The Gospel According to Gecko

I am a priest, not an economist, so I can’t comment on bull and bear markets, mortgage rates or international finance, but I still have the solution to our economic woes. It bumps back to G.K.Chesterton’s famous letter to The Times in reply to the question, “What’s wrong with the world.” He wrote, “Dear Sir, I am. Yours sincerely, G.K.Chesterton.”

The economic disaster we are now facing is the fault of individuals–not governments. Put very simply, individual people are lazy, greedy, thieves. This applies to politicians, bankers, stock brokers, financiers, CEOs of multi national companies and it also applies the underclass–the homeless, the indigent and the destitute–and everyone in between.

The default setting in our modern, American lifestyle is one of unquestioned consumeristic materialism. Along with this goes an unquestioned level of aggression, ambition and greed. Everyone gasps at Gordon Gecko’s famous line, “Greed is good.” Everyone gasps, and then goes on and lives by the Gospel according to Gecko. We “go for gold” and grasp at every trinket and goody we can possibly grab unto ourselves. It’s disgusting.

The religious people are the ones who smell the worst in all this. We say we love God more than money, but we sure do hang on to those dollars for dear life!

The answer is there in the gospel for Mass today. “Oh you Pharisees!Although you cleanse the outside of the cup and the dish, inside you are filled with plunder and evil. You fools!
Did not the maker of the outside also make the inside? But as to what is within, give alms,
and behold, everything will be clean for you.”

This hit me right between the eyes. I really don’t think I had seen this gospel passage before. Jesus says very clearly, “If you want to avoid hypocrisy. If you want to avoid be a holier than thou religious person. Give alms.”

This is the solution to all the economic woes of the world: Generosity. What if we were to live generously instead of graspingly? What if all of us were to live with open hands not fists? What if were all to care for others and freely give as we have freely received? The greed of fat cats would disappear. The greed of the dependent classes would evaporate. Debts would be paid, people would live simply. Protests would be un-necessary. Violence would diminish. Wars would end.

Thank God that we have the example of so many generous people who light the way. While I inveigh against the greed and lack of concern for the poor, I also see all around me ordinary people who really are generous, and who really do live with open hearts. They’re my favorite people.

For they have learned the secrets of living and they are truly blessed.

  • Mandrivnyk

    "For they have learned the secrets of living and they are truly blessed."Thank you, Father. I couldn't agree with you more. I really tend to think that living generously would ease, if not completely solve many of our problems – not just those economically based. At least in my own life, I've found that so much of my misery is rooted in grasping for things I just can't have, or insisting on things I shouldn't.

  • Steve C

    Amen to that. Virtue & morals have been left somewhere where we can't find them. I was working in a call center & was told 'leave your morals at the door' after a sales call where a grandmother called in to order a product & supervisor asked me 'why did you stop? You could have gotten her on this, this, this, etc' but when I responded with 'she didn't need all that" I was told "leave your morals at the door."

  • JP

    Father please do not forget to preach against envy when it comes to this mess of problems. Is it not just as much a sin in our society to declare that those who have riches and property and prosperity are undeserving and it should be taken from them. I have been given many wonderful gifts in life, some of them material, and I try to live in gratitude, stay hardworking and in turn be generous with others, rich and poor alike. I can tell you that I never loose sleep hating those whom have more or have less than I do.

  • Fr Longenecker

    Good point

  • Sister Lori

    There are parishes where the congregations are extremely generous to the poor, to charities and to communities…the problem comes back in the form of "their ownership of the parish school, the church, the communities, and eventually the priest (who needs their funds for the school and the church which he is administrator).

  • StevieD

    The ones who have practised this virtue are just about to reap a reward. Those who have spent their time counting the contents of their barns are just about to suffer horribly. The NT is just about to be exposed as being blindingly true.

  • Schumpeter Fan

    This argument is deficient in that wealth must be created before any program of generosity can work. The problem is that many religious are of an aristocratic disposition, and thus look at the essential functions of wealth creation, management, innovation and finance as unaesthetic and unseemly, overemphasizing this or that theory of distributive “justice.” It’s understandable as the Catholic clergy has deep roots in aristocratic approaches. It’s good in a way in that it provides a standard against which much of the ugliness of modern life may be examined. But criticisms of the essential functions of wealth creation should be rendered much more thoughtfully that Father’s above.

  • Howard

    Father, I thought you were about to tell us how we could save 15% or more on car insurance! :-)

  • Fr Longenecker

    Schumpeter, please don't read into the post more than I said. I didn't say anything about wealth creation blah blah blah, I just said people should be generous. That applies to aristocrats and peasants.

  • Marilyn

    I think our entire nation is living in poverty, spiritually and otherwise, as a result of the leftists’ celebration of the political principle of murdering the unborn so they can live as they wish. And they cry the loudest about their and their constituents’ entitlements. Well, let the discontented protestors get off their lazy, entitled butts and do something constructive and pleasing to God. Lord, have mercy on us.

  • Schumpeter Fan

    Father – You made an economic agreement to the effect that the solution to contemporary economic problems is an ethic “generosity,” as distinguished from “Gekko,” which may be reasonably interpreted as a metaphoric representation of modern approaches to management, innovation and finance. My point is that your post is based on assertions (implicit) relating to modern capitalism that should be established, not presumed. The fact that you beg the fundamental question as mere “blah, blah, blah” doesn’t inspire confidence in your point. Catholic thinkers who do try usually make reference to Chesterton’s distributionism, which offered as some via media between capitalism and socialism but is really worse than either as it takes no account of the essential need for capital formation in economic development. While certainly people should be generous in disposition, your essential point (implicit and presumed) is wrong. A few more odds and ends. With respect to Gekko, note his essential quote: “Greed, for lack of 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 mankind…”. A good argument can be made that this conception of “greed” is not of an inordinate that is a cardinal sin. Gekko even recognizes the need for this distinction with “for lack of a better word…”. Thus it’s not at all clear that Gekko works metaphorically in the way you imagine, unless you’re as uncharitable with respect to the Gekkos of the world as many anti-Catholic folks are about the Catholic clergy.Also, you’re reference “aristocrats and peasants” is telling. Much of the problem with traditional Catholic thinking on economics is the continued reliance on feudal presumptions.

  • Fr Longenecker

    Schumpeter, you're the one who mentioned aristocrats.I'm always wary of those who make simple things complicated.All I am saying is that everyone should be generous not greedy.The complexities of 'wealth creation' are superfluous to this basic assertion, and that's why I said everyone needs to be generous of heart–whether they be billionaires or bums

  • Schumpeter Fan

    Father— I agree that people should strive for a generous disposition and my intent isn’t to be difficult (uncivil, etc.) or to impose a requirement of undue complexity onto your point. My only point is that your economic argument should be supported by some consideration of the nature of economic life, especially when you use the “Gekkos” of the world as exemplars of bad actors in economic affairs. In my view, the kind of greed that is doctrinally problematic goes well beyond the hard-nosed “greed” conceived of in the Gekko’s quote, even though you no doubt find people of a Gekko-like ilk aesthetically displeasing. In fact, people of Gekko’s disposition are necessary to economic development, as such folks tend to have the uncommon personalities necessary to take on and uproot inefficient yet entrenched economic arrangements, a process which is fundamental to the propagation of the economic fruits of innovation. In my view, these are important points, and the reason why I consider your general criticism of “Gekko” types undue.