Scott Higgins
The End of Greed: Consuming as of God, People and the Planet matter
Baptist World Aid Australia, 2015

The End of Greed2


"The book’s premise is that consumerism has become our god, replacing the one true God in our focus and what is central to our lives."

COVID-19 has changed much of how we look at life. Our work, our relationships, our leisure, have all been pulled into sharp focus, prompting us to reassess what’s important and what isn’t.

Many people have found comfort in simplicity. Working from home, having more time, rediscovering pleasures like a jigsaw puzzle with your family, reading a book, preparing a meal. We’ve gone ocean swimming and bushwalking, and gardening has skyrocketed as people have reconnected with God’s creation.

The virus, along with social and political unrest in the US and elsewhere, has held a mirror to the common collective. It has asked us what we truly believe about racism, climate change, and where we sit on the political spectrum; it has asked how much we care about people who live in poverty, who go without, who have little agency in their lives those who, at the risk of reverting to platitudes, live without hope.

In 2015, Rev Scott Higgins, through Baptist World Aid Australia, published The End of Greed. It is a book that refers in its subtitle to "consuming as if God, people and the planet matter", inferring perhaps that we don’t.

The book’s premise is that consumerism has become our god, replacing the one true God in our focus and what is central to our lives.

In one moving chapter, Higgins references author Bob Perks, who wrote about a parting conversation he overheard at an airport between a father and his daughter. The pair knew they were unlikely ever to see each other again and, amidst the usual expressions of love and farewell, they wished each other ‘enough’.

Perks spoke with the father and expressed his curiosity at the comment. The father said this notion had been handed down through recent generations of his family: the wish for the other person to have a life filled with just enough good things to sustain them.

Just enough.

Writing about the ‘economics of enough’, microfinance pioneer David Bassau, AM, essentially asks when is enough, enough? When do we have enough stuff? When does our focus shift from continually wanting more, to recognising that we already have much more than we need? When do we accept that we have enough and start living for others? Higgins writes that ‘Australians define their “needs” in terms of the consumeristic vision of the good life’, that we define ‘need’ in relative and not absolute terms. What is relative is those around us. We measure ourselves by what others have. When those around us have more, we feel less, and try to keep up.

But what of those we don’t see? What of those who aren’t interested in private schools with the best teachers but give thanks because their children can attend a school with a teacher who turns up? What of those who don’t stress over what dinner to have home-delivered but are grateful to have food at all? What of those who aren’t torn between which medical centre or hospital to go to but are content they have access to basic medical care within walking distance.

Far from putting us on a guilt trip or suggesting we sell all our possessions, Higgins asks us to consider ‘sufficiency’, namely, "what level of consumption is adequate to live the kind of life God calls us to?"

Higgins points to this concept of sufficiency in Scripture: God created the Garden for Adam and Eve (Genesis 2); He gave the Israelites manna, providing for them during years in the desert (Exodus 16); and Jesus warns us not to worry about what we will eat, drink or wear (Matthew 6).

But we also see how hard being content with sufficiency can be. Adam and Eve wanted more, the Israelites complained they only ate manna, and the rich young man’s enthusiasm for following Jesus was quashed when Jesus told him to sell all he had and give it to the poor.

These Scriptures remind us that our lives can easily become meaningless when we’re not focussed on God who is the giver of "every good and perfect gift" (James 1). Reading in Ecclesiastes 2: "I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labour. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun."

COVID-19 has shown us what Higgins confirmed six years ago: we can chase after the wind yet experience great joy from simplicity. Both reveal the great inequity between wealthy countries and poorer ones, yet we now have the space to reconsider our responsibility to others, our region and to the world. We have an opportunity to reprogram how we do life in the future. 

Especially if we ask ourselves if we have enough.

Matthew Smeal works as a communication specialist for Baptist World Aid Australia.