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The Lunatics Are In My Head

Friday, January 28th, 2011

Fellow Passengers: This week’s Pastoral Passage* (1 Timothy 6:6-19) transorts me to London’s Rainbow Theatre, February 17, 1972, when a group of press reporters assembled to hear the first rendition of some of the most iconic songs in rock history. Pink Floyd debuted  Dark Side of the Moon: A Piece for Assorted Lunatics that night, to near universal praise and acclaim. The concept album was, among many other things, a way for the group to process the downwardly spiraling mental health of former member Syd Barrett, one of the groups founders and the one to coin its name. Among the lunacies covered in the album is our culture’s insane relationship with money, heard in the seventh song of the set list that night. I can just see the reporters awkwardly trying to tap their toes to Money, which as far as I know is the only rock and roll song that keeps would-be dancers off-beat by switching back and forth between 7/8 time and 4/4 time. Another interesting component is the song’s (incorrect) reference to one of the Bible’s most famous maxims: money, so they say, is the root of all evil today.

I grew up learning the standard Protestant-work-ethic-capitalist-Christianity interpretation of this verse. Time and time again I heard preachers and teachers correct the mistake made by Pink Floyd and many others – money is not the root of all evil, it’s the love of money. The teaching was always in the context of justifying the pursuit of money, as long as we didn’t cross the line and love it as it accumulated. This was an interpretive dance as awkward as trying to tango to 7/8 time. We rarely looked at the whole chapter to see the weight of Paul’s warning to young Timothy. It was enough for our preachers to assure us that money was not evil in itself and to secure the place of the profit motive within Christian ethics. But now, when I do look at the whole of Paul’s advice, the absolute lunacy of the profit motive is as clear as can be: Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. Timothy’s mentor goes on to warn him that coveting money, which is to say, being motivated by the desire for money, which is to say, the profit motive, will pierce you through with many sorrows. So what’s the young mentee to do if he really wants to become a man of God? Run away! Flee these things, Paul said. Instead of pursuing wealth, follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. And remember Paul’s qualification for godliness at the beginning of the advice – godliness with contentment; that is great gain. That is profit. Paul adds a specific word of advice to those people who are born with the Midas touch, who can’t avoid getting rich if they try. Let go of it, he says, and distribute the wealth.

In this mammon-mad world we live in, I’m fairly certain that following Paul’s advice to flee the trappings of money and find contentment outside its system will place you on the lunatic fringe. For the profit motive is more than an economic theory; capitalism is the dominant world religion of our times and there is enormous pressure from every corner to adhere to the creed. Acquisition of stuff is what offers meaning and purpose to people’s lives across the political spectrum – practitioners of the faith include liberals and conservatives, union members and corporate executives alike. The arguments are all about how to get there and the role of government in getting us there. But “there” is a given – a better life. What this religion doesn’t provide is contentment, no matter how many good things it brings to life. In fact, contentment would undermine the very foundation of capitalism, if people suddenly quit desiring more stuff. All this leads me to another “loony” connection in our culture. I can’t write about Pink Floyd and Money without referencing The Dark Side of Oz, which is the experience of listening to the Dark Side of the Moon while watching a muted Wizard of Oz. As synchronicity would have it, Money starts playing just as the movie turns technicolor with a discontented Dorothy finding herself in the land of Oz, and the song finishes with her walking that yellow brick road. I don’t know if Paul or Timothy would fully appreciate the symbolism there, but I think they would resonate with the movie’s final scene and the lesson Dorothy learned from her crazy experience (as heard in the original soundtrack, not Pink Floyd). If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with! Is that right?


*Daily Passages are the weekday reflections of Stan Dotson, connecting culture to biblical texts. As always, your feedback and comments are welcome. Feel free to share where the passages take you in your journey of faith.

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Comments

  • January 28, 2011 at 5:14 pm

    Stan
    Capitalism is a social system based on the recognition of individual rights, including property rights, in which all property is privately owned. Under capitalism the state is separated from economics (production and trade), just like the state is separated from religion. Capitalism is the system of of laissez faire. It is the system of political freedom……

    What alternative do you support?
    Bill

    Comment by Bill Dotson

  • January 28, 2011 at 5:32 pm

    Hey Bill, thanks for reading and responding. The definition of capitalism you’ve posted is somewhat limited. There are actually many forms of capitalism – small scale penny capitalism, crony capitalism, mixed economy capitalism, and corporate capitalism, to name a few. The latter, corporate capitalism, has fairly well taken over the world.Given a choice of all these, I would certainly opt for smaller scale, regional versions like penny capitalism, because corporate capitalism certainly doesn’t foster human rights. But my post was about something deeper, it was a question of motivation. And I think Paul, Timothy, and Jesus give us principles which would lead to motivations better suited to traditional societies, be they hunter-gatherer or agrarian based. It only works on a small scale, and there are small scale Christian communities that organize themselves around economies based on a different motivation. But in today’s post, I was just dealing with the text as written, and it certainly, to my (admittedly loony) mind, calls the profit motive of capitalism into serious question. How do you square the profit motive with Paul’s words?

    Comment by Stan

  • January 28, 2011 at 7:52 pm

    I don’t know if I can square profit motives. Paul was speaking that love of or greed for money was a root of all problems and I agree with that. I don’t think he was against making money.. how can we feed the poor, give to the needy without making money.The world needs oil for energy..how could we get it out of the ground if company’s with funds didn’t go search and did wells to extract oil from earth. Church’s give to support missions and feed poor..if we didn’t make more money than required to take care of our own family how would the churches be able to do that? People today are looking to the government to support them in there retirement years with SS benifits, food stamps..ect Who pays for that?
    Christ even said If a man doesn’t work he should not eat..thats harsh..I dont think he was speaking of the truley poor,,but perhaps the lazy.. Should a man be allowed to save for the retirement years so he wont have to depend
    on the gov. We should do all we can to help others less fortunate but to do that we must have money.. just some thoughts

    Comment by Bill Dotson

  • January 29, 2011 at 3:47 pm

    Seems like Jesus taught that our security is in the community of the Spirit, not in individual initiative. And believed that the earth is the Lord’s and there is no such thing as private property. That the outflow of generosity always invites the inflow of abundance never for our sake or possession but always for more sharing. Money is, it seems to me, a level of abstraction that hides real wealth and we have come to worship the abstraction as if it said something about our own worth. We have come to believe that money is true power and we are not able to serve effectively without it. “Silver and gold I have none,” said that extremely rich Peter.

    Comment by Dick Myers

  • December 4, 2011 at 9:50 pm

    Bill confuses capitalism with free market. Capitalism is just the process of applying capital savings to the production process.

    Save seed from a foraged fruit and invest it into fertile ground. That is capitalism.

    It can be a state function or an individual one.

    Jesus taught the talents should be invested wisely and not hoarded in a secret unproductive place.

    Comment by Randy Cox The Penny Capitalist


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