The Evil of Covetousness


I’m studying the Analects of Confucius. Let me say: Wow. Just Wow. You have to experience this for yourself.

It’s a very, very difficult read. You can probably only process one or two sentences every ten minutes. And then you feel like you’re missing so many important things.

One of the themes that Confucius hits on again and again is the idea of spirit vs. matter. For instance, what does it mean when someone obeys the law, but isn’t virtuous in their hearts? Is that worth anything, or is it worthless? Confucius says it is worthless.

One of the things that stood out like a sore thumb is his comparison of three things.

  1. What good is a rich man who doesn’t share his wealth with the poor?
  2. What good is a ceremony where the participants aren’t reverent?
  3. What good is mourning if you aren’t sad?

The evil of covetousness goes way beyond just wanting something that someone else has. At the center of it, in this light, is pure evil. To deny the wealthy the chance to share their wealth out of the purest of motives — love of those not like them, not wealthy — is to turn all that is good in this world into pure evil.

If you want to take away from the rich simply because he doesn’t share his wealth the way you want him too, you are like a person who steals from a sacred ceremony the reverence, or a person who takes away sadness during mourning. If the rich were to share their wealth but not be motivated by love, it is like going to a funeral where no one cares about the deceased. It would be lifeless, void, and meaningless.

At the core of Confucianism is an inward journey where you reflect upon reflection until you are able to see things as they are. Once you can penetrate past all the lies and deception, then you can start to accumulate true knowledge, and with knowledge, you can begin exercising your free will and your heart can begin to feel. When you have a compassionate heart, then you become virtuous, and that virtue brings order to your family. (What family can function if there is not sincere love between husband, wife, and children?) If you can manage your family, you can lead an entire nation.

Thus, the journey towards fulfillment and virtue begins with seeing things as they really are, looking behind the scenes and under the rocks and at the things normally hidden from view.

In this context, materialism, the idea that the only thing that exists are physical things in the physical universe, melts away and becomes little more than window dressing. No, behind everything is either nothing or meaning, meaning that exists beyond the thing itself.

What good is filial piety, Confucius asks, if you don’t love your parents and you don’t allow them to mold you into a man of virtue? After all, parent don’t scold their children because they are bad, but because they fear they may become bad. My wife, who grew up in Korea, says, “Wear a coat not because it’s cold, but because I think it’s cold, and I worry more about you than you do for yourself.” If you can learn that lesson, you can begin to see why the universe is the way it is.

By the way, it is trivial to link Confucianism with Christianity. Confucius wasn’t Buddhist. He believed in the ancient religion of China, which I believe is pretty much the same thing as the religion we find in the Bible. And just like the Jews, people in Confucius time wondered where obedience was enough, or how forgiveness and kindness should factor into our inability to achieve perfection.

It’s very good reading. I’ll try to share more as I can uncover it. And as I said, I feel like I am just scratching the surface.

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