The Religion of Greed
“…money has become modern man’s most popular way of accumulating Being, of coping with our gnawing intuition that we don’t really exist.” David Loy
In American culture, advertising is based on the premise that greed is good. Although greed is contrary to the ethics and values of most religions, it doesn’t really seem to matter much. Given the pervasiveness of greed today, the most widely accepted religion could be called Money, the religion of greed.
You may have paused for a chuckle at the absurdity of such a thought, but consider that under the rules of this form of religion, the marketplace, instead of being a space for the exchange of goods and services, has become the guiding principle for all nations and people. It even sends out corporate missionaries to the less-industrialized countries to integrate the people fully into the consumer market of spending money. Can’t afford it? No problem, can you say “charge it”?
According to Carolyn Wesson, author of Women Who Shop Too Much, “59 million persons in the United States are addicted to shopping or to spending.” The number of U.S. shopping centers has grown from 2,000 in 1957 to more than 30,000 today, meaning the number of shopping malls has surpassed the number of high schools in this country.
Two years ago the Nielsen Company ran a survey showing 10 percent of the world’s population (627 million), shopped on-line, while 2 years later the numbers had increased by 40 percent to 875 million people. Whether traveling to the stores or sitting at home we continue to feed our need to consume.
The problem lies in our attachment to the idea that buying things will bring us happiness. If only I had a new SUV, life would be perfect, so you buy a new SUV, but — surprise –life is not perfect. Why? Because you now have to work harder to make enough money to pay for your new vehicle, your family is upset because you work all the time, and to top it all off our country has to go to war to have enough oil to put into that SUV.
To thrive in a capitalist culture, you must be competitive, ambitious, industrious, and greed-driven. But most men and women just want to be happy, enjoy their families and friends, live a comfortable life, have their needs met, and not have to work 24/7 to have it all. Howard C. Cutter in The Art of Happiness at Work mentions that in 2002, The New York Times reported that in the past 30 years the real income of Americans had risen over 16 percent, whereas the percentage of Americans who described themselves as “very happy” had dropped from 36 percent to 29 percent in that same period. And it wasn’t just poor people who were unhappy—those with the highest incomes reported the most dissatisfaction.
According to Buddhist scholar David Loy, when Shakyamuni Buddha found the middle way he discovered that it doesn’t simply split the difference between sense-enjoyment and sense-denial. Instead it focuses on calming and understanding our mind, for such insight is what can liberate us from our usual preoccupation with trying to become happy by satisfying our cravings. The goal is not to eliminate all desires, but to experience them in a nonattached way so that we are not controlled by them. Nor does it mean that we must leave the world to learn nonattachment. It calls on us to attain a wisdom that recognizes the true nature of this world, including the true nature of oneself.
The key to liberation is not how much money we have, but how we respond to our situation. The wisdom that develops naturally from nonattachment is knowing how to be content with what we have. When we pursue money just for the sake of having money, we set ourselves on an endless cycle of wanting more, always more. Consequently, we are never satisfied with what we have, and our lives revolve around one goal: the attainment of more money.