Greed vs. Self Interest: Does the Difference Matter?

Day 4
Session 12
5:05 PM

What is the difference between self-interest and greed? Adam Smith contended that self-interest moves the economic engine that has lifted billions of people out of poverty since the Industrial Revolution. At the same time, the Church has recognized for millennia that greed is one of the seven deadly sins that leads to eternal damnation. Though self-interest is good and greed is bad, distinguishing between the two can be a challenge in practice. When a businessman negotiates the price of a part from a supplier, the legitimate desire to strike the best possible deal always leans toward a temptation to greed. A homemaker at the market naturally wants the lowest price to stretch a dollar in inflationary times but may wonder at what point the lowest price might be unfair to the seller. For generations Christians have agreed that greed is a deadly sin, yet the church has struggled throughout its history to precisely define the sin of greed under changing economic circumstances. Many define greed as excessive self-interest. Richard Neuhauser aptly exposes the shortcoming of such definitions: “If avarice was the desire for more material wealth, the question still remains where ‘more’ began.” This presentation will present a biblically defined crossover point with respect to both acquisitiveness and possessiveness and also provide a practical distinction between self-interest and greed.

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