Greed is Idolatry 


“Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” (Luke 12:15) 

Greed is perhaps one of the most common sins in a capitalist world.  The economy of many countries is dependent on the citizens being constant consumers of goods. Advertising is designed to create desire for more and new things. People’s homes and garages are full of stuff, and yet people want more (not to mention storage sheds and our landfills). Humorous old wisdom says people have two eyes: one to keep watchful track of all they possess, the other to look out for new things they don’t yet have. Many of us are so used to all this that we don’t even think of greed as a sin: we simply want all we want, and if we can afford it, why not keep accumulating and consuming more?   


We have homes and so need things to fill our houses. One old housebuilder told me that when he first began building homes in the 1920’s, the houses had lots of bedrooms and few closets because people had lots of children but few things. But by the 1970’s, he said all the homes he built had few bedrooms and many closets because people had few children and many possessions.  We think (reasonably) because we have expensive homes and children we need more money to cover all our expenses.  However, even in the 4th Century this attitude was sometimes expressed by believers and questioned by Church leaders who understood that there was a huge difference between what people needed and what they wanted. Desire was larger than necessity. St Basil the Great critically says we end up blaming our children (who he thought are innocent) for our desires to amass more wealth and possessions. Archimandrite Vassilios Papavassiliou writes: 


Again in the words of St. Basil: “But wealth is necessary for rearing children,” someone will say. This is a specious excuse for greed; although you speak as though children were your concern, you betray the inclinations of your own heart. Do not impute guilt to the guiltless! They have their own Master who cares for their needs. They received their being from God, and God will provide what they need to live. Was the command found in the Gospel, “If you wish to be perfect, sell your possessions and give the money to the poor,” not written for the married? After seeking the blessing of children from the Lord, and being found worthy to become parents, did you at once add the following, “Give me children, that I might disobey your commandments; give me children, that I might not attain the Kingdom of Heaven”? (Thirty Steps to Heaven: The Ladder of Divine Ascent for All Walks of Life, Kindle Loc. 1332-38) 


Tough words for the modern consumer.  “Impractical” some might say. “Idealistic” others might chime in. But we Christians all are to follow Christ’s Gospel teachings, not simply the ascetic monks. St Basil reminds us Christ’s words are meant for each of us to wrestle with and put into practice. Taking up the cross is a challenge in a society which values things, doing what one likes, consuming and accumulating wealth and possessions. A more simplified lifestyle might be an answer, but then minimalism itself becomes a trend rather than a spiritual choice of self-denial and marketers find ways to sell fashion for the minimalist.  


I read Denise Mina’s novel, Confidence, in which she presented a prosperous prosperity Gospel preacher who had decided practicing charity was against the Gospel.  He preached the … 

“prosperity theology, the idea that riches were a reward from God for a life well lived. If he just gave his money away to help people he would be denying them a chance to develop their own relationship with the Almighty and experience the beneficent rewards that Paul had.”  (Kindle Location 1723-1725)  


The accumulation of wealth and things is for some American Christians the Gospel – the sign of God’s favor and reward for being good, or being American.  To give away one’s wealth in charity is to deny others the chance to work for God’s rewards. So in this twisted thinking, being greedy is normative but then gets combined with selfishness and stinginess and becomes the prosperity Gospel which has to ignore many of Christ’s teachings about love, the least of Christ’s brothers & sisters, and the last judgment not to mention the Ten Commandments.  


St Paul says greed, covetousness is idolatry, for we make our possessions the god we serve. 

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you once walked, when you lived in them. (Colossians 3:5-7) 

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