Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Was Mother Teresa Greedy?

People love to talk for Mother Teresa, like they knew her or something. It's getting a little old right now. I don't mind people objectively speaking about Mother Teresa or what she did, but it gets ridiculous when they start talking about her motivations, etc. Like in this clip, when the guy defending greed says Mother Teresa was greedy. What I see here is not an honest assessment of Mother Teresa, but rather a person trying to justify greed.

They go on to turn greed into some kind of generic term for desiring something. Fred L. Smith, one of the guests, says we should value greed because it has helped the world so much. He goes as far as to say nothing else helps the world except greed. He says "Mother Teresa was greedy, but for good things". The lady interviewer agrees by saying "exactly, the personal reward of helping other people, the emotions she felt as the result of that, that was her motivation and self-interest".

Using greed in this sense is really stretching it beyond its definition. This usage of language annoys me because it represents the speaker's attempt to make a universal statement that's true even though the actual definition of the word would not merit this. For example, in this case, stating that "everyone is greedy". What's really behind these statements is an attempt to justify basing one's life on greed. He can readily admit "Yes, I'm greedy. But so is everyone else, including Mother Teresa. I'm greedy for money, but she was greedy for a feeling!"

The classic definition of greed is:

Greed (Latin, avaritia), also known as avarice or covetousness, is, like lust and gluttony, a sin of excess. However, greed (as seen by the church) is applied to a very excessive or rapacious desire and pursuit of wealth, status, and power. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that greed was "a sin against God, just as all mortal sins, in as much as man condemns things eternal for the sake of temporal things."

Mother Teresa did not possess a rapacious desire and pursuit of wealth, status, and power. The opposite of greed is Charity.

Charity is defined as follows:

Love, in this sense of an unlimited loving-kindness towards all others, is held to be the ultimate perfection of the human spirit, because it is said to both glorify and reflect the nature of God. In its most extreme form such love can be self-sacrificial.

Mother Teresa was not greedy. In fact, she exemplified the opposite - charity. Mother Teresa had such love and compassion for all those she helped. She was certainly self-sacrificial. She could have had an easy life, but instead chose to live in extreme poverty, giving everything she had away. To call Mother Teresa greedy is about as far from the truth as one can get! To top it all off, the name of the Order of Nuns she founded is called the "Sisters of Charity", not the sisters of greed.

Greed is never a good thing, and has not helped society. Generosity, love, compassion, and charity have helped the world. I think the point that was being made on the show is that greed has allowed many people to accumulate great wealth and they were able to give some of that wealth to help others. I certainly think that's laudable. I agree with the capitalist system. It should be noted that making a lot of money is not necessarily greedy. Greed comes into play when one focuses all his energies in gaining wealth, power, etc. for himself with no intention of helping others. It's about excessive desire for personal gain.

Greed is a sin, and should not be justified. I find that happens often in these types of discussions. Greed is one thing, but the other seven deadly also fall victim to a watering-down effect as well.

For example, gluttony. Gluttony has traditionally been defined as an excessive preoccupation with food. Some have said that one can be a glutton when it comes to anything including video games, movies, even exercise. Although this is correct to some extent, watering down a concept can have negative effects also. When you start to see everything as possible gluttony, it becomes too much to track and the task of avoiding it becomes overwhelming. Indeed, for some, that is the point. Everything becomes a potential sin, so instead of worrying about sin, we just think about forgiveness.

To summarize, we must maintain a moral lifestyle and not justify it by claiming that holy people also partake in certain behaviors.

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