Saturday, July 6, 2013

Reality, Greed and Gordon Gecko

I write the following out of my own Christian convictions and Presbyterian history - there is no such thing as "earned" wealth - there is no such thing as "hard work" that elevates one over another; there is no such thing, as I often hear, "The harder I work, the luckier I am."

I heard that once years ago from a successful businessman - I knew then that something was wrong about it, because at the very center of it stood the singular word, "I".

In simple terms: behind all success stands the mysteries of life, stuff we didn't invent, and stuff that mostly manipulates us, for whatever reasons there may be - either of divine purpose, genetic impulse or evolutionary drift.

Behind all success stands, then, a long line of free lunches, gifts from life to us.

The "hard work" touted by some as their own is an illusion of the worst kind. Their values and their health come from beyond themselves. Ask someone who's ill about "hard work." Any attempt to lay personal claim, on any of this, leads only to bragging and pride, and we all know what that does to the core of our being.

Behind all success, the simple mysteries: the family we didn't choose, the values of faith, hope and love, that were given. The schools we attended, and the teachers who believed in us even when we didn't believe in ourselves.

The banker who gave us a loan when no one else would. All along the way, folks who stood by us, helped us, and encouraged us, and a God who made it all possible, who wove it all together that we might find life and do something with it.

I know there are lots of "theological" questions swirling around this right now, but I'm content to speak of "telos," that is, the purpose toward which all life reaches, and it's always greater than the individual, or even a society.

The upshot of this is simple: there is but one response to life - and that's gratitude, and it's sibling, generosity.

Sin creates the Gordon Gecko syndrome. Reality creates kindness. Sadly, Gordon Gecko won the last 30 years of American History: "Greed works."

But it doesn't. It divides one from the other and posits in the soul of the successful unmitigated pride which is deadly to the soul, and nothing deader than a successful person who has consumed large quantities of pride, even when that pride is dressed up in religious language and Jesus-talk - some of the very worst examples of souls deadened with pride.

I return to something I wrote a few days back: "A wealthy person, a successful person, can only say one thing, 'I've been damn lucky!'" To say anything else, as if they had a hand in it, is a lie, an illusion, a deadly sin.

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