Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The unacknowledged malaise: the sin of accumulating excessive wealth

REMEMBER the ‘new seven deadly sins’? In 2008 the relatively unknown Vatican body in charge of matters relating to Penance and Indulgences, the Apostolic Penitentiary, through its then head, Bishop Gianfranco Girotti, issued a document that made the world sit up and take notice of what it called “new expressions of sin” accompanying the phenomenon of globalization. Little have Filipinos known, even up until now, that the roots of the pork barrel scam had already been exposed by a simple declaration. But were we paying any attention? Of course, we could always dispute who determines ‘excessive wealth’ or how excessive is excessive. In fact, a capitalist reacted sharply to the Vatican statement saying, “There’s no such thing as excessive wealth, only badly used wealth.” Yet even a cursory look at the massive poverty in the Philippines, hardly dented by the economy’s recent much-touted phenomenal growths, and in whose hands the lion’s share of the pie is, excessive would not be too hard to see or determine. The country’s elite, many of whom seem heroically scrambling to find the magic wand that will make the country’s poverty go away, are themselves compounding the problem.
            And they do so by giving in to the greed that fuels the seventh new deadly sin. Ms. Napoles, the legislators and other public officials as well as private citizens involved in the pork scam, no matter how singularly dreadful, may only be part of the bigger picture. One asks, as I have many times asked: How many Ms. Napoles are out there and how much don’t we really know about our legislators’ or public officials’ actual involvement in this and other still-unheard-of scams? It is a gross mistake to judge one’s integrity or corruption from the presence or absence of one’s name in one Napolist or another. This the incumbent Eastern Samar Congressman and many others like him must learn, lest future exposes or discoveries may make their bubbles burst.
            At this point, it may be useful to review, in anticipation of the reader’s question, the new seven deadly sins. In the order the document presents them, these are the following: (1) drug abuse; (2) morally debatable experimentations; (3) environmental pollution; (4) causing poverty; (5) social injustice and inequality; (6) genetic manipulation; and (7) accumulating excessive wealth.
            To my mind these sins are deadly because each constitutes a threat to human life in its entirety: physical/material/economic but also spiritual, moral, psychological, political and socio-cultural. Neither does it seem too difficult to see why the seventh deadly sin or the sin of accumulating excessive wealth is deadly, especially in regard to the beloved country we call our own. Mainly it is because sin number seven (7) is the single biggest factor behind sin number four (4), the sin of causing poverty which exacerbates sin number five (5), social injustice and inequality. When only a few human beings possess so much wealth, it naturally impoverishes the many to whom some of it justly belongs. Besides, greed which fuels sin number seven is really one of the original capital or deadly sins, hardly assuaged even by a willingness to share the crumbs with the teeming poor masses in a trickle-down economy. Anything less than social justice will not undo the poverty of our masses.
            On the other hand, for committed Catholics and human beings in general, what pains most is that excessive wealth in a few violates the principle of the universal destination of goods. It should be most painful for Filipino Catholics who take their faith seriously because excessive wealth is a slap-in-face to the constant teaching of the Catholic Church that the earth’s goods are meant for all because they were created to benefit all human beings and the whole human being (material and spiritual). That some local churches, dioceses or parishes, have so much wealth while many languish in constant penury is very much of a piece with this deadly sin. Both clergy and laity must work together to not only acknowledge this crying shame but to do penance by setting the example of founding charity on real justice both in the Church and in Philippine society.
            In his first letter to Timothy, Paul denounced false teachers, pointing to the love of money as one of their distinguishing marks: something we, both clergy and laity, must take to heart for, like it or not, we are all teachers of the faith in word or in deed.
            Says the Apostle to the Gentiles: “In reality, religion is a treasure if we are content with what we have. We brought nothing into the world and we will leave it with nothing…Those who strive to be rich fall into temptations and traps. A lot of foolish and harmful ambitions plunge them into ruin and destruction. Indeed, the love of money is the root of all evil. Because of this greed, some have wandered away from the faith, bringing on themselves afflictions of every kind” (1 Tim 6:6-10).
            In not a few instances I have heard people denouncing money or wealth as the root of all evil. That is neither what St. Paul nor this article has been saying. It is not wealth or money that is evil but the love of it, something that can drive us to accumulating excessive wealth.

            The Christian antidote? Accumulate love and care for the poor, strongly enough to find effective ways to true social justice and equality in the Philippines and in the world. When we shall have reached our goal, there should be no problem with anything excessive.

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