Worshipping Mammon

We think of greed as a fat cat banker who pays himself a million dollar bonus after already receiving a salary of three million for working a seventy hour week doing shady almost legal deals for people. Or we think greed is shown by a person who is a tightwad: pinching every penny and cutting every corner to make a little bit more money wherever he can.

Those are good examples of greed, but the extremes often blind us to the reality closer to home. Greed is a deadly sin because it is a form of idolatry. A person who loves his money and the things money can buy more than he loves God is guilty of greed. What is it that money can buy? Security, power, prestige, pleasure, being able to do what we want when we want? All these are the things money can buy, and if we love these things more than God then we are worshipping what Jesus calls “mammon” instead of God.

The problem with greed in America is that most of us believe the creed of greed, which is “Greed is good.” We look up to rich people. We credit them with “success” and teach our kids that this is life’s main goal. In the United States to make a million is to be on top of the heap. To be rich is to have arrived, and to be really rich is to have really arrived! We take it for granted in our materialistic lifestyle that getting more and more money is what it is all about.

The bottom line is that we have established greed (which is one of the seven deadly sins) as one of the basic virtues of American life. Furthermore, if a person is not rich we blame them. We blame them for not working hard enough, not being ambitious enough or not being a winner.

The seven deadly sins are called “deadly” not only because they cut us off from the eternal life of God, but because they really are deadly to ourselves and to others. Greed is a good example. Greed hurts other people. Our greed keeps wages as low as possible. Our greed puts people out of work. Our greed and our lust for the lowest prices abuses poor people in sweatshops in the developing world. Our greed pollutes the environment, ruins the natural world, causes cruelty to animals and wrecks the economy and undermines the common good.

Like the other six deadly sins, greed is a proper love gone wrong. Greed is the proper love of security, pleasure and prosperity twisted and deformed.

The virtue that counters greed is generosity. Generosity is the proper use of money and power for the sake of the common good. A friend who started tithing told me, “Father, once I started tithing I discovered as much joy in giving as I used to take in hoarding.” He now lives a life that is generous open, free and joyful.

The Sacred Scriptures say, “The Lord Loves a cheerful giver.” The reverse is also true: “The cheerful giver loves the Lord.”

Editor’s note: This is the second part in an eight part series exploring the Seven Deadly Sins. Check back each Wednesday and read previous articles here

image: An image of Avarice, Palazzo Ducale, Venice via Giovanni Dall’Orto / Wikimedia Commons

Fr. Dwight Longenecker


Fr Dwight Longenecker’s latest book is The Romance of Religion—Fighting for Goodness, Truth and Beauty. He blogs at Standing on My Head. Visit his blog, browse his books and be in touch at www.dwightlongenecker.com

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage

  • GM

    Beautiful! Thanks! I had a narrow conception of greed and always thought there was something missing. Your article broadened my horizons and it will help me confront my own greed-fullness. May God bless your work and life!

  • Howard

    This is why it is pointless to ask if Christians and Muslims worship the same God. Regardless of profession, many people effectively worship money, food, sex, power, luxury, etc.

  • Maggie Sullivan

    Maybe Cardinal Dolan will be leading the “greed-pride” soon!!!!

  • John

    Wow! Just yesterday I read where a woman was arguing that being rich is better than being poor! I left a comment for her that many rich people still live in poverty. What good is being rich if one is spiritually dead? Many wealthy people “drive” an unhealthy nation by consuming toxic, cheap goods that are prized after for their famous labels. Rich people often buy conventional produce that is sprayed with toxic pesticides. Rich people buy clothes from poor countries that are heavily chemically dyed w/severe health and environmental impact on it’s citizens. These dyes are then washed down rivers, streams and lakes, polluting drinking water. God made us stewards of this earth. However, we pollute it, abuse it and eventually destroy it. Thank God the Pope has been mentioning environmental issues lately. Rich people don’t necessarily make better health or life choices than poor people! Many people suffer at the hands of rich people’s choices because everyone desires either to be rich or at least look rich. GREED is pure spiritual and human failure at it’s worst.

  • Dave Jones

    One other thing to keep in mind is that not only rich people are greedy. Greed is an unnatural attachment to material things. There are many greedy “poor” as well.

  • Cheryl-Lee Raine

    Excellent article, Father! I used to be heavily involved in the Pentecostal circles that taught that wealth is of God and the prosperity “gospel”. I feel.sick to my stomach thinking about what I believed in then. I’m currently seeking full communion with the Church and God has opened my eyes to such a deception. Thanks for sharing with us!!