A Vice Worth Pondering?

Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 4.19.33 PMAvarice: I Want It All, by John Frye

Contemplating the seven capital vices presented in Glittering Vices: The Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies by Dr. Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung convinces me that no one sins in isolation. An alleged solitary sin damages relationships with God, others, and ourselves. A prime example of this is the sin of avarice. Avarice is greed as DeYoung’s subtitle for the chapter states, “I want it all.”Avarice is not the rich person’s sin. Poverty stricken people can be as greedy as Gordon Gecko, the main character in the film Wall Street, who proclaims with evangelistic flair “Greed in good.”

Paraphrasing a statement by the Cappadocian Father Basil (330 -379 AD) about the parable of the rich man, DeYoung reveals the tentacles of avarice: “Your second doughnut this morning belonged to the child who came to school with no breakfast, the new winter coat hanging in your closet next to the four other coats (now out of style) belongs to the homeless person you passed on your way downtown this week, and the  money you have saved for retirement is the difference between subsistence and starvation for the sweatshop workers who made your favorite hiking boots (worn only twice). Wherefore as many as you have wronged, you might have aided”(108). The sting of excessive wealth is its ability to make us hard-hearted. The identical twin of avarice is injustice. It’s time once again to read the Minor Prophets.

We’ve all laughed at YouTube videos showing children throwing apocalyptic tantrums because they didn’t get the gifts they expected. We should weep. But not only do children throw tantrums, we adults do as well, in more sophisticated ways. Avarice is birthed when we learn the word “mine.”“Avarice is being too attached to money and possessions—caring too much about them, as its own Latin root reveals (aveo, avere: to crave)”(101). The opposite virtue of avarice is generosity, a liberality with the money and possessions we have, especially in face of the those in need. Plato felt that pleonexia (“always grasping for more, and more than our share, with no regard for anyone but ourselves”) was the opposite of dikaiosune (justice).

“The hallmark of well-entrenched greed, then, is willingness to use people to serve our love for money, rather than the use of money to serve our love for people”(109). DeYoung laments that increasingly human life is analyzed on a cost-benefit basis. Older people are not as “productive,”and so not as useful, so not as valuable. Pope John Paul II criticized contemporary culture for valuing having things over being human persons (110). When economic efficiency, functionality and usefulness become the standards of human worth, we become an immoral society.

Avarice draws us “to seek material wealth because it gives us the illusion of self-sufficiency—and therefore serves as a powerful incentive to deny our need for God”(111). Greed/avarice is rooted in pride; the belief that we have no need to trust God.

For remedies, DeYoung points us to Richard Foster’s The Freedom of Simplicity. She also notes that others encourage us to take a Sabbath from consumerism. “Another remedy for avarice is therefore to give money away every week, and to give our best”(114). We need discernment and the perspective of other eyes and ears to help us shatter any illusion we are not guilty of this deadly sin. For the Church in the West, submerged in a consumerist, money-driven, “I want it all”culture that is forever generating what Aquinas termed endless “artificial needs,”the challenge we face is living by Jesus’stark truth: “You cannot serve both God and Money.”

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