“When men choose not to believe in God, they do not
thereafter believe in nothing, they then become
capable of believing in anything.”
~ G.K. Chesterton
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Faith in God has nothing to do with religion. We crave certainty, it’s in our nature. And when we lose faith, because we cease to believe in something certain, then the world becomes for us a shopping mall stocked with pale substitutes.
People can be convinced of just about anything because, absent the certainty that a firm spiritual foundation provides, they become susceptible to the con men of this world. For instance, New York born investment rock star Bernie Madoff managed to keep every one of his clients deluded for decades.
Wiki reports: “The Madoff investment scandal defrauded thousands of investors of billions of dollars. Madoff said he began the Ponzi scheme in the early 1990s. However, federal investigators believe the fraud began as early as the mid-1980s and may have begun as far back as the 1970s. Those charged with recovering the missing money believe the investment operation may never have been legitimate. The amount missing from client accounts, including fabricated gains, was almost $65 billion.” 1
Mr. Madoff is in prison now, sentenced to 150 years, the maximum allowable for his type of criminal activity. His real crime? He was an individual. If he had been operating out of a large bank, he’d likely still be sipping martinis in his pent house apartment. Case in point, HSBC (Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corporation) has 85,000 employees in 7,500 offices in 80 countries. “HSBC is paying a total of $101.5 million to end a criminal case in the United States in which the bank stood accused of using currency trades to swindle its own customers out of tens of millions of dollars.” 2
This is just the latest scandal for the bank, which is featured in one chapter of the Netflix documentary Dirty Money. That program exposes how HSBC laundered billions of dollars in drug money. They were indicted and found guilty. They admitted their crime, on paper and in extreme detail. And, they were fined. No one went to jail, even though their fraudulent activities made Bernie Madoff look like a shop lifter.
As one of the congressional investigators noted during the film, any individual found guilty of possessing even a small amount of a controlled substance will go to jail. They can’t buy themselves out of it. Big banks can and do. Fines are just the cost of doing (dirty) business.
The greed for obscene amounts of money acts like a virus. Once infected, a person succumbs to an insatiable desire for more, just like any addict substituting the effect of something – money, drugs, sex, etc. – for the natural experience of joy in life.
Addicts who succeed in conquering their addictions and reclaiming their lives always need help. Some brave and rare souls do recover on their own but most need support. And, they need to go cold turkey, as the saying goes, that is, quit absolutely and totally and never take another sip, snort, etc.
This highlights the purpose of the “sangha,” the spiritual community that serves to support members in remaining true to what is referred to in the Bible as our “first love.” Our first love is God, not a religious concept but the reality of God, of which we are a part. The sangha – whether it’s in India or Indiana – is comprised of individuals who have made that commitment and hold each other accountable to remain steadfast in their faith.
Someone once told a friend of mine that the problem with abstinence was that how you felt when you woke up was the best you’d feel all day. In other words, they believed that without alcohol things would invariably go downhill. Obviously, this person had lost their connection with spirit because, as those on the path well know, a day can and often does swell with enjoyment as we deepen our practice through meditation and mindfulness, in work and play and rest and even while resolving conflicts.
We may pity those who are lost in delusional addictions – even if they have millions of dollars – but the sobering lesson for us is to keep our own commitment fresh. We might recall that when you love someone, you yearn to be with them. When we love our God, however we conceive Him, Her, or It to be, then we likewise long to be with them and will seize every opportunity that presents itself to deepen our relationship, to enjoy that unique intimacy with spirit which renders every temptation powerless to bewitch us. Ironically, this gives us the best chance to enjoy everything, without changing our priority.