(c) Sue Cline, Guest Speaker at the Gathering at Northern Hills, All Rights Reserved


Good morning. Thank you for being here to hear my thoughts on a topic that seems all

too pertinent today. I have absolutely no academic credentials to make such a

presentation, so I am even more grateful for your presence. I am a qualified cynic,

however, having been reprimanded for same in a job performance review.

So, I knew I could not stand before you and rant about my decidedly one-sided

opinions. I needed to be better informed and a bit more objective, and informative. So in

preparation I have done some reading, questioning, and reflection to try to present some

thoughts on the topic of greed, and leave you with perhaps one thing to think about

going forward. I do offer apologies to economists and historians in the room: something

I have learned in this process is that I have certainly bitten off more than I can

chew—YEARS of study are required to get a proper handle on this subject, to

understand it in an historical perspective, and to speak with any authority. So we are

back to observations and opinions, which I hope can at least spur on some thought for

others in my particular boat.

Years ago Luke Scott Peck, the author of a popular self-help book, The Road Less

Traveled posited at the conclusion of the book that the “original sin” was/is laziness.

This made sense to me at the time and still does, IF one believes, so to speak, in original


Over time, as I’ve become better read, more reflective, and thoroughly psychoanalyzed,

my own “conclusion,” if you will, is that “original sin” is greed.

Thinking that original sin is greed is fairly easy – it seems to be everywhere and in

everyone, to some degree; it’s pretty obvious in most instances; and, for ME, it provides

a foundation – and an excuse — for my own greed, for my own natural and well

cultivated cynicism, and gives me ammunition to be highly judgmental of others and

personally conclusive about all our global problems.

The problem with this view, however, is greed itself. I don’t believe original sin is any

more than a myth created, first, to explain “bad” people, and then, to keep the common

poor under the thumbs of those whose “greed” for power had put them in positions in

which they could benefit from the human condition of the “common man.” So there

goes my excuse for my own greed.


Of course, as we know, greed is not all about money. Greed for power comes to mind,

for fame, for notoriety, also. I think one can also be greedy for love. This is a big topic,

and a subjective one. When does enjoying life’s pleasures honestly become greed?

My former pastor and friend, Rev. Steven Van Kuiken, was a huge help to me. I

actually have a copy of his 2000 sermon on Greed, which he delivered at Mt.Auburn

PC. It is so good, I was sorely tempted simply to begin with a big quotation mark and

read it to you. But I know better.

Greed, defined as excessive or rapacious desire, especially for wealth or possessions, is

a topic that has occupied me for quite some time. I think my obsession began when I

would read the annual articles in local and regional news about “the wealthiest people in

Cincinnati, etc.” I would go on a days-long rant, saying “NOBODY needs that much

money”, etc., “What do they do with all that money?” I took names, and personally

boycotted their businesses. Years later, during an hours-long procession of a local

businessman’s hearse through the streets of Cincinnati (so that all the people he affected

could pay tribute) an African-American friend and cafeteria worker at Cincinnati

Children’s, where I was working, countered my incipient rant about his apparent racism

with, “I don’t know about all that, but he did a LOT of good for the poor in downtown

and Avondale—we are grateful to him.”

That caused me to reflect on my opinions, and even on some of the facts about this man

and his family, and try to look at the larger picture. So, my biased blinders slightly

opened, I will confess that while I resent the establishment of suburban schools in the

name of religion, that allow the wealthy and white to escape the “OTHER,” I no longer

boycott UDF. I am not sure whether to be proud of that.

And I am striving, as I begin to make a personal judgment about someone based on

appearances, to remind myself that, unless it has been made public, no one’s personal

story is known to me.

I worked several years for an advertising agency in Cincinnati, and there began to grow

a bubble of questions and doubt about our motivation and methods. Advertising, most

basically, exists to create and sway opinion, and furthermore, to create desire for the

objects being advertised; the objective is to promote sales and, therefore, to increase

income for the purveyors and returns for the investors. How many things do we see

advertised that no one really needs, after all, and how many ads do we endure that

advise us to “Talk to your doctor about this miracle medicine, etc.”

Advertising isn’t all bad; it is deployed to promote the United Way, Artswave, pet

adoption, awareness of racism and xenophobia, and a myriad of important and good


causes, but these are, in my opinion, mere sidebars to the real goals of advertising.

(There’s that cynical cap creeping up again….)

So I went from advertising to selling beer and supporting first-hand the establishments

that carried our brands. I ended my working career at Children’s Hospital, a worthy

institution whose mission is undeniable (but one which, sadly, is beholden to the bottom

line, just like so many, even “non-profit” institutions).

Greed is mentioned in the sacred writings of all the major world religions. And not in a

good way.

In the Quran greed is condemned, as is usury and even charging interest on loans.

“Greed makes men ignorant towards all the suffering around them.” Charging interest

on loans was condemned also in the Hebrew Scriptures and the Bible.

There are many references to greed and covetousness in the Hebrew Scriptures: In

Psalm 10, Verse 3 we hear “For the wicked boasts of his heart's desire, And the greedy

man curses and spurns the LORD.”

In the story of Job, Job confesses his greed "If I have put my confidence in gold, And called

fine gold my trust, If I have gloated because my wealth was great, And because my

hand had secured so much…”

In the New Testament, Jesus and his disciples had a great deal to say about greed. “For

the love of money is at the root of all evils.” And another, “For where your treasure is,

there also is your heart.” And the memorable analogy, expressed by Jesus himself:

“Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich

man to enter the kingdom of heaven.”

I could go on…

Native American lore is full with references to greed, avarice, and inequality. There are

too many to choose or quote. With this, Google is a help….

In Buddhism, there are three “poisons” which prevent us from reaching contentment:

GREED, aggression, and delusion.

In my reflections on this topic, I considered the opposite of greed, and determined that it

is perhaps the Buddhist principle of detachment from material goods and the cares of

the world. Another clear opposite is generosity, about which, without surprise, much is

written in all the sacred writings.


Recent history is rife with examples of greed. (This is my favorite part – a mini-rant.)

Banks grant loans to those who, clearly, cannot afford to repay them; stock brokers

receive millions in pay even when the funds they manage crash and burn; CEOs of

public corporations rake in 150 times the pay of their front line workers; insurance

executives become wealthy while the average worker cannot afford to purchase their

products and has to rely on government and taxpayers (if that fund is not stolen from us)

to receive medical treatment; senior government executives are willing to put citizens’

lives at risk, ignore real and urgent danger to our planet, extract fuel with dirty and

dangerous methods, dismiss scientific facts, ignore sacred lands of our ancestors,

decimate the world’s animal, fish, and bird populations, and more, of course, ALL in the

name of profit for the corporations, their CEOs and their shareholders. Universities,

publicly or privately funded, hire disproportionate numbers of adjunct faculty rather

than provide the salaries and benefits that accrue to tenured experts. Churches’ pastors

live lavishly while exhorting their congregants to pray, and to give more to the church,

to secure eternal life.

We live in an economy, a global economy, of institutionalized greed. The US, and

indeed most of the global economy, actually are dependent on greed to keep going, and

growing. Economic growth, or GDP-Gross Domestic Product, is the global

measurement of success. Unfettered, deregulated free market capitalism is the enemy of

the workers who are the foundation of that GDP, and is a friend only to those for whom

wealth is the only measure of success. Without greed at the top, there is no motivation

to grow, or even to work. As one can see, greed is a slippery topic: would we be

motivated to work, for instance, if there were no greed? Interesting question.

Yes, I am little bit of a socialist. I am all for capitalism that pays a fair and just wage for

the services that a person performs or the goods that they produce, but we have strayed

far. In preparing this talk I have read about Andrew Carnegie’s “Gospel of Wealth” in

which those who amass great wealth have a duty to share it with those who have less.

There are a few examples of those today—Bill and Melinda Gates come to mind, as

does Warren Buffet (But here comes that subjectivity again – when one observes the

luxurious lifestyles of these individuals, could one / SHOULD one conclude that there is

some hypocrisy there? I don’t know.)

And then there is Ronald Reagan’s “Gospel of Greed,” which describes riches piled on

the tables of the wealthy, with mere crumbs trickling down to the floor for those less

fortunate (or less intelligent, or less worthy), according to this philosophy. To provide

more crumbs for the lesser people, just pile more riches on the tables of the wealthy.

I also have been reading a rather dry, but ultimately fascinating book titled From Greed

to Wellbeing: a Buddhist Approach to Resolving Our Economic and Financial Crises by


Joel Magnuson. It explains the movement toward institutional change based on

Buddhist economic ideals, SEBE, for Socially Engaged Buddhist Economics. It offers

hope for change of our institutions through first changing ourselves and then changing

our local communities before attempting to take on the entire globe. A huge effort, and

not easy, to be sure.

There is another measure of success, employed in a few places on the planet where the

business of wealth-gathering is conducted with the wellbeing of the people at the

forefront. The small Himalayan country of Bhutan measures its success on the Gross

National Happiness Index, which takes into account the general wellbeing of the

country’s citizens. Now, Bhutan is a Buddhist country and its government and its

spirituality are deeply intertwined. The four pillars on which Bhutanese government

policy is established are: equitable economic development, environmental preservation,

cultural resilience, and good governance. There’s nothing particularly Buddhist about

those principles, however, but there is basic morality.

We read frequently about “the happiest places to live,” etc. In fact, Monday, March 20,

was International Day of Happiness, (I had no idea….) according to the fifth edition of

the World Happiness Report, an initiative of the Sustainable Development Solutions

Network (SDSN), created by the United Nations. This report ranks 155 countries on the

variables of income, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on, perceived

freedom to make life choices, freedom from corruption, and generosity. Not a word

about GDP, or top executive salaries, or the stock market. Norway is no. 1 and the other

9 in the top ten are: Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, Finland, Netherlands, Canada, New

Zealand, Australia, and Sweden. Interestingly, each of these countries provides

healthcare and education, including higher education, for the wellbeing of its citizens.

The U.S. is no. 14, and quite frankly I am surprised it is that high in the list, given the

current general morale of the populace.

There is a movement among Buddhist economists to change the entire paradigm of the

global economic systems, measuring wellbeing of the people, not the wealth of the top

1%, or the GDP, or the stock market. This begins, as with most things Buddhist, with

individual change, for institutional change cannot come from without. There are

communities where inhabitants take wellbeing of citizens and the planet seriously and

where even alternative economic systems are being established. I am eager to learn

more about these.

We know that change must come from within. We as individuals need to adopt an

attitude of mindfulness about all things economic, and that includes the economics of

fairness and justice, the economics of sustainability, of environmental responsibility, of

equality across all facets of our lives. Solely as individuals we can be mindful of our


spending, our use of cash vs. credit, the “need vs. want” motivation for shopping, the

motivation for gift giving, our acquisition of things. And not only our material

resources—we need to be mindful of how we spend our time: is it purposeful, is it

healing or destructive, is it selfish or generous?

We need to detach ourselves from our obsession with possessions and acquisitions. We

need to be generous. We need to use our resources, be they many or few, for good.

“For where your treasure is, there also is your heart.”

Thank you for this opportunity.