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Ethics, morality and faith: What's in it for me?

Fri, May 1st, 2009
Posted in Commentary

Matthew 16: 26 "What kind of a deal is it to get everything you want, but lose yourself?" The Message (paraphrase) "What will it profit a person to gain the whole world, but lose their soul?" NRSV Bible

So many recent news stories are about people who are willing to do anything necessary to get wealth. They seem to operative entirely by the above phrase, "What's in it for me?" and never care about the awful effects on other people, perhaps millions, who end up with nothing. Others are willing to step on somebody's head to raise themselves one rung up the ladder.

There are many interpretations of what is meant by the term "original sin." To me, the definition that makes the most sense is that we are cursed with inborn greed/selfishness. Other terms for this trait are: avarice, covetousness, and mammon. Whether greed is for possessions of things, or for money and the things it can buy: power, fame, position, beauty..... greed is a strong motivation. Even a baby, innocent of many traditional sins, is intensely greedy---wanting only what it desires, right now.

Looking at the Bible, the first story after creation is about greed, Adam and Eve coveting for the themselves God's knowledge. Then we have Cain killing Abel, envious of Abel's approval from God, Jacob tricking Esau for his inheritance and blessing, David's greed for another man's wife; the stories go on and on. In the New Testament there is the sad story of the rich young man, who could not give up his wealth to follow Jesus. Beyond the Bible, world literature also acts to confirm my interpretation.

Looking at the opposite of greed, we see the supreme act of generosity, God's giving of his son, and Jesus' teachings about giving to the point of sacrifice. The story of the widow's gift of two mites (pennies), all she had to live on, was held up as an example of unselfish giving. The practices of generosity, charity, and responsibility for those who have less are not just Christian, they are ethical teachings of other faiths, and of those who strive to be and do good from a sense of morality.

The question is how to teach from childhood the joy of giving as opposed to what could be a very human tendency toward selfishness and greed. It needs to start young. In a world where we, even with our current economic problems, belong to the "haves," learning to act counter to greed is one way to point toward a just, peaceful future where everyone has enough, and no one has too much, surely a worthy goal. I am not a dreamer, not a communist, or a socialist, I am a Christian realist, trying to overcome an "original sin," and keep my soul. Are you?

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