From “The Love of Money,” Antichrist and Other Sermons (1913)
All of us are ready to see something wrong in the system; in the complexity of the world, and the endless ramifications of modern credit, or in the elaboration of processes under modern machinery. But, after all, the machines are worked by men. Above all other causes of our woe there is this one fact that sin of human greed, no more and no less. That is what we Christians can fight.
Think of it. Look, for instance, at the evils of modern company promoting; and all the admitted frauds and tyrannies of speculative finance! How could they come about if there were not a large number of people greedy of gain and careless how they come by it? To the great financial swindlers, vulgar in taste and contemptible though they be, we ought to be more lenient than we are. As a fact they would have no material to work with were it not for the uncounted numbers of gullible people. This gullibility is the direct result of avarice. They seek a higher return for their money than it will reason ably produce. They risk all on a gambler’s throw, and when it fails cry out against the rogue. Any man or woman who invests money tempted by the hopes of a speculative gain or an unwarrantably high rate of interest, and loses his capital, deserves all that he gets. But our concern here is not with the method, but the motive.
That motive is greed, pure and simple. Our civilization is not in all respects worse than any other. But it is meaner and more insincere. The reason is that its besetting sin is avarice. So general is this vice, that even we Christians think it a right and proper thing to honor people for their wealth, and are almost surprised at any other standard. There will never be any chance of the Church recovering her influence until she preaches, not this or that panacea, but the positive wickedness of that ideal of money-getting which the world takes for granted.
And not only must she preach it; her members must live as though they were really afraid of the love of money. What proportion of professing Christians have at this moment any notion that they ought to train their families so as to spend less on clothes, or amusements, or luxury, than those who are not Christians. Ask the boys at school or college; ask the daughters of any well-to-do family of Churchmen. In four cases out of five they will have no notion but that they ought to have as much of this world’s goods to spend selfishly as those of their neighbors who have no religion. Many of our social problems would settle themselves if the great bulk of communicants ceased to want more than is good for them.
What we as Christians need most to do is to preach and by our lives to teach that “having food and raiment we should therewith be content,” and cease for our part the ceaseless heaping up of gold, or the adding field to field. Thus in a very real sense the remedy for our social entanglement lies with ourselves. Insofar as the Christian Church wins to fuller reality, insofar as in penitence her members turn to simpler ideals; insofar as they show scorn for this god of men’s idolatry, so far will they be doing what in them lies to bring about that better condition which all of us affect to desire.
Reality, that is what we need above all things. Our religion and our penitence must be real. No use can be had from confessing the sins of other times, like cruelty, from which except indirectly we are exempt. What we need to do both corporately and individually is to repent of this great consuming sin of greed, the passion to Have. For this it is which sears the souls of millions, and by the burning thirst of a never satisfied desire becomes the direct parent of “envy, hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness.”
Neville Figgis CR (1866-1919) was an English Anglican priest and monk, as well as an influential political scientist and philosopher. He advocated a communitarian approach to social order, and his studies of the history of constitutionalism remain significant.