Charlie's Blog: Envy

10.09.2014

Envy


Years from now, when I'm successful and happy, ...and he's in prison... I hope I'm not too mature to gloat.
BILL WATTERSON

When Cain stuck it to Abel, I have pondered one question. Was Cain happy when the murder was done? For some reason, I think he was as miserable or more after the act than he was before. The reason Cain murdered his brother is obvious. He was consumed with envy. God found favor with the fruit of Abel's labor while he did not find favor with Cain's. We don't know why God favored one over the other. Some have said that Abel offered a blood sacrifice while Cain did not. I don't know. What I do know is that Cain did not look at his own sacrifice and tend to his own affairs in the matter. Instead, he took his brother and made a sacrifice of him. He doubled down on his error and committed a worst crime. This is the way sin goes. It compounds like usury. Envy is usually the precursor to the other deadly sins of pride, wrath, lust, and the rest.

What causes envy? At its most basic level, envy comes from looking over the fence at your neighbor. One of the things people have noticed about the social network known as Facebook is that it seems to provoke envy. Facebook envy is a real phenomenon because people put their lives on display which invites people to make comparisons with their own lives. This is where envy begins. It starts with that comparison. Most people are quite happy with their lives when they are ignorant of other people's lives. I think most envy could be cured by simply minding your own business. A good place to start would be unplugging from Facebook.


The simple facts of life are that some people are better off than you and some are worse off than you. The envious person is always surprised to discover that others envy them. This is because the envious are miserable and cannot see the good things in their lives. That others would see good things in their lives is disorienting. This is because the nature of envy is to always make you feel deprived even when you have something. Gore Vidal put it best when he said, "It is not enough merely to win; others must lose." Envy can only be happy when all others are miserable. Since God is good to everyone, envy is always miserable and will always be miserable. It always wants and desires the suffering and misery of others. Envy believes that it deserves the good while everyone else deserves the bad. But Carrie Fisher was apt when she said, "Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die." Envy never attains what it desires.

It is not wrong to desire the good things other people have. For instance, I desire the wisdom of Solomon. But it is one thing to wish for wisdom and another thing to wish that Solomon was an idiot. Envy thinks only in terms of the zero sum game where every other person's good fortune automatically makes bad fortune for someone else. Conversely, envy gloats at the misfortunes of others and wills those misfortunes. Envy will make claims to "justice." Somehow or another, the envious person is more deserving than the other person. God owes the envious person more than the others. But God does not deal with us on the basis of what we deserve. What we deserve is Hell. What God does give is mercy. He lets His sun shine on good and evil. He pays the last worker the same as the first worker. God is generous. Envy hates generosity.

If minding one's own business is an antidote to envy, another antidote is to look at ourselves and realize what we truly deserve. I know that I am a sinner and undeserving of any good thing God has given me. You would think this realization would make me feel bad, but it makes me feel better. It makes me grateful for what He gives me. I am a blessed person. The person who has been forgiven much loves much. This doesn't mean you should go out and be the worst sinner you can be so you can experience more forgiveness. It simply means being more self-aware of your own sins.

Another antidote to envy is to know a good thing from a bad thing. People confuse happiness with good feelings instead of good being. When I think about this, I imagine a lavish banquet attended by aristocratic snobs enjoying their status and their pleasures while denigrating their lowly servants. The envious person imagines these people as happy, but the virtuous person sees them as the most miserable of wretches. This is because these people lack good things. They lack the virtues. They lack self-awareness. They lack God.


People can't see the misery of these outwardly happy people. They only see people living the "good life." But the good life is not a good life. You merely have to put the difference between the fortunate and the unfortunate in starker terms to see what I am getting at.


I love Nazi propaganda posters because it offers this starkness. Germans living under the Third Reich will make some claim to victimhood as if they lived under the oppression of a power mad dictator, but this is revisionist history. The reality is that they loved Hitler and enjoyed life under his rule. They had the good life except there was nothing good in this good life. They were pleasantly deluded so they opt for an alternative delusion than deal with their consciences. To see their delusion is to remedy envy because you see how pathetic they are in their ignorance. While reading The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, I was blown away at how the man felt sorry for his slave masters. He actually pitied the men who owned him and beat him. Those evil men were debased in their lack of humanity. Douglass saw this because he was able to see with the eyes of God.

There is no worse calamity than to lose one's soul. We should never envy the good fortune of the wicked because it is no more than the gluttony of a cow headed to a slaughterhouse. When you see this, you start to hate good fortune because of its delusional effects. You also start to see the good in adversity because it produces self-awareness and an appreciation for reality. You have to ask yourself a question. Is it better to be good and poor? Or, is it better to be rich and evil? I remember when I asked a friend of mine if he would rather be rich or happy. I laughed when he said, "That's easy. I'd rather be rich."

When you see a virtuous person, there is a sort of envy there as well in the sense that you desire the same things they have. The difference is that you can admire the good in others while trying to cultivate it in yourself. This is why reading about saints and martyrs makes us want to be like them. We celebrate these good men and women, and we venerate them. That is the heart of charity. It always seeks the good both for others and for ourselves. Envy hates the good in others. It gloats in their misfortunes and calumniates the good at every turn. Envy believes that making others appear bad will make it look good. But envy only makes itself look worse and more pathetic. This is the sign of contradiction. Every story of every saint has this sign of contradiction. Great virtue always provokes great hatred. Slander is the homage that envy pays to the good.

The only truly good things in life are the virtues which are the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Here is a list of these virtues in case you have forgotten them or don't know them:

Fortitude
Temperance
Prudence
Justice
Faith
Hope
Love

God wants us to have all of these good things and deprives no one of these good things. If we seek these virtues and avail ourselves of the means of grace, they will be ours. God said to Cain in Genesis 4:6, "Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up?" God did not deprive Cain of happiness or the means to attain happiness. Being happy only requires repentance and the return to doing right. But Cain chose murder instead of repentance. It is a ridiculous notion to think that killing someone else will improve yourself. But we do exactly this when we gossip and slander others. We seek to murder them. We seek their injury and their harm. We want to take pleasure in their suffering and misfortune.

Envy is ultimately a hatred of God. It is ingratitude for all that God has given us. It is saying to God, "This is all you have to give me?!" It is seeing the flaw in the mouth of the gift horse. This would be the Israelites who ungrateful for their liberation from slavery complained to God incessantly in the desert. Ungrateful to the end, an entire generation died and was buried in that desert including Moses himself. The lesson from this is that by being ungrateful for what we have now is to forfeit the good things still to come. God is generous to His children, but He never spoils them. He would rather see us deprived and grateful than blessed and ungrateful.

The last part about envy is that it is cured when we wish for the good of others. The opposite of envy is charity. A good way to cultivate charity is to pray for others and do corporal works of mercy. And this should not be done as a way of bargaining with God. God can never be indebted to you. You should be charitable in the same way that an apple tree grows apples. God's nature is infinitely self-giving. God gives and loves not because of some need in Himself but as a consequence of His benevolent nature. We should be the same way. We do not improve ourselves when we destroy others. We improve ourselves when we help others.

I look into my own soul, and I ask myself if I am envious of others. Envy is low on my list of faults but mainly because wrath takes the top spot. My lack of envy springs more from my indifference to others than from charity. You have to care about what people have in order to envy them, and I am mostly apathetic. But I know that I should genuinely want the good of all others. I want everyone to be happy. I want everyone to be a saint. I want everyone to go to Heaven. A big step in that direction is to rid ourselves of envy and to put on the garments of charity. You can be envious, or you can be happy. But you can't be both.