Two Masters Bad

Jesus, like Milo, is right about everything. Okay, so Milo has made some mistakes. Okay, a few pretty big ones. But not Jesus. Jesus is right about everything. Especially what it means to serve a master.

Whom do you serve?
"No one can serve two masters," he told his disciples. "For either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon."

Mammon, of course, is a fancy Aramaic word for "money or riches," so we usually take this passage to mean: "You have to choose between serving God or making money." Which is true, but banal. Of course holy people aren't in it for the money; they have higher, more spiritual things on their mind than filthy lucre.

Which would seem to let the rest of us off the hook, as it were. As long as we aren't, I don't know, billionaire real-estate developers, we aren't really serving mammon, right? We want just enough money to live comfortably, we want everyone else to have enough money to live comfortably, but as long as we aren't in it for the money, we're safe.

Yeah, right. Don't kid yourself, you're serving the money.

Okay, maybe you don't think of it as the money. Maybe you say: "I need this job to be able to take care of my family." Or you say: "I don't care about the money, but I do need this status to be able to do the work that I want to do." Or you say: "I worked hard for this position, I deserve other people's respect." Or you say: "It isn't about me, it is about serving social justice."

To coin a phrase, spineless cunts! (Jesus would say, "Hypocrites!" Milo is blunter.) You are still serving the money as long as you are not serving God.

I have, of course, been thinking about this passage a lot, ever since we read it two Sundays ago in RCIA class. "What does it mean to serve mammon?," our discussion leader asked. We came up with a long list of things. You might serve status or ambition or security or fear, particularly fear of losing your livelihood.

Which, again, don't necessarily seem to be bad things. Surely God doesn't want us to starve?

Ah. Do you remember what Jesus said next? "Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?"

Colleagues and friends, former students and readers of my blog have been writing to me in the hundreds these past two weeks. (For which, don't get me wrong, I am more grateful than words can express. As Milo has told his followers, you've kept me sane. But you guys and dolls are strong, I know you can take some tough love.) Their letters have certain themes.

"Thank you," they say, "for saying what I have been wanting to say about the crisis in our culture, but have been too afraid to express." "Thank you," they say, "for standing up for Milo, I have been praying for him, I don't know how he has the courage to do what he does." "Thank you," they say, "I wish I could say the things that you and Milo are saying but I am afraid that I would lose my job and/or all my friends."

This is what it means to serve mammon. It is serving the fear.

How do you know when you are serving the fear? You lie. You lie to yourself about what really matters to you. You lie to others about what you believe. You lie so as to protect yourself from what others might think about you if you spoke what you believe. You lie because it feels easier than speaking up.

Which, let me tell you, in a way it is. It is much easier to sit in the department meeting as your colleagues are talking about changing the requirements for your degree program and not say anything when you realize that they are all in agreement and you disagree. It is much easier to nod and smile when they start talking about theories of gender or politics or religion and not say anything when you realize they are all in agreement and you disagree. It is much easier to nod and smile when they make jokes about President Trump or Christians and not say anything when you realize they are all in agreement and you disagree.

But, as Jordan Peterson has so eloquently put it, it really isn't. "You don't get to choose not to pay a price" if you decide not to speak. Speaking or not speaking, there is a price. And the price of not speaking is death.

"You get to choose which poison you are going to take. That's it. If you are going to stand up for something, stand up for your truth.... And you don't get to wait." Particularly if, like me, you are a professor already. In Professor Peterson's words:
If you're a professor already, you're like the most protected person in the history of the planet...  It is almost impossible to provide people with enough protection so that they feel safe to speak.... It is not safe to speak. It never will be.... 
But the thing you have to keep in mind is that it is even less safe not to speak! It's a balance of risks. Do you want to pay the price for being who you are and stating your mode of being in the world, or do you want to pay the price for being a bloody serf? One that has enslaved him or herself? 
Well, that's a major price...that thing unfolds over decades, and you'll just be a miserable worm at the end of about twenty years of that. No self-respect. No power. No ability to voice your opinions. Nothing left but resentment because everyone's against you. Because of course you never stood up for yourself....
[Speaking the truth is] the price you want to pay if you believe truth is the cornerstone of society.... If you're willing to take that leap, then tell the truth and see what happens. Nothing better could possibly happen to you... There will be push back...but it doesn't matter. The truth is what redeems the world from hell. And that's the truth.... Wake up, tell the truth! Tell the truth! Or at least don't lie.
The Devil, as we all know, is the Father of Lies. It is the Devil who tells us not to speak for fear of losing our jobs or our colleagues' respect. It is the Devil who tempts us with power over others if we tell his lies and not God's truth. It is the Devil who offers us ease and riches and powerful friends if only we keep our mouths shut.

But, as Professor Peterson says, as high as the price may be for speaking the truth, the price for not speaking is higher.

What price would you pay to enter into God's kingdom? Milo knows, it's why he wears all those pearls. As the Master put it, in one of his many parables to his disciples: "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it."

There will never be a safe time to speak. Not when you have tenure (as I do), not when you are a full professor (as I still hope to become, but it will depend on what my colleagues say about my new book). Not when you have been established as a leader in your field for decades. If you speak, and you speak the truth, they will come for you.

They will tell lies about you that even your closest friends will believe. They will tell you how disappointed they are that you have spoken up. They will write letters to your administrators to try to censor you. They will predict that you will lose all your students, or at least many of them. They will tell you about how everyone is talking about what you said. They will threaten you with the greatest weapon at their disposal: shame. And they will hold out the promise of the Devil's temptations if only you will shut up.

You cannot serve both God and mammon. As Jesus told the Devil when the Devil tempted him with all the kingdoms in the world if only Jesus would fall down and worship him: "Begone, Satan! for it is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.'"

It is a great temptation to serve the Devil and to go along with the lies. The Devil promises us ease: "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." The Devil promises us followers: "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down [from the pinnacle of the temple]; for it is written, 'He will give his angels charge of you.'" The Devil promises us power.

But the Devil lies. It is Jesus who tells us the truth: "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?"

We who live in America live in the freest country ever in the history of human civilization. As citizens and even as visitors, we have the right enshrined in the founding document of our country to speak without fear that the government will seek to censor us. And yet, as a society, we are busy attempting to censor ourselves for fear that others will find what we say offensive. How much more offensive will it be, if in fearing to speak for the sake of mammon, we lose not just our Lives, Fortune, and our sacred Honor, but the world?

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