The Root of All Evil

With another U.S. election looming, even though this is an “off-year” contest incomparable with what is to come in 2020, it might be time to bring up an ancient proverb and a contemporary court case. I’ve written about elections in this space before, space typically dedicated to issues of faith. Again, I’m sure to hear from critics who will tell me to, “Either stay in your lane or keep your damn mouth shut.”

But have you seen the lanes lately? They must have been drawn by a drunken traffic cop on his last day on the job. And while it might be easy to compartmentalize some things, public life and private faith are not so easily separated. This doesn’t mean I am for the union of church and state. Never. As I have also written in the past (and repeat forcefully here), Christendom has committed most of its atrocities while clutching for power, and this continued quest is the church’s most heinous sin. 

Officially aligning a congregation with any political party – left, right, or populist – only perpetuates this transgression. Therefore, this column is not a zealous, partisan diatribe lauding the accomplishments of one side, while deliriously deriding the other. No, it is about an ancient proverb and a contemporary court case. It is about selfishness, the evils of the love of money, and the corrosive damage of greed. 

Over the last several decades, more money has poured into politician’s pockets than ever. In 2016, for example, candidates running for national office spent almost $7 billion in their electoral efforts. PACs, Super-PACs, 501s, 527s, “hard” money, “soft” money, “dark” money: We have a whole new vocabulary built on a landmark court case from 1976 (and others that followed), that make it possible for well-funded politicians to all but buy an office.

What does this modern phenomena have to do with an ancient proverb? Everything, for the old proverb reads: “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” That sounds preachy, “biblical;” and while it is a proverb employed by the Apostle Paul in the New Testament, it was not original with him.

The first known form of this proverb came from a Greek philosopher five centuries before Paul. The philosopher, Phocylides, said, “The love of money is the mother of all evils,” reflecting a maxim common in Greek wisdom. Seneca, another Greek who was a Stoic philosopher at the time of Paul, similarly said, “Every evil of the mind springs from the desire for what does not belong to us.”

The point is this: Greed always corrupts, always pollutes, and always contaminates. You cannot sow gazillions of dollars into a system already infected with dishonesty, arrogance, and rage, without reaping a whirlwind in return. This isn’t contemporary politics or old-fashioned moralizing. It is the wisdom of the ages. The “love of money is the root of all evil,” and we would be wise to remember that at home, and at the polls.

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