Sunday, September 20, 2015


Our Epistle lesson raises two basic issues:
         First, is greed a good or a bad basis for our individual lives
                  and for our society?
         Second, what is the true nature and destiny of humankind?

James takes the Christian view. He is against greed.
“Where there is envy and selfish ambition,” James says,
“there is disorder and wickedness of every kind . . . .
Those conflicts and disputes among you,
where do they come from?
Do they not come from your cravings
that are at war within you?”
This was not breaking news.
Jesus said,
“Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.” Luke 12: 15
n the 6th Century B.C., Lau Tzu said,
“There is no greater calamity . . . ,
         no greater curse than greed.”
Buddha said, “There is no fire like greed . . . ,
         no sickness like hunger of the heart.”
A thousand years before Jesus, the Vedic Scriptures said,
         “Greed is the root cause of all sin.”

It’s core Christianity and common wisdom
of the world religions.
Greed has been listed as one of 7 soul-killing sins
since St. Evagrius Ponticus in the 4th Century.
But that all changed in the 19th Century,
when an agnostic English philosopher
named Herbert Spencer invented Social Darwinism.  

Spencer misconstrued Darwin’s biology into a radical theory
of survival of the fittest
     meaning human nature has been defined
by a cut throat struggle for survival
and we continue to progress
through that same dog eat dog contest.

Actually, Darwin didn’t say that.
To the contrary he said that we live in groups.
We survive – or not – in groups.
So our well-being depends on how well the group functions.
Good teams win. Bad teams lose.
Darwin said survival depends on teamwork and cooperation.
He said, “The best measure of a man’s worth is his friendships.”
Today’s real biologists like Mary Beth Saffo agree.
But nobody reads them except other scientists.
The popular books are by another group called sociobiologists.
They are still unscientifically stuck in Herbert Spencer’s dogma
that we evolve, we become better,
through cutthroat competition.
Even if we don’t read their books, we are indoctrinated
         in their pseudoscientific faith
         through pop culture, though novels 
         by Ayn Rand and the t v show Survivor.

I once knew a head of the medical records department
         of a hospital who ordered her staff to watch Survivor
                  because that was how she was going
to run her department.
Kill or be kill, betray before you are betrayed,
         was her deliberate, explicit personnel policy
for a medical records department.

George Mason University economist Walter Williams,
writes in his atheist blog,
         “It’s human greed that gets
the most wonderful things done. . . .
Unfortunately,” says Williams,
“many people are naïve enough to believe                    compassion and concern are superior human motivations.
         So they fall prey to charlatans.”
Those would be charlatans
like Lao Tzu, Buddha, Jesus, and Charles Darwin.

Sociobiologists E. O. Wilson and Robert Wright
         claim that human nature is innately selfish and greedy.
That turns out to be just wrong as a matter of science,
         since biologists have identified
human genes and hormones
         that make decent, caring behavior natural.
But let not facts interfere with a faith that sanctions
         whatever is worst in us.
Greed, Wilson and Wright contend, is better than natural.
It is a good thing because
selfishness and greed promote progress.

As for Christian virtues, Wright actually says this –
         “Wherever brotherly love is practiced society falls apart.”//
He offers no evidence, examples, or proof
of that sweeping claim.
But when I read this statement,
so many things suddenly became clear.

At last I understood the chaos and terrorism in Syria.
It is an outbreak of brotherly love.
Northern Sudan did not commit rape, murder, and genocide
in Southern Sudan because they wanted the oil.
It was brotherly love.
Greed did not cause the wheeling and dealing
that wrecked American banks in 2007.
After deregulation,
         the bankers just ran amok with brotherly love.

Here in Nevada, I wonder.
When children are bought and sold on our streets,
         our addiction rates top the charts,
         we lead the nation in divorce
         but rank 49th in high school graduations,
                  is it the contagion of Christian spirituality
                  making society fall apart
-- or might the Bible have something to teach us?
“Where there is envy and selfish ambition,” James says,
“there is disorder and wickedness of every kind . . . .”

Maybe atheist economist Walter Williams is right.
Maybe the most wonderful things in his life
         are the results of his own greed.
But when I consider the most wonderful things in my life
--the love of my wife and children,
the support of my friends,
the consolations of prayer –
none of my most wonderful things came from greed.
They came from grace – the merciful grace of God
         mediated to me by caring, compassionate people.

How about you?
What are your most wonderful things
         and where did they come from?

A single mom in our diocese once told me how she had
tucked her daughter in bed
then had go back to kiss her goodnight one more time.
She banged her head on the bunk bed
         and her daughter ran to the kitchen to get her an ice bag.
Where does that fit in in the theory
that we are innately and naturally selfish?

If grace and kindness are so obviously the source
of the most wonderful things for us
          individually and as families,
         how is that when we think of ourselves
                  as a neighborhood, a state, or a nation,
                  avarice becomes the fount of every blessing?

Everything turns on who we believe we are
         and who we want to become.
Social Darwinist theory claims we are the selfish product
         of a ruthless power struggle,
         and that our highest aspiration is to stand,
         hands dripping with blood,
         atop a mound of corpses of the brothers and sisters
we have conquered.

The Bible says we are created in God’s image
     that the love which created the cosmos
is imprinted in our hearts.
And our destiny is to be like Jesus.

Williams, Wright, and Wilson can fight their way to the top
         if they like.
But I want to be like Jesus.
How about you?
In your heart, who do you believe you?

Who do you want to be?