The Future of the West: Perverted and Deluded

the end

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days…. evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” (2 Timothy 3:1, 3:13)

So wrote St. Paul to Timothy regarding the trajectory of human society.

Notice that St. Paul does not write about wars and explosive catastrophes. These epic events are so beloved by the charismatics who see signs of doom in their morning cornflakes, but they are not mentioned here. Indeed, the scripture writers show remarkable disinterest in providing us with a historical timeline of events regarding what will happen in the future. The apostles are not in the business of equipping us to be professional fortune-tellers.

This has not stopped many people – including good and faithful Christians – looking for current events in the word of God. Nuclear Armageddons, world wars, missile strikes by Iran, and imminent biological threats have each, at different times, been “unearthed” in the scriptures. Some claim that certain symbols in the Book of Daniel or The Revelation speak of Hitler. Or the Pope. Or the President of the United States.

This has always been a temptation for Christians. For example, in 14th century Europe amidst the ravages of the Black Death that killed approximately half of the continent’s population, Christians “discovered” that the scriptures predicted disease and the end of the world in their times. “It must be so,” they reasoned, “for if the horsemen of the apocalypse do not refer to times like oursthen what could they possibly refer to?” The same questions have been asked whenever great evil befalls the human race.

But this is not the sort of information the scriptures offer us about the Last Days. We may be thankful God does not paint out the future for us in lurid journalistic detail, for who could bear the weight of it?

Yet this does not mean the Bible offers us no information at all. In this letter, St. Paul provides us with extremely valuable information. But observe where the apostle’s focus lies; take careful note of what is important in the estimation of the apostle.

For St. Paul is chiefly interested in the moral dimension of the Last Days. If you want to know how close the Lord is, says St. Paul, look at the moral fabric around you and compare it to what has gone before, both in degree and intensity. Look at sin’s prevalence and acceptance. To paraphrase Christopher Wren, “if you want to see a monument that shows us how close we are to the end of days, then look around you”.

For it is precisely the moral context of any age or epoch that shows us mankind’s alienation from God and our proximity to Christ’s return.

Some have argued that St. Paul must be describing all time since Christ’s ascension. They argue this on the basis that all of these sins have always been common to mankind in every era. You could always find greedy people. Or disobedient children.

But the Apostle’s own writing here would tend to suggest he was thinking of a definite future point. He clearly says that these terrible times will come. He does not say that terrible times have already come – even against the backdrop of bloody assassinations of emperors in Rome and the deplorable morality of a pagan people. Rather he says terrible times will come and they will come just prior to the Lord’s return.

What will make the last days terrible? St. Paul answers, “The moral quality of the people”.

During the Last Days we will see sins that are not merely on the charts, but are so extreme, so intense, so common that they will exceed the charts of human depravity. St. Paul writes about people loving money and lacking self-control. Being lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God. He speaks of rebellion against parents and ingratitude. He writes about men being conceited and brutal. He paints a compendium of immorality. St. Paul pictures a society in shocking decay, where life becomes precarious, evil becomes the main survival strategy, and goodness carries a great personal cost.

Moral evil, St. Paul points out, will intensify as human society endures. Each succeeding generation will outdo its predecessor in unbelief and in sin.

Thus, what constituted a love of money in the early 1900’s – for example, the Roaring Twenties and the tragic greed for shares that ruined countless lives – may change in form. It may be expressed differently on the surface. Yet the underlying love of money continues and will become all the more severe as time goes on.

If the Global Financial Crisis proved anything it was the existence of epic greed on a scale never witnessed before in human history. Moreover, this was not just limited to a few wealthy fat cats. Large masses of people were so indebted nothing they had was really theirs. And still the lesson has not been learned! Already, so soon after the alleged “recovery,” once again we see large masses of people up to their neck in debt.

roaring twenties

In Australia, the ME Bank issues a bi-annual report on the condition of Australian households. It surveys 1,500 households regarding income, expenditure, saving, and financial stress. The most recent findings show that no moral wisdom has been gained from the global financial downturn. It shows that people no longer even abide by common proverbial wisdom and “save for a rainy day”. Instead, people live close to disaster and ruin. So close, indeed, that it would terrify our frugal forebears:

The report showed that households’ confidence to raise money for an emergency dropped three points below the average since the survey began, and fewer households reported they are saving. The estimated amount that Australians are saving each month decreased by just over 10% during the first half of 2018.

More Australians are also overspending – households who ‘typically spend all of their income and more’ increased 3 points to 11% during the six months to June.

“Clearly, this is a potential tipping point. At the moment, Australians generally can dip into their savings to get by. However, some households may get to a point where there’s no more savings to draw from. Currently, around a quarter of Australian households have less than $1000 in cash savings,” Oughton said.

This is not just an Australian phenomenon. This year it was reported in The Independent that a quarter of British adults have no savings at all:

…the poll of 2,620 respondents in the UK found more than a tenth of the population admit to being ‘terrible’ with money.

Also concerning is the fact one in 10 admitted they typically spend more than they earn.

And 28 per cent sometimes go over budget.

Additionally, the study also found one in 10 adults over the age of 55 don’t have a penny put away for their future – compared to 38 per cent of 25 to 34 year-olds who are already saving.

Of course there are cases where people experience financial disaster due to no fault of their own. Such people are deserving of compassion and support.

But one of the leaders of the financial group that commissioned the report could not help but point to the self-inflicted nature of the situation. It is not that many of these Britons do not earn money. It is simply that they are unable to control themselves.

They cannot govern their own impulses. And so they spend.

“But our results found people are more prone to splurging money on things they don’t need, rather than saving it and it’s this that has the greatest impact.”

And more than one in 10 admit they often spend their money as soon as they get it.

In the last month, fifteen per cent of respondents have spent money on cigarettes, and 58 per cent have bought chocolate or sweets.

Four in 10 have splashed the cash on a takeaway, with 45 per cent opting for one at least once a month.

Lovers of money are frequently impoverished.

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But self-control is evaporating right across the landscape of human experience, not just in the realm of money. St. Paul taught us that as we approach the last days we should expect to see an explosion in the number of people who are unable to control themselves. We should expect to observe a general loss in the ability of people to restrain their appetites; to discipline their desires; to be governed by the mind and not by transient emotions and lusts.

To an unprecedented degree we see this very problem emerging at a galloping pace in Western culture. Self-control is fast diminishing.

A hundred years ago people would have associated drunkenness and violence with a lack of self-control. But a lack of self-control was much less of an issue in a society that used corporal and capital punishments; had high expectations of personal behaviour; and demanded people take full responsibility for their actions. Nobody thought to excuse their bad behaviour on the grounds of a difficult upbringing, or one’s parents, or society at large. Nobody would have taken it seriously. Moreover, overall there were far fewer opportunities for people to truly lose control of themselves. Western society still had a Christian backbone and regarded personal morality as a public matter.

Yes, there were infamous Victorian brothels or gin joints that offered people some scope for their sinful impulses. Morphine addiction might have been enjoyed by wealthier men – as Sherlock Holmes was famously portrayed as using by Arthur Conan Doyle. A person might be able to be violent in the family home and rule it like a malignant tyrant. But the censure of polite society was heavy. Drunks were reviled. Wife-beaters were held in contempt. And sexual impurity was so scandalous it could ruin career and reputation (not to mention body and mind should one contract a sexually transmitted disease).

All such intemperance was held to be shameful and was denounced by top-hatted leaders as evident evils.

V0041979 The dance of death: the dram shop. Coloured aquatint by T. R

But as society has grown more affluent it has also grown more lax in the policing of morality. Opportunities for people to behave without inhibition continue to expand, just as St. Paul predicted. Sin has intensified because it has gained traction, popularity, and social approval. Sin is also aided by technology. Technology can be a great blessing. Discoveries and inventions of all kinds have been ordained by the grace of God so that the human race can expand and truly “fill the earth”. Unfortunately, in the hands of sinful men and women, technology also provides the means for the promotion of sin.

One realm in which we see this vividly is in modern entertainment.

New forms of entertainment now focus deliberately and calculatedly on tacky, sleazy, and childish aspects of uninhibited conduct. Their much-ballyhooed “stars” are encouraged to be aggressive, dirty mouthed, oddball, and blatantly sexualised. Reality television shows like Love Island even try to give promiscuity a certain glamour. Its contestants consist of scantily clad men and women who are thrown together into intimate situations, with the crackle of sexual expectation constantly underpinning conversations, choices, and behaviour.

Love Island displays camera footage of contestants in bed together. Contrary to all notions of moral purity, unmarried contestants sleep together in the same bed. They are filmed as they engage in intimate caressing and stroking. In recent episode a male contestant was shown running his hands over a female contestant’s buttocks, hips and body as they lay in bed together. A day later, the female contestant who had been fondled told the camera team that she needed time to warm up and therefore “nothing risky happened”. She added that the male contestant she was in bed with “was keen”, as if this were a striking flash of insight.

Unmarried sex is portrayed as normal and exciting across entertainment platforms. In movies, television shows, and video games audiences are seldom shown examples of noble self-restraint and honourable conduct because virtue is not the goal. It certainly is not the goal of reality television. This is because moral conduct is insufferably boring to a society that neither fears God nor cares about their personal accountability before him on the Day of Judgement.

God has promised that his wrath is upon the sexually immoral. Yet this is a trivial matter to most people in the Western world who have been successfully deceived into thinking that there is no God (or if there is, he is a liberal, jovial Santa Claus-type figure who will never punish and never condemn). Most people now believe that we are not created beings. They ascribe human beings some place in the world of animals. This downgrade in human dignity supposedly permits behaviour that even the beasts do not engage in. Most of Western society now thinks there is no absolute moral law that is binding on the human conscience. They laugh at the Final Judgement.

It is hard to believe that it was only a hundred and twenty years ago, in 1896, that the first on-screen kiss was filmed and shown as a Vitascope movie aptly titled The Kiss. This short movie, less than 30 seconds long, simply showed a middle-aged man and woman kissing each other. Despite its tame content by 21st century standards, the film resulted in moral disgust both from the media and from churches. Several years later, another short kissing film was actually censored by theatres.

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A hundred and twenty years later the moral quality of entertainment has plummeted to depths the average person could not ever have imagined in the 1890’s. Film now includes nude sex scenes of all kinds; full frontal nakedness; casual sexualised language; not to mention gratuitous violence in which human beings are bloodily hacked apart for horrific effect; and a fascination with dark spirits, demonic activity, and re-animated corpses.

Yet, it will not end here, of course. The development of 3D virtual reality systems opens new frontiers. Entertainment system builders are scrambling over themselves to combine sex with new technology.

For those who do not know virtual reality technology involves a user wearing a headset that contains high-definition projectors or screens that can simulate an alternative world. The user can interact with the simulation to different degrees as he turns his head, or motions with his hands, or walks around. The technology is designed to simulate an “alternative reality” to an extent that traditional screens cannot.

Phone or television screens show images in a defined frame. The frame is the screen itself. A television screen, for example, usually has a black plastic border around it. A mobile phone screen is edged by the shell of the phone casing. In both cases, the screen has a measurable surface; a beginning and an end. These sorts of screens exist within a real environment. For example, the family television in a living room shares the environment with furnishings, ornaments, windows, floors, and people. With little effort, you can lift your eyes from the moving images on the screen and look at something that is real.

Virtual reality headsets, on the other hand, are meant to be fully immersive. They are designed to block out as much of the real environment as possible and replace it with a simulation that is as realistic as possible. The illusion is heightened by allowing the user to interact with the simulated world; by giving him some degree of control over what he sees. The aim is to create a bubble of fantasy that approximates to real life.

An article published in September 2017 in Asia Times documents the eagerness with which sexual content is now combined with new entertainment products:

“Every time a new technology is introduced into the market, adult content always tends to be the new technology’s earliest and most eager adopters,” Hahn said. “This happened in the past [with technologies] like VHS, DVD and Blu-ray, and is now happening on VR.”

According to Google trending analysis, people search for VR porn far more than for VR games and sports. Currently, around 38% of VR headsets are purchased by people who want to enjoy adult content, while 3% of all VR users pay an average of US$35 for adult content.

By 2025, the VR adult-entertainment business will be worth an estimated $1 billion, third-largest in the VR sector after video games ($1.4 billion) and content related to America’s National Football League ($1.23 billion), Hahn said.

The effort and energy that is now being expended to expand the boundaries of sexual sin is staggering. The full pornography experience includes virtual reality headsets, gadgets that produce scents, and devices that are attached to the genitals. It is a grotesque technological monster that aims to give a person the nearest approximation of sexual activity without actually involving another person:

To create lifelike intimate sexual experiences in the virtual world requires a combination of visual, sensual and intellectual components, which is made possible with gadgets such as VR headsets, scents emitted from the device, and synched vibration of intimate parts.

“To fully gear up for VR sex now requires at least US$10,000. That’s a very expensive [sexual experience],” Hahn said.

Michelle Flynn, director and owner of Lightsouthern Cinema, who has more than 10 years of experience in the adult-entertainment industry, expressed excitement at the new technology.

“VR porn provides more realistic experiences and greater immersion,” Flynn said. “Instead of being a spectator, you become a participant. It is so immersive that when the performer leans into the camera when you are watching, you move your head back too.”

What moral “progress” has been wrought by the entertainment industry since the Vitascope kissing film of 1896!

Another measurable demonstration of St. Paul’s principle is seen in the way people eat.

Food requires self-control. This is necessary both in the selection of food that is eaten and in the actual amount consumed. In the past, people could seldom overeat. They could indulge only at certain points in time which were almost always tied to a communal celebration. Harvest festivals, religious days, or wedding ceremonies would be observed with feasts and banqueting. Sometimes these could continue for many days. Yet, outside of these times, people’s eating was limited by several unavoidable forces that acted as restraints.

The first was the imperative to perform daily manual work which was often time-consuming. The second force was the natural limitations on food production and storage in pre-industrial societies that made economy a necessary virtue for survival. In other words, a person could not regularly overeat because too much of their time was spent in work, and food was rationed so that it lasted for the period between harvests.

In the modern Western world no such limits exist anymore and the result has been an explosion in sloth, obesity, and people who destroy their own health with food. Neither is such a lack of self-restraint isolated only to Western nations. Sin is, after all, universal. And if the West has a cultural backbone of Christian virtue, other historically non-Christian nations have no such heritage and are even less resistant to sin.

Thus, food-related diseases are rapidly appearing in the Third World. There are obesity epidemics occurring in places traditionally associated with hunger, like India. In fact, there is now a 5% morbid obesity rate in India and it is rapidly galloping upward. In a country of nearly a billion people, this translates to fifty million overweight people with millions more growing obese by the year. But South Africa leaves them in the shade. In 2015, around 65% of its population were obese.

It was relatively difficult for most people to be obese a hundred years ago, and because of this historical fact, obesity is often explained away as a government problem, or the effect of technological development, or as a by-product of the industrialisation of labour. Like many human problems, obesity is seldom examined as a moral problem. Seldom is obesity even seen to have a moral dimension – for that would require personal responsibility – even though our eating is unquestionably governed by moral choices.

Television shows like TLC’s My 600 lb Life reveals the morality behind eating. It documents the lives of people who have reached gargantuan proportions. These people never deny themselves food. They consume far more than is necessary. In all cases, they will easily eat in one sitting as much food as a family of six might comfortably share between them. Moreover, as the television series investigates their lives, their personalities come to the forefront. Even under the scrutiny of the cameras, what is often revealed is selfishness, laziness, self-pity, and a habit of bullying and blaming others. One of the ways in which these ugly moral lapses work their way out is through gluttony.

600lb

Some of these people reach the point of immobility before they decide to change. The solution they hit upon is surgery. Of course, the assumption behind weight-loss surgery is an absence of self-control for the rest of a person’s life. Since these people cannot control themselves, an artificial constraint must be placed upon them by literally cutting away their stomach or using gastric bands to squeeze it.

The latest development in the loss of self-control is the emergence of movements that seek to redefine what is healthy. Like other forms of identity politics, the basis for doing this is not empirical science but an ideological fantasy.

The “body positivity” or “size acceptance” movement is now at the forefront of enabling people to delude themselves that they can be “healthy at any size”. This is a movement that quite openly aims to overturn the concept that slender bodies are beautiful, and it particularly attacks the idea that some people are more beautiful than others. “Every human body deserves to be celebrated regardless of size,” they say. Thus, fat people should be able to wear what they like. There should be fashion models of different degrees of obesity. Fat people should “feel comfortable in their own skin”. You can have “beauty at any size”. These are the keystone slogans.

The body positivity movement has very quickly morphed itself into a victim group. This demonstrates something of the psychology of identity politics and the complete intellectual anaemia of Western culture that such a thing could be taken seriously. In a world that still knows starvation, the absurdity of overweight people claiming to be victims, or the risible notion that someone is “brave” for being overweight and wearing a bikini in public, demonstrates how bottomless is the pit of irrationality.

Despite the foolishness of their assertions the body positivity movement has learned the lessons of identity politics very well. It understands how to pull the levers of manipulation and the importance of enlisting the liberal media to their cause. Almost lock, stock and barrel, it has copied its strategy from other successful identity movements. This is why it is experiencing unqualified support in the liberal media. It can also command an army of outrage like other identity groups. One need only consider the fury over Netflix’s new series Insatiable to see this in action.

Body positivity advocates have dressed themselves in the garb of oppression. They claim to have been bullied at school for their weight thus demonstrating the systemic discrimination against fat people, no different from the “hate” experienced by other victim groups. They point to slender models in advertising and claim this is dangerous. It is dangerous, they say, because it teaches young women to starve themselves and hate their own bodies. “This kind of advertising,” they assert without evidence, “is harming young women. It is telling every teenage girl, ‘You are not good enough’.

The body positivity movement has invented terms like “body shaming” or “fat shaming”, which are roughly congruent with terms like “victim shaming”. These terms are so construed as to encompass any criticism of obesity or any negative opinion whatsoever about a person’s appearance. This extends even to common and logical associations such as the relationship between obesity and inactivity.

Activists in this movement, many of whom are obese women, will appear on cameras and insist that obesity is merely the normal state of their particular body. They will often claim that they perform extensive physical activity and eat healthily – as was the case of one advocate who weighed over 300 pounds and visibly struggled to fit into the studio chairs. These claims are flatly biologically impossible. Nobody who eats a mostly vegetarian diet and performs extensive daily physical exercise would possibly be able to approach 140 kilograms. Yet the obvious lie – so clearly contradictory of objective reality – is seldom allowed to be challenged without shrieks of “insensitivity” and “body shaming”.

Other key concepts  in the movement include “structural discrimination”. This relates to the alleged oppression inherent in an environment that is not designed for people of their girth. For example, seats in an aircraft are frequently too small for overweight people. Doorways may be too narrow. Aisles in some stores may not be navigated comfortably by mobility scooters. Rides in amusement parks may exclude people over a weight category. Some surfaces may crack or break when walked upon.

None of this is interpreted as a sign that a person has become so overweight that they have exceeded the spectrum of sizes for which the built environment was designed. Rather it is interpreted as a subtle form of discrimination. Builders, designers, architects, and engineers are constructing the world for the slender and thereby marginalising and excluding the obese. This is presented as being similar to the now infamous “microaggressions” that have become sources of tremendous concern to college students.

The ultimate aim for the body positivity movement to enrol these concepts into the pantheon of public virtue. They want to force the world to accommodate them. Aircraft will need to provide them with broader seats for the same price of an airfare as someone who might be given a smaller seat. Stores should be mobility scooter friendly. All clothing lines should come in gargantuan sizes. And “body shaming” should become so politically incorrect and dangerous that eventually it is regarded as “sackable” evil. Some progress has already been made toward the goal with the banning of the “Are you beach body ready?” advertisements in the London Underground. These advertisements showed a fit woman and were decried as unrealistic and exclusionary.

Taken to its logical extension – and given the ever-expanding waistlines of citizens in the Western world – it will eventually become very difficult for any health advice about obesity to be issued to people.

If there is one thing that definitively marks Western culture in the last few decades – and will continue to mark Western culture into the foreseeable future – it is the development of sophisticated frameworks to deflect personal responsibility for the choices and problems in one’s life upon others.  A smoker, for example, will blame tobacco companies for their cancer. Or the government, because it once allowed tobacconists to advertise their products. The liberal press will try to exculpate the poor for quite literally burning up their precious money on cigarettes. And now a whole movement has come into being that not only celebrates overweight people under the guise of “acceptance”, but actually encourages obesity by trying to suppress inconvenient information or bullying people into silence who would appeal to the verdict of medical science.

St. Paul foresaw this many centuries ago. If he were to visit us in the 21st century, none of this would have surprised him, and it should not surprise us that this sort of delusion will continue to increase. Western society is bound to get sicker, fatter, more economically precarious, more sexualised, more obsessed with pornography, more perverted, and ever more thoroughly riddled with other forms of evil.

St. Paul’s warning to Timothy enables us to make predictions about the direction society is heading. Of course, the Lord can – and frequently has – radically altered the course of history to fulfil his plans. Nothing of the future can be known for certain, other than what God himself has chosen to reveal to us. And, as human creatures, we lack our God’s perfect omniscience and must never fancy ourselves wiser than our Maker. Yet thanks to his word, we are able to see something of the future unfolding before us.

As the days grow darker and immorality and vice more omnipresent, we can find our consolation in the certainty that the Lord’s return is growing closer. God will not allow the darkness to long envelope the world, for he is a God of light and justice. It is an exciting thought that our Lord may descend upon the clouds in the very near future.

The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.(Romans 13:11)

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Our True Theology is Revealed in How We Handle Money

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What shall I do? I shall pull down my barns and build greater. (Luke 12:18)

  1. Our true theology is revealed by our approach to finances
  2. Jesus presents the radical view
  3. Covetousness is the weakness of man
  4. St. Augustine describes the two motives of covetousness

1. There are very few things that reveal our true theology as precisely as our approach to finances. A person may profess to be deeply faithful to Christ. He may radiate piety, smiling humbly and making references to God all the time. Or she may regularly attend church, never absent from the pew. An external performance of Christianity is as old as the faith itself. And yet, our Lord takes pains to teach us that if our theology has not reached the wallet and chequebook – if the way we view finances are no different from the shrewd unbeliever – then our faith is, at best, questionable.

Our relationship to money – and indeed, to goods more broadly – tells us a lot about where we are in our relationship to God and the extent to which we trust God to be our provider. It shows to us the extent to which we are truly content with God. When we are content with godliness, this will manifest in both satisfaction and gratitude for the things we possess in the sure knowledge that all that we have (and no more) has been given to us by the express design of our Father for our own good.

Our attitude toward money is a great revealer of the quality of our conversion. Whether we are fretful about losing our property; worried about the markets; or whether we agonise over the future tells us much about the authenticity and depth of our faith. And, of course, how joyfully we give to others – “for God loves a cheerful giver“. Giving generously is particularly demonstrative of true conversion, for mankind in his dead nature is never tempted to divest himself of his money. He does not struggle with the inborn impulse to hand money over to others.

Quite the opposite. The prevailing sin of mankind is to be covetous, avaricious, greedy and grasping, which is why St. Paul could describe money as the “root of many evils”. On one hand, man ceaselessly wants more than he has. On the other hand, he holds jealously to what he has gained already, like the proverbial dragon guarding his store of gold.

The Lord addresses these impulses in the human heart many times during his ministry. Always, Christ directs us to a new view of life that must become the “new norm” for a true Christian. It is a view of life in which our relationship to things and money is radically altered. Where the bare frame of our human outlook is coloured in with divine realities, eternal priorities, and with a preoccupation with God and his kingdom.

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2. The view of life that Jesus teaches is neither comfortable (for it demands living by faith and not by sight), nor is it congenital to our inborn nature (because it makes eternal, invisible things the priority of life). Moreover, what Jesus teaches is starkly realistic and people have never liked stark realism in any generation. “Life is short and uncertain,” Jesus says, “and you could die tonight. So stop living in the fantasy world that everybody else lives in. Stop worrying about money and goods. Start labouring for the treasure that does not fade or spoil, a treasure in heaven that lasts forever“.  Jesus tells us that a man’s life – his true security and happiness – does not consist in the abundance of what he has.

This point is established by Christ in the Parable of the Rich Fool.

Of all his parables, this represents one of the Lord’s most stinging rebukes during his ministry. It deals directly with man’s natural covetous desires, although it is only part of a much longer discourse on money and worry. Nonetheless, even without the rest of the context, it still clearly reflects Christ’s low tolerance for greediness, and equally clearly sets out the new view of life that Christians are to have. Yet it has often been ignored within the church because its message is unwelcome and difficult, especially as times have become more prosperous and every individual has more to lose.

One theologian observes:

The world, Christian as well as pagan, in each succeeding age, with a remarkable agreement, utterly declines to recognise the great Teacher’s view of life here.

3. Jesus begins by warning his audience to: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of covetousness” (Luke 12:14).

The fact the Lord urges his hearers to be energetically on guard suggests that covetousness is subtle and common. If a Christian is not on his guard, Jesus implies, and does not learn to think with kingdom mindedness, he will surely be overpowered by a view of life that is acid to Christianity. Like the seed that fell among the thorns, he will soon find the gospel choked in his life by the love of riches.

Note that the Lord refers to all kinds of covetousness. Covetousness is not simply the desire for more than we have. It is not even breaking the laws of God and man for the sake of gain like Judas Iscariot, although this is certainly the result of covetousness. Rather, covetousness also includes holding onto that which we already have and the attendant belief that life is not worth living if we lose our possessions, comforts, and little luxuries.

Jesus describes an industrious farmer who gets a bumper harvest. He is giddy with delight, for now he can pull down his barns – actually, enormous underground granaries – and build bigger ones, and retire. He can spend the rest of his life taking his ease, eating and drinking, and having parties.

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It is a significant example of covetousness for our Lord to have chosen.

Jesus often turns our concept of vices on its head, attacks our safe definitions, and drills down to the attitudes beneath them. Note how the rich man in this parable does not provide a typical illustration of what people generally think covetousness looks like.

The rich farmer does not seem like he is desperate for more. Quite the opposite. Here is a man who has finally reached a point where he judges that he “has enough”. Enough for what? Enough for a long retirement in which he can wallow in his wealth, living a life of ceaseless pleasure. It is a testament to the ever-current nature of the gospel that if we fast forward to the 21st century, we discover exactly the same widespread disposition among millions who make it a serious goal of their lives to reach easy retirement, so that they might hit a golf ball around a green or spending hours relaxing in local cafes.

God’s answer to such a disposition: “You fool!“. The fact that God speaks directly in this parable – which is uncommon in Christ’s parables – strongly suggests that this is not merely an illustrative story but a cautionary biography of a real person. A biography enhanced with Christ’s heavenly knowledge.

In any case, God refers to him sternly as a “fool”. A biblical fool is an insensible man who thinks himself clever when he is not. In his stubborn pride he refuses to hear or repent, and thus places himself beyond all correction or redemption. If this farmer was an actual historical person, then he had evidently not listened very obediently to the message of Ecclesiastes in which the preacher describes the very phenomenon Christ illustrates. Ecclesiastes observes that men who labour all their lives and store up wealth frequently do not enjoy their earnings, but die and leave it to others to enjoy.

Why is the man a fool? Because, having finally set everything up for a pleasure-filled existence, his life was going to end that very night. The earthly paradise he longed for would not materialise because the stopwatch of his life’s span had run down to zero. He had held on to things that he could only keep temporarily. And since everything that falls into our hands is ours only for a fraction of time, and since we are eternal souls, wealth and goods can never be the source of our happiness and joy. To live for them is madness.

The parable underscores the serious reality of life which ought to underpin our handling of finances. The reality is this: even if we gained the whole world, the day will soon arrive when our soul will be demanded of us and we must give an account before the Judge of all the earth.

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4. St. Augustine addressed the issue of covetousness in his sermon (Sermon 36) on the text of Matthew 19:21: “Go sell all that you have and give to the poor“. In this sermon, St. Augustine presents the two major motives behind covetousness or avarice. He also goes on to argue that for a Christian – when he is renewed by the Holy Spirit in both mind and soul – the same motives remain, but are now purified and changed in focus and orientation. Instead of drawing the soul downward, those motives are set free to draw him upward.

This concept of corruption is a central feature of St. Augustine’s theology, and it makes a vivid reappearance in the 20th century through C. S. Lewis’ writings, especially the extended application of this principle in his book The Screwtape Letters.

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St. Augustine explains that all human desires are, at their root, desires for God. Whether it be food, sex, drugs, money or music, behind every human yearning is a keenly felt emptiness, as if the soul had fallen into twilight and were vainly seeking to ignite the lamps with sodden paper. Man is a fallen creature, writes St. Augustine, and therefore does not realise his soul’s true need and does not seek for God. His soul cries out for communion with his Holy Creator but wretched man that he is! He tries to slake his thirst for an eternal God by indulging his sensual appetites. He engages in a relentless search for more – more money and more pleasure – as if the sheer volume of an unsatisfactory delight will eventually fill his need. So it is that “man is always restless until he finds his rest in God.

It is a striking theology that C. S. Lewis expands upon. “It is not that our desires are too strong,” writes Lewis, “but that they are too weak.” If we really desired abundant happiness we would seek it in Christ, the “Joy that man has always secretly desired”. Instead, man’s mind is so numbed and blunted by his fallenness that he thinks a bit of money or a new car will satisfy him. Lewis uses the illustrations of children stubbornly making mud pies in a puddle in the backyard because they cannot imagine what it would be like to go for a holiday to the beach.

This twisting of man’s desires and motives is a recurrent feature in St. Augustine’s writings. As in many of his pastoral writings and sermons, St. Augustine personifies virtues and vices. Of covetousness he writes:

What says avarice? “Keep for yourself, keep for your children. If you should be in want, no one will give to you. Live not for the time present only; consult for the future…” Thus avarice did enjoin one thing: “Keep for yourself, consult for the future”. 

Covetousness (or avarice), says St. Augustine, is motivated by the two impulses of keeping for oneself and laying up for the future.

“Keep for yourself,” says avarice. Suppose you are willing to obey her, ask her where you shall keep your gains? Some well-defended place she will show you, a walled chamber, perhaps, or iron chest. Very well, now you apply every precaution. Even so, perhaps some thief in the house will burst open the secret places; and while you are taking precautions for your money, you will be in fear of your life.

Or, it may be while you are keeping your store, he whose mind is set to plunder has it even in his thoughts to kill you. Lastly, even though by various precautions you should defend your treasure and your clothes against thieves; defend them still against the rust and moth. What can you do then? Here is no enemy without to take away your goods, but one within consuming them.

St. Augustine echoes Christ’s teaching here that our goods and money are simply never secure, regardless of our best efforts. Certainly, we can keep try to keep our money and property safe, but there are numerous cases of burglaries that have gone terribly wrong and someone has been left dead. Or banking errors that have seen people’s money leeched away. Or inflation or volatile markets that sees the value of every dollar erode away until it is worthless. Or, our goods become worn and damaged by mould, rust, or other forms of decay.

When covetousness demands that we “keep for ourselves”, it is a fictional demand. For even with our best efforts nothing that we have, from books to furniture to money, can be kept. Everything will pass from our grasp in time, one way or another.

No good counsel then has avarice given. See she has enjoined you to keep, yet has not found any safe place where you may keep.

Let’s consider her next advice, “Consult for the future”. But for what future? Only for a few and uncertain days.

She says, “Consult for the future,” to a man who may not live even until tomorrow. But suppose him to live as long as avarice thinks he will… [suppose] that he grow old and come to his end: when he is bent double with old age and leaning on his stick for support, even then he still hears avarice saying still, “Consult for the future.”

(The number of elderly retirees who have been caught in investment scandals in recent years have skyrocketed. Much of this has come to light in the current banking commission exposing poor industry practices. In some cases, people well advanced in years have taken out loans for properties that they would not live long enough to pay back. Others made more and more exorbitant investments into the millions. It is a technicolored confirmation of St. Augustine’s observation that even old people can continue to live in the delusions of covetousness.)

For what future? When he is even at his last breath she still speaks. She says, “for your children’s sake”. If only we could find that old men who had no children were not avaricious! Yet to even to childless elders, who cannot even excuse their sinful greed by pretending to have family affections, she still ceases not to say, “Consult for the future.”

…so let us look to those who have children. Can they be certain that their children will possess what they shall leave? Let them observe the children of other men. Some lose what they had by the unjust violence of others. Other children lose what they had by their own wickedness, consuming everything they possessed. So it is that the children of rich men can remain poor.

…But a man will say, “My children will possess this.” It is uncertain. I am not saying that this is a false claim, but at best, it is uncertain.

But now suppose that their inheritance of your estate is certain. What do you wish to leave them? What you have gotten for yourself. But everything that you have gotten was not left to you. Yet you have it. If you have been able to get possessions that were not left to you, then they will also be able to get what you have not left to them.

St. Augustine then shows how these motives can be more properly directed in a heavenly direction:

Thus have the counsels of avarice been refuted… Now let righteousness speak. The words will be the same, but they will not have the same the meaning.

“Keep for yourself,” says the Lord, “consult for the future”.

Now ask Him, “Where shall I keep?”

You shall have treasure in heaven, where no thief approaches, nor moth corrupts. Against an enduring future you will be able to keep it! Come, blessed of My Father, receive the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

How many days this kingdom will last for is shown by the end of the passage. After He had said to those on his left hand, “these shall go away into everlasting burning”, to those on his right hand He says, “but the righteous into life eternal.”

This is consulting for the future. A future which has no future beyond it. Those days without an end…  neither preceded by a yesterday nor succeeded by a tomorrow. So then let us consult for this future. The words which avarice spoke to you are not different from this, yet by them is avarice overthrown.

But what am I to do about my children?”

Hear on this point also the counsel of your Lord… I would be bold to speak through His mercy; I would be bold to say something, not of my own imagining, but of His pity.

Keep then for your children, but hear me. Suppose any one should lose one of his children… This is man’s condition. It is not that I wish to see it, but sadly we see cases of it. Some Christian child has been lost. Perhaps you have lost a Christian child.

But you have not indeed lost him. Rather you have sent him before you. For he is not gone away, but only gone before. Ask your own faith: surely you too will go there too? The same place where your child has gone.

Does your son live? Ask your faith… Consider with Whom he is. If any son were serving at the Court and became the Emperor’s friend, and were to say to you, “Sell my portion, which is there, and send it to me; would you find what to answer him?”

Well, your son is now with the Emperor of all emperors, with the King of all kings, with the Lord of all lords…