21 May 2012

Existential urgency and commercialism

And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness, for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.
And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully:
And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?
And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there shall I bestow all my fruits and my goods.
And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink and be merry.
But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee; then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?
So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.
And he said unto his disciples, Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on.
The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment.
(Luke 12: 15-23)

Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth.
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
(Luke 12: 33-34)

Jesus said:
There was a rich man who had much money. He said: I will use my money that I may sow and reap and plant and fill my storehouses with fruit so that I lack nothing. This was what he thought in his heart. And that night he died. Whoever has ears let him hear.
(Gospel of Thomas, log 63)

Sayings of this kind are usually taken as being against capitalism, or any kind of commercial activity. The alternative is supposed to be social interactions of a kind favoured by the prevailing religion.

Although my intentions were not obviously commercial, being only to take exams (but as many as possible) and to do research, Mother Mary Angela disapproved of them in a similar way, as being insufficiently people-oriented.

My awareness of the insecurity of finiteness, and the fact that one's life could be terminated at any time by various circumstances over which one would have no control, certainly contributed to my sense of urgency and the need I experienced to get on as fast as possible.

Other people might make plans about how I would not take exams before a certain age, get to university before a certain age, do research before a certain age, and so on, but it seemed to me in no way natural to hang about in a dangerous situation.

So in fact Mother Mary Angela and all concerned were really advocating that I should go in for time-wasting social interactions as if time was no object.

The modern ideology, and human psychology generally, seem to be very much geared against living at all purposefully, or with any sense of urgency. To do so is to behave as if anything one did mattered, or was of any importance, so it is taking oneself too seriously, which is much disapproved of.

The Gnostic form of this parable merely points out (without suggesting any alternative course of action) that all one's plans may come to nothing if one happens to die in the night, so it can really be seen as an incitement to urgency, in the way that I thought my plans for taking exams might be aborted by death or other adverse circumstances, so I had better waste no time with getting on with them as fast as possible.

The concept of moth-free treasure does occur in Thomas, but not as an alternative to commercial planning. It is the pearl of great price, which is worth more than anything else; but one might note that it is bought, and that it is a merchant who buys it.
Jesus said:
The Kingdom of the Father is like a man, a merchant, who possessed merchandise and found a pearl. That merchant was prudent. He sold the merchandise, he bought the one pearl for himself.
Do you also seek for the treasure which fails not, which endures, there where no moth comes near to devour and where no worm destroys.
(ibid., log 76)