In the mortal words of Gordon Gekko, “Greed is good”. There is a truth to this most of us are too self-conscious and insecure to admit. Sure, greed is bad, greed places a quest for material wealth beyond need, above relationships, above personal health, and devolves us to selfish survivor mindsets more fitting to surviving a zombie apocalypse than the Costco unreal-reality TV culture we find ourselves in. But maybe (a la Louis C.K.), greed drives us to produce, to evolve, become more efficient, and create. Greed, if connected to a stronger sense of morality and an understanding of long-term consequences, can be useful and even good. This isn’t a moral argument, just a broad perspective on the complex reality of life.
In his book “A Failure Of Nerve”, Edwin Friedman lists five characteristics of emotional regression:
- Reactivity: the vicious cycle of intense reactions of each member to events and to one another.
- Herding: a process through which the forces of togetherness triumph over the forces for individuality and move everyone to adapt to the least mature members.
- Blame displacement: an emotional state in which family members focus on forces that have victimized them rather than taking responsibility for their own being and destiny.
- A quick-fix mentality: a low threshold for pain that constantly seeks symptom relief rather than fundamental change.
- Lack of well-differentiated leadership: a failure of nerve that both stems from and contributes to the first four.
Though early in the book, there is a strong Machiavelli vibe to Friedman’s work. This is a good thing. Ideals are good, but reality must be accounted for. What does this have to do with Christianity? When was the last time you talked to God? Not prayed at a meal for everyone to hear or showed off at a Bible study, I mean, had a deeply intimate conversation with God. I ask this question because it matters.
The Church is too big and diverse to label or generalize, but a type of Christianity exists where people live their Christian life for others, for the approval of community, and to impress those around them. These Christians react rather than act, blame rather than change, herd rather than lead, and look for quick emotional “spiritual” fixes to the deprivation of foundational health and healing. For all of that, they aren’t selfish… at least not in a healthy way.
Yes, selfishness is bad for many of the same reasons greed is bad, but maybe, there is a healthy application. What if many of the most dynamic and influential Christians are the ones who place their relationship with God above all else, who don’t care what the community thinks or values that day, but instead, chase after Jesus where he is and as he is, who don’t care about public approval or looking the fool, who are so selfish for intimacy with God that they aren’t controlled by expectations or groupthink? It’s not that they don’t care about other people, it’s that they care about something else much more.
Yes, greed and selfishness are both bad, but what if they are also the best words to describe the healthiest type of relationship with God?