Sunday, April 10, 2005

Of Cupidity and cupiditas

It's probably the places I hang out, but getting hounded about not being "Christian" because I don't lead the charge to put a cork in the mouth of James Dobson or Jerry Falwell or Randall Terry (and I choose that link only as this morning's example) gets tiresome. But it also led me to a reflection on my chilhood.

The major problem of James Dobson or Randall Terry, is that they have literally put their money where their mouth is. This is supposed to be the highest and best good in America; but the road to hell is paved not just with good intentions, but also with definitions of the "highest and best good." Their money is there, but that leaves no trace for any kind of Christianity. "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your mind, and all your soul, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself." Jesus calls these the great commandments, on which hang all the law and the prophets. No room for money, there; or at least, not for the love of money.

"The love of money," the letter writer says in 1 Timothy 6:10, "is the root of all evil." I grew up on that verse, and the older I get, the more wisdom I see in it. Its wisdom was quite limited when I was young. Good, well-educated, well meaning people, with absolutely no background in biblical exegesis or hermeneutics or even koine Greek (including my own father), assured me that the original said "cupiditas," and the "cupiditas" was to be distinguished from "agape" and "philos." There were, they assured me, types of love: agape was the "pure" love one had for God; "philos" the love one had for a brother; and of course, eros, of which no one wanted to speak to teenage boys and girls. Cupiditas was, compared to these, a minor love, one that could easily go astray, like young love that becomes foolish obsession. So what 1 Timothy condemned was not the love of money, but the excessive love of money.

There were only two problems with this explanation: (1) cupiditas is Latin, not Greek; it comes from the Latin translation of the Greek New Testamnt; (2) the original Greek word is "philarguria." You can see the root "philo-" in it, the same root as in "philosophy," the lover of "sofia," or wisdom. Philaguria, then, means love of money. Covetousness. Greed.

Perhaps that is the "excessive love" of money. But the fineness of the distinction is an attempt, perhaps even an honest one, to let love of money stand side by side with love of God. And yet, as the commandment makes clear, there is no room for that.

No room for love of position, either, or doctrine, or creed. No room for anything in the commandments Jesus praised above all others, except for love of God, and love of neighbor. Even when your neighbor is Randall Terry, or James Dobson.

Which makes it hard for me to condemn them. Because I am also reminded that it reflects the beam in my eye.

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