Greed: The All-Consuming Epidemic

Changes are happening in India at a rapid pace. One of the changes is mushrooming of shopping malls and the crowds at the malls, particularly in urban India. The myth of American dream, characterised by high consumption, compulsive acquisition and instantaneous gratification, has a strong influence on urban Indians. The deceptive notion that happiness lies in the possession of things is uncritically embraced. I am not suggesting you to stop buying. But to buy carefully and consciously with full attention to the real benefits and costs of your purchases, remembering, always, that the best things in life are not things.

One thing most apparent is that in spite of possessing the things most desired, happiness and contentment still elude those infected with “affluenza”. “Affluenza”, according to John De Graff, David Wann and Thomas H. Naylor, is “a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.” This metaphor of a disease is an apt characterization of a malignant condition that is eating into the entrails of urban India. People want to buy more and more things. This can cause stress. Stress can come from plain greed masquerading as the “noble” desire for a higher standard of living. In order to maintain higher standard of living, one has to work more time. So one is overworked and pressed for time. It is said, American couples have only 12 minutes a day (at an average) to converse with each other.

People have less time because they work more. They work more because they want more to maintain a higher standard of living. That means, as a society we are choosing money over time.

What are the consequences of this choice?

  1. We have new form of “homelessness”. We have people living under the same roof, but hardly have time to connect with one another. Someone wrote a book with a title “Is there a home in this house?”
  2. The most corrosive impact of consumerism is on human relationships. Consumerism thrives by promoting use-and-throw culture. Attitudes formed towards things (use-and-throw) eventually get transferred to people. As things are discarded after use, people are also thrown out once they lose the capacity to participate in the cycle of consumption. Because in consumeristic culture human beings in themselves do not possess value. Their value is directly proportional to their capacity to buy things. Here the irony is, living beings find their value and worth, and identity in non-living things.   

The consumeristic culture, as a result, has promoted greed and hoarding – accumulation of wealth and material things. Mother Teresa said: “Suffering today is because people are hoarding, not giving, not sharing.”

In India it is evident that, although since 1990s there has been a period of sustained economic growth as the country moved towards a more market-oriented economy, the economic growth did not benefit all Indians equally. The benefits of globalization have created two Indias: India shining and India suffering. Middle and upper classes in urban areas have benefited under “India Shining”, but the poor have suffered a decline in living standards and rising food insecurity. Poverty and malnutrition, especially among women, children, and people who belong to scheduled castes and tribes, remain very high.

Large sections of Indian society suffer from gross poverty and deprivation, which co-exists with high and very high incomes and growth rates of income for a very small section. One-third of the world’s poor live in India. 83.6 crore Indians survive on less than Rs. 20 a day or Rs. 600 a month. Over 20 crore Indians sleep hungry on any given night. About 7000 Indians die every day of hunger.  India has the second highest poverty—after Nepal—among all Asian countries.

About 20 lakh children die every year as a result of serious malnutrition and preventable diseases. Nearly 50% of children suffer from moderate or severe malnutrition. This is one of the highest levels of child malnutrition in the world. Nearly 30% of newborn are underweight. 79% of children of age 6-35 months are anaemic. 56% of married women are anaemic.

The apathetic attitude of the government towards the poor and the hungry is well sustained by the Indian society in general. As Jean Dreze, an economist and academic, said: “The government can’t get away with large-scale famine, but it can get away with chronic hunger. It has become an accepted part of life in India.”

Greed in Christian Religion

Greed has also entered Christian religion. Mushrooming of corporate churches, corporate Christian organizations and corporate Christian gospel reflect the mammonization of God and religion. The “gospel entrepreneurs” with their claims of unhindered direct access to God craftily unite God and Mammon with their make-rich-quick “good news”. These “gospel entrepreneurs” subscribe to corporate standards of operation with wealth as the highest “spiritual” value, and prosperity as their gospel. They advocate marketing approach to Christ and Christian religion and give optimistic messages intended to “make people feel good about themselves.” Their philosophy is to make the church as uninterfering and entertaining as possible in order to attract more “customers” into the “spiritual corporate company”. Their doctrine, known as Word of faith, is essentially that God rewards one’s faith almost always in the form of an abundance of wealth. They keep reminding the members the law of reciprocity: “Give generously and you will receive generously from God”. Consecration of wallets is their theology. This “spiritual culture” is not only in step with the corporate greed culture around, but also funneling crores of rupees annually into the coffers of these “spiritual corporate companies”. The number of “God’s crorepathis” is on the raise.

For example, an American televangelist, who visits India every year to proclaim “the power of the Word of faith” and has a $9 crore-a-year turnover from the “corporate gospel business”, was “paid” an annual salary of $9,00,000 and her husband, the Ministries’ Board vice president, $4,50,000 in 2002 and 2003. After the criticisms, she currently receives an annual salary of $2,50,000. Although the law in America states that the tax-exempt religious property “cannot be held for private or corporate profit,” according to a report, among other personal benefits reaped from the “corporate gospel ministry”, the evangelist of the God of mammon has a $20 lakh house and receives a separate $5 lakh annual housing allowance (apart from the utilities and maintenance bills paid by the ministries), is provided with free personal use of a $1 crore corporate jet and luxury cars including $1,07,000 silver-gray Mercedes Sedan, and authorized to use a fund of $7,90,000 “at their discretion”. This “gospel entrepreneur” also receives a portion of the $30 lakh a year in royalties earned from books and tapes sold (even though in reality it was the employees who help in writing). The board consists of the evangelist, her spouse, their children, and friends. The list of the ministry’s personal property worth nearly $57 lakhs of furniture, artwork, glassware, and the latest equipment and machinery includes: $49,000 conference table with six chairs, $11,000 clock, $1,05,000 boat, $42,200 worth of ten vases, and a $5,700 porcelain crucifixion. Of the $9 crore annual “profits” from the “gospel business” the ministry spends 10% on charitable works around the world, including India.  

Observer reports about another popular American televangelist to whom the combination of Ministry and Mammon has provided with a net worth estimated at between $20 crores and $100 crores. It gives an example of the way he raised money for a “noble cause” in Africa. Through an emotional fundraising drive on his TV station (this Christian television network is also popular in India), the evangelist raised several crore dollars for his tax-free charitable trust. It is said that he gave $70 lakhs to alleviate the misery of refugees fleeing genocide in Rwanda. More interesting is the way the funds were used in Africa. He bought planes to shuttle medical supplies in and out of the refugee camp in Goma, Congo (previously called Zaire). However, an investigative reporter discovered that over a six-month period, except for one medical flight, the planes were used to supply equipment for a diamond mining operation at a distance from Goma. It was found that he actually flew on one plane ferrying equipment to his mines. The spokesperson of his Ministries countered the criticism that by diverting the planes for diamond mining, the evangelist was actually carrying out God’s work. He further told that the planes proved unfit for supplying medicine, and so the evangelist used them for the diamond hunt which, if successful, would have freed the people of the Congo from lives of starvation and poverty.

Thus, Christian ministry has become a corporate business with the owners of these spiritual corporate companies becoming wealthy on the pretext of serving the poor and the needy. The God of mammon obscures the God of Jesus Christ, and the gospel of greed the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Some time ago I happened to meet a Christian real estate agent. She said, God is the greatest realtor, because he owns the entire universe. But what she forgot to mention was, the unique son of this “greatest realtor” once said: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head” (Lk. 9.58).

Greed plays an important role in the fall of Adam and Eve. It is at the root of sin. The desire in Eve for the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil did not arise till the intervention of the serpent. It arose only when the serpent “described them as desirable in order to be like God.” This awakening of her desire for the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil is made clear in the text: “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise” (Gen. 3.6). This was not “a momentary desire, but fundamental yearning.” Underlying the desire to possess what God possessed was the greed of Eve and Adam: to be wise like God.

Therefore, greed is at the root of sin. Greed is the essence of fallen human nature.

What are the consequences of greed?

  1. It promotes an egocentric outlook on life. What follows, then, is the neglect of higher ideals in the “icy water of egoistical calculation”, as the Communist Manifesto puts it. This is clearly evident from the fact that America has the world’s highest rate of divorce and, according to family counsellors, “arguments about money are precipitating factors in 90 per cent of divorce cases.” I was told by an Indian Christian leader who works among college and university students that the number of potential divorces among families where both spouses work in IT sector is raising alarmingly.
  2. “Chronic self-absorption”. The unremitting craving for things leaves people with little time and patience to think about others. Hence people become unmindful of the maladies of their society. For instance, how many of them know that 83.6 crore Indians survive on less than Rs. 20 a day or Rs. 600 a month; over 20 crore Indians sleep hungry on any given night; and about 7000 Indians die every day of hunger.

Mother Theresa once said: “One of the greatest deceases is to be nobody to anybody.” It is poverty to live for oneself ignoring your neighbour’s suffering, hunger and death. These neo-poor look with their eyes the suffering and hungry, but do not see. They listen with their ears the cries and agony of the poor and hungry, but do not hear. Because they are absorbed in self-gratification. This is the generation that the consumeristic culture creates.

Proverbs 1.10-19 says: “My child, if sinners entice you, do not consent. If they say, “Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood; let us wantonly ambush the innocent; like Sheol let us swallow them alive and whole, like those who go down to the Pit. We shall find all kinds of costly things; we shall fill our houses with booty. Throw in your lot among us; we will all have one purse” – my child, do not walk in their way, keep your foot from their paths; for their feet run to evil, and they hurry to shed blood. For in vain the net baited while the bird is looking on; yet they lie in wait-to kill themselves! And set an ambush-for their own lives! Such is the end of all who are greedy for gain; it takes away the life of its possessors.”

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One Response to “Greed: The All-Consuming Epidemic”

  1. Manual Says:

    Everything is very open with a precise description of the issues.

    It was really informative. Your site is
    useful. Thank you for sharing!

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