If one desires a short, and invigorating read about the evolution of greed in western secular and Christian culture, Phyllis Tickle’s Greed is an ideal read. Greed is a part of the Seven Deadly Sins series, a joint effort between Oxford University press and the NY public library – it is also a series on my Amazon wish list.
Before diving into the book it is important to note two qualities. First, the shortness of the book is primarily due to the fact the book is an edited transcription of a lecture given by Tickle at the NY public library. This causes the reader to feel somewhat out of place. One senses that they should be present, hearing these words, not in their home or a coffee shop attempting to read them. The format of the book also includes a relatively lengthy prologue and epilogue. Honestly theses are my least favorite parts of any book so they will not receive more than this mention.
The second aspect of Greed is Tickle’s dictum, candor and language. As she often does, Tickle evokes one’s intelligence. She jogs the mind and necessitates multiple synapses to occur within one’s brain. However, Greed also flirts with waxing intellectual and academic pontification rather than prophetic wisdom. This may cause a reader to turn off in the middle of the text. However, it is worth persevering. At the least, struggle though the text once and then read it again. The historical insight becomes clearer and more profound with repetition.
Tickle begins by examining the Apostle Paul’s commentary on greed. Perhaps most interesting in this section is Tickle’s examination of the Pauline phrase “the love of money is the root of all evil”. This phrase – originally Radix Omnium Maloran Avaritia -, when viewed as an acrostic makes a powerful social statement.
Though Tickle does not say this directly, the creative relevance suggests that Paul meant to both resist falling in love with money in and of itself and the seduction to the materialistic ways of the Roman Empire. I personally, connect this to our present state in the USA and the ease in which Christians can fall into the “American way” rather than Christian values of money and subsequently preach the Gospel of Capitalism with word and dead.
After examining Paul, Tickle moves on to the Psychomachia which is a literary work which chronicles a series of battles between seven virtues and vices. They story of Greed (indulgence) tells of Greed’s initial failure to overcome then her transformation into thrift. This is one of my favorite sections of commentary. Thrift is so often viewed as a virtue; as an act of restraint. However, thrift suggests a lack of willingness to give what an item is worth and a preoccupation with retaining – or hording – money. Thrift is not congruent with stewardship. Thrift encourages the purchasing of cheap goods rather than durable ones. Thrift is the ideology which says “because it is cheap it is good”. It is the mantra of the American culture. Thrift is we purchase cheap goods to retain money not to serve others and end up purchasing abundantly more because of perceived and designed obsolescence.
Tickle then goes through a series of works of art – The Seven Deadly Sins, the Haywain, Big Fish Eat Little Fish, Greenspan Buddha, the Christmas Carol, Greed and Wall Street. In the midst, Tickle refers to Hebrew College professor Solomon Schimmel’s observation of the secularization of greed. His concern is that evil has become viewed to have only social implications rather than spiritual ones. This dimension – somewhat Gnostic – has not allowed the church or the individual to connect greed to a break with God or evoke a need for reconciliation.
Within Tickle’s essay one can easily see her burgeoning ideas of the Great Emergence. Tickle believed then – and is more convicted now – that we are one the fourth 500 year seismic shift in which a re-formation within the church occurs. Though I am unsure I agree that this is a global occurrence – perhaps it is relevant in the Western church. Despite my questions, this aspect is important to realize as Tickle presented an urgency in re-spiritualizing greed. And viewing it’s impact as broad in pervasive both personally and socially. Tickle’s perspective is continuously imaginative and thought provoking.
Greed is a worthwhile read. And though short in words, packs a punch of an espresso or jalapeño seed. You will not read Greed and remain static in your views and your examination of Greed’s interaction with us a contemporary creations of God.