The next of the Seven Deadly Sins is avarice, or greed. Like lust and gluttony, this one is also about excess and wrong focus. We should work for a living, we can enjoy the fruits of our labors, but when money and material goods become the focus of our lives, that is a sin. When we take more than our share, commit sins in order to get wealth, or become too greedy to give to the poor, we are certainly in a condition of sin.
I have, through years of effort, gained a positive outlook toward profit (yeah, you can’t sustain a business without profit) and have even managed to get over feeling that prices should be kept as low as possible for decency’s sake. I think that I still run my business with decency, and I am still very conscious of workers’ rights, ethical sourcing, and corporate responsibility. But it is easy to be caught up in avarice, even for a simple living advocate like me.
It’s easy, for one thing, to think that having more money equals security, or that having more stuff equals comfort — to confuse possessions with safety. It’s also easy to confuse monetary worth with actual worth.
My older brother said money was the way to keep score: the way you could tell you were successful. He took his own life, so he is not a good example of how to be successful, but I think a lot of people agree. “He who dies with the most toys wins” may be a more popular bumper sticker than “Live simply that others may simply live.”
Basing your happiness on your goods doesn’t work. It was Socrates who said, “He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.” And it might have been J. P. Morgan who, when asked how much money is enough, said, “A little more.”
The Bible takes it further. Avarice, the love of money, is “the root of all evil.” History shows that people do terrible things for money. It also shows that we do terrible things for love, for politics, and for God. But when we are willing to tolerate the selling of children into slavery in order to save money on coffee — as most Americans are — that surely is an indication that we have allowed the sin of avarice into our lives.
As I was writing, a tweet linking to this article came by on my screen: The Guide to Wealth. It mentions sin but doesn’t focus on it. The focus is on happiness and satisfaction. I think, though, that looking at the first three sins, we can see that sin interferes with happiness.
Lust, gluttony, and avarice are all about doing things we think will bring us pleasure and finding that instead they do us harm. It’s logical that sin should come to us in an appealing guise. If temptation always looked unpleasant, we would not be tempted by it. The trouble is that it looks appealing — it looks like excitement, satisfaction, and pleasure, but turns out to be humiliation, addiction, and harm.