Thursday, November 22, 2007

Cardinal Sin Part 2: Greed

I won't lie about my thoughts on rituals: a lot of them seem meaningless to me. I even used face value judgments to refute some of the Old Testament rituals I've been reading about the past few weeks. It's not that faith doesn't manifest itself through action, but until five minutes ago it never donned on me that there are reasons behind sacrifices like burnt offerings. Before I get to that, I'd like to dwell on some of the rituals God didn't ask of us.

I was raised Catholic. If you know what that entails, you probably have a reactionary thought that leaps onto your mental front burner just to hear that word. I know I do. While I respect any Christian faith, Catholicism really exhausted my patience for any kind of worship by the time I was old enough to intellectualize what they do. By the time I reached a certain age, my mother realized she couldn't just drag my sister and I to church. I couldn't say at exactly what point, but she and I both abandoned it in our adolescent years. Don't get me wrong; no one hands out goat's blood at Catholic churches, and my Acadian ancestors have built some gorgeous buildings, mostly Catholic, through God's inspiration. But the way they preach the gospel doesn't inspire me. They receive weekly booklets, presumably identical to the ones circulated throughout the world, and half the service is based around repeating the exact same lines at the exact same times, except for the odd weekend. (Easter would be a prime example.)

I vividly remember the Christmas services I would attend during break from university, as they were about the only ones I attended during the year. It all seemed to come together in my head when I was home in Tusket for my sophomore year. Obviously the dictation was the same, but even the five minutes during which the priest speaks sounded exactly as they had the previous year. Catholicism didn't just feel like an automated Christ dispenser because it was repetitious, it felt like an automated Christ dispenser because it was just that void of inspiration. I've spoken personally with many priests, and I've yet to find one who isn't a genuinely good soul. I know the media would suggest otherwise, but I didn't detect any malicious hints in our community. So, if these ordained men were not the source of the roboticism, then, surely, the doctrine was. They didn't preach the gospel to you; they preached it at you. Historically, this kind of worship has been very much embedded into the Catholic mentality. It used to be that everything about God was for sale, as they understandably wanted to further their agenda as much as possible. But instead of encouraging you to give your trials to God and praise Christ for erasing your sins, they wanted to sell you a ticket into God's kingdom. Had an extra child? Fantastic! That's what the LORD wanted. And He also wanted you to buy their seat in the congregation. While my experience wasn't quite as shallow, the delivery sure was. It was dry, and I maintain that it is. You can find hypocrisy in any church, but these people thrived on it. All you had to do was present yourself for an hour a week, experience all the sacrements, and you were golden.

Now, while I've said I don't want to dump on Christian faiths, I have no choice but to be accountable to God in this instance and declare just how dangerous that stuff is. You must live for Jesus Christ. Waving to Him once a week is simply not enough. But rituals are just that compelling when you're willing to shut off your mind. I never was, and that explains to me why it took so long for me to submit my soul to God.

Now then, let us get to the point of my most verbose post to date: what do Old Testament rituals, specifically burnt offerings, tell us about the sin of greed?

Exodus 25: 1-9 "The LORD said to Moses, 2 "Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from each man whose heart prompts him to give. 3 These are the offerings you are to receive from them: gold, silver and bronze; 4 blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair; 5 ram skins dyed red and hides of sea cows; acacia wood; 6 olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; 7 and onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breastpiece.

8 "Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. 9 Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you."

As I read this passage a moment ago, it occurred to me that God doesn't need any of these things. Not only can God make His own riches, He as much as affirms their commodity by asking people to sacrifice them. For a Creator Who condemns greed, this seems very hypocritical. It's also intriguing that the Bible says that those who reach Heaven will wear crowns based on the ir human deeds. Is this a form of materialism? Not at all, my friend. Not at all. First, let's examine what greed truly is.

Understandably, we associate greed with money. Money is a human invention that once represented a currency of work. If you performed a duty, it was worth a certain payment. It wasn't as simple as life might be. Back in the days when people bartered exclusively, we skipped the middle men. We were more independant and didn't need to depend on merchants to supply us with everything.

But then, as material things became more complex, as they took several sets of hands to manufacture, money, though an imaginary representation of worth, became the crux of human economy. Even worse, there's absolutely no standard anymore. It used to be that a goat was valued at such and such a price, but now we've distorted those lines. We exploit other countries for cheap labour. We pay professional athletes whopping salaries and shortchange some of the most valuable workers in our communities. We've made money the centre of all things material and all things laborious. That's why it makes sense to associate the unquenchable search for it with greed. It's an accurate portrayal, but I just wish more people would understand that the insatiable pursuit of anything material is no more or less greedy than the stockpiling of money.

The problem with sin is not always in the devastation of the act. Greed doesn't always inflict direct pain on others. But as we've come to learn, sins are equal in that they place a wedge between God and ourselves. The aimless pursuit of anything earthly requires us to take our gaze away from God and place it onto false idols. The exploitation of poorer countries for our own wealth is an act of neglect toward our fellow man, and it's a terrible way to represent ourselves as believers in Jesus Christ. That is what makes greed so bad. It's a lot more subtle than acts of wrath, but it still requires us to step outside God's chosen path for us.

So, when God asks for all the abovementioned offerings, He's not condescending to us. He's not suggesting that we should give these things to Him with one hand, and collect as much as possible with the other. He's very simply asking us to part with our earthly trinkets to test our willingness to do so. It's a visual testimony that we prefer His grace to our own luxuries. And, as I noted above, He will be returning the gesture in spades for those who are willing to comply.

EDIT: So apparently, as I've been reading ahead, God wanted all these materials for use in constructing the Ark of the Covenant. Let's just pretend I quoted one of the many other passages in which people sacrificed things to Him. I think the principle remains intact. Just kind of feel bad about using this for the example, given the token nature and significance of the Ark. I never said I wasn't in the midst of learning, though.


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