Bums and Billionaires

I reckon something good is coming out of the Wall Street occupation: it’s getting people talking about one of the seven deadly sins. We really should be talking about greed. We should be talking about how violent a sin greed is. It is violent because the greedy person will invariably do some sort of violence against another person in order to advance his avarice.

The violence may be in the form of harsh working conditions, unfair competition, firing people un necessarily for profit or any other number of ultimately violent actions stemming from the initial sin of greed, so let’s talk about greed, and let’s be down on greed and up on generosity.

However, greed (like every sin) can only be rightly discussed in a religious and theological context because only there can it be discussed objectively. As soon as greed (or any other sin) is discussed in an ideological or social context the discussion of the sin becomes distorted by the assumptions of class warfare, ethnic bigotry, cultural bias and other preconceptions. So the Wall Street protesters blame all the rich people for being greedy, but not all rich people are greedy, and plenty of poor people are greedy and unscrupulous.

Bums and billionaires can both be greedy. Bums and billionaires can also be generous. What matters is not how much money you have, but what you do with it. Furthermore, it is impossible to judge other people by outward appearances. I remember the story of the Christian millionaire R.G. LeTourneau who made lots of money inventing bulldozers or some such. He used to live pretty well– I guess he had a number of houses and a jet and all the fancy stuff. Christians used to blame him for being rich and hypocritical. But he was a quiet, unassuming gentleman and used to just take the flack.

Then when he died it was discovered that for most of his life he gave away 90% of his income, and lived like a prince on only 10%. So who is anybody to judge? The truly generous philanthropist does so humble and anonymously.

So here was a billionaire who was generous. Likewise with the poor. I’ve known bums who would give you the shirt off their back, and many people I now who society would brand as ‘poor’ are sweet and kind and generous to others.

Bums and Billionaires? Stand the whole thing on its head. The billionaire who is a greedy skinflint is a bum. The bum who lives life in the freedom and generosity that often goes with poverty? He’s the billionaire.

About Fr. Dwight Longenecker
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01678341854029479678 Old Bob

    Excellent, Father, the whole thing, and this is the core of it, as I see it."However, greed (like every sin) can only be rightly discussed in a religious and theological context because only there can it be discussed objectively."Thank you!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09322135500288738561 Bender

    There has been a distortion, twisting, and perversion of social doctrine, most especially in the area of "social justice," which some seem to think means divisive and antagonistic class warfare. But envy of the "rich" and coveting what they have is not a virtue, much less social justice.This is most especially true when the protester himself lives a fairly comfortable life, so the complaint effectively is nothing more than resentment that the rich guy owns a 70-inch flat screen TV, while the protester has only a 36-inch TV; the rich guy drives around in a Mercedes, while the protester must make do with a Toyota; the rich guy flies in his own jet, while the protester must fly coach.And, of course, the greediest entity and people of all — government and government officials.Meanwhile, virtually none of the protesters demanding "wealth equity" are willing to volunteer to give up 90 percent of their wealth to give to the REAL poor in places like Somalia or Bangladesh.Greed is a two-way street.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10806252830698843168 Fr. Josh Miller

    Sadly, I believe Bender is correct: at the core of it is not the sin of Greed, which we hear so much about from the protestors, but rather Greed's sister, Envy.Class warfare — even when it starts out with some rough-edged notion of what "justice" really is (which is not the case with these protestors) — quickly devolves into an ethos of Envy and Lust. This is what it's a toxic idea, toxic to not only the foundation of the Church, but also to our own spiritual well-being.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11577151024311768980 Dr. F

    It took me years to realize that it was my Envy that caused me to call out Greed when I saw it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12373317560249811006 Fr Longenecker

    Good comments on greed and envy!

  • https://openid.aol.com/opaque/1932c72e-ec77-11e0-b2b2-000bcdcb5194 1932c72e-ec77-11e0-b2b2-000bcdcb5194

    I think that Bender makes a great point here. I appreciate Fathers remark that you cant tell the greedy from the generous at first glance…I get many a nasty stare when I drive my Mercedes (purchased used, cost about what a new Honda Accord would)to my big house. The house is just where I sleep and care for my family and my car gets me safely to my job where I care for the dying. People who have gotten to know me well think it is funny that my real self is hidden under a thin layer of things that make people guess exactly the wrong things about me.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04611694996611765479 Evagrius Ponticus

    In so far as your post goes, Fr., it seems entirely correct. With that said, however, two points occur to me. First, what of the sin of usury?Second, does not becoming rich tend toward a desire for worldly things which is, if not objectively sinful, then at least proximate to this? It is, I grant, possible to become rich as a byproduct of (say) a desire to help people by the product of your company, or through employment of workers. But I must admit I have my doubts that this is the case much of the time, particularly in what might be called 'non-productive' sectors of economic activity, like the finance sector, or all those 'solutions' companies.