered and perpetuated and takes precedence over sharing. In fact, sharing in such cases is possibly considered as subversive a concept in western culture as any idea can be.

Societal sharing is ‘bad’ because of the perception, or the reality, that, because of natural human greed, sharing must be—or inevitably will be—compulsory on some level. That level, of course, is government taxation. When tax revenues are spent on housing, or food, or medical assistance for human beings, it is viewed as evil and redistributive (compulsory sharing), because it is stealing from those who have—because they are virtuous—and giving to those who don’t have—because they are somehow less virtuous. Christians have been known to believe this.

From a scriptural standpoint the conundrum related to wealth is that of the character assumptions/suppositions that are frequently associated with great wealth—wealth erroneously being conflated with prosperity.

By this I mean that wealth and prosperity are not necessarily the same things. Personally, I like the way Wikipedia explains this: “Prosperity is the state of flourishing, thriving, good fortune and/or successful social status. Prosperity often encompasses wealth but includes other factors which are independent of wealth to varying degrees, such as happiness and health.”

This notion of prosperity, or the state of flourishing, is more in line with that of having or receiving God’s favor. Scripture suggests that prosperity—again not necessarily, or only, monetary wealth—will overtake us if our priorities are in proper order.

One of those priorities is arguably voluntary charity and benevolence toward those in need. If charity voluntarily occurred at the level it should among those who profess to believe in the God of the Bible it would likely be more effective than government programs could ever think about being. “If” however can be a big word.

It appears easy for most of us to adopt an attitude, vocalized or not, of moral superiority to those who appear less prosperous than we happen to perceive ourselves. This, in my view, is why many Judeo-Christians equate taxation for purposes of providing assistance to certain individuals with theft.

Another reason may be: we love money—which is the root of our problems.