Jesus against capitalism, contra Freeman Dyson
[Freeman Dyson, well-known quantum physicist]
(From his acceptance speech on May 16, 2000, of the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, valued at 600,000 pounds sterling, or about $948,000.)
The reading from the gospel of St. Matthew told of the angry Jesus driving the merchants and money-changers out of the temple, knocking and spilling their coins on the floor. Jesus was not opposed to capitalism and the profit motive, so long as economic activities were carried on outside the temple. In the parable of the talents, he praises the servant who used his master's money to make a profitable investment, and condemns the servant who was too timid to invest. But he draws a clear line at the temple door. Inside the temple, the ground belongs to God and profit-making must stop.
Here is the passage that Dyson refers to (in KJV):
For the kingdom of heaven is as a man traveling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.
And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightaway took his journey.
Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents.
And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two.
But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord's money.
After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.
And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.
His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of the lord.
He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.
His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of the lord.
Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou has not sown, and gathering where thou has not strawed:
And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.
His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed: Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchanges, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.
Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.
And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Please consider the above passage in the context of the following passage, which is the very heart of the Sermon on the Mount:
Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:
But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
This makes abundantly clear that God and *mammon*, which translates very well as *capital* or *capitalism*, are diametrical and irreconcilable opposites, like good and evil or God and Devil. And yet, Christ uses *as an analogy* the notion that one should lay up one's treasures in heaven *rather* than on earth, in the form of literal money. This same logic must, therefore, apply to the other passages as well.
So, Dyson's obvious error is in taking the parable literally. A parable is a similitude or comparison, an analogy between certain terms used and certain terms intended. In the passage of Dyson, the "lord" obviously refers to God and his "money" refers to what God has given to his servants. He has not literally given them money, anymore than He is literally a man possessing altogether 8 talents. What God gives to his servants is His Light, His Energy, His Love, and His Power in the form of inspiration and guidance and, in the later stages, the Substance of His spontaneous Creation.
The parable is a command to take what God has given you and invest it in the market place of consensus reality. In that way you test its reality and discover its true value. If, on the other hand, you are ashamed of what God has given you, then you will hide or bury it. To be proud of the things of this world (such as money in the literal sense) and ashamed of the things of God is *precisely* the pitiful and contemptible behavior that is warned against and condemned in this parable!
If one doubts that Dyson's passage is about God rather than some mundane "lord", consider the following very similar passage where that point becomes crystal clear:
Hear another parable: There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country:
And when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, that them might receive the fruits of it.
And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another.
And again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they did unto them likewise.
But last of all he sent unto them his son saying, They will reverence my son. But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance.
And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him.
When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen?
They said unto him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyards unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons.
Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes?
Therefore I say unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.
And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.
And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them.
But when they sought to lay hands on him, they feared the multitude, because they took him for a prophet.
Here it is obvious (and widely acknowledged) that the "servants" are the prophets and the "son" is Jesus Himself. The "lord of the vineyard" is therefore the Father of Jesus, and Jesus here prophesies that the Father Himself will come and miserably destroy those men who will not give God the due in all that they do. Those who do what they do to make money are those who act selfishly and will not give God the due. Those who do all that they do for the sake of God are those who give God the due. From each according to their ability, to each according to their need. That can be inferred as the dictum of God. And yet, those who claim to serve all but reject God are liars, for God is in all as the highest potential of all, and that potential cannot be realized without God.
The following passage presents the hippy philosophy that emerged in the late 60's as the so-called counterculture, which was indeed inspired by the return to earth of Jesus as Sananda (the Son of Brahma, the Creator) in 1961:
Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?
Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin.
And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?
Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
(For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
The following passage also appears on the same website (http://www.edge.org) under the heading "What Now" (after 9/11). The intensity of Dyson's emotional response is shocking, but combined with his above quoted essay, one can only conclude that Dyson is a prime example of what is known as infantile leftism. His incredibly strong emotional response and his incredibly weak critical analysis are equally inappropriate, IMHO.
[Freeman Dyson, on 9.25.01]
Here are some thoughts about the disaster and our reactions to it. They don't answer your question, but perhaps it may be helpful to look at these events in a wider context.
The day after the disaster, I had lunch with an Austrian friend. He talked about the events of July 1914 after the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo. Many people in the Austrian government, including the Emperor, felt that this act of terrorism should be handled diplomatically. But the newspapers were screaming for war against Serbia, using the same rhetoric that we hear today. The Serbian government is sheltering the terrorists and must be punished. The world must know that the Austro Hungarian Empire is a great power and capable of defending its interests. Since we can't make war on the terrorists, we must make war on Serbia for helping the terrorists. This barrage of patriotic frenzy in the newspapers continued for four weeks, and finally pushed the government to take the disastrous steps that led to the outbreak of World War One at the end of July. In many ways, our present state of mind is uncomfortably similar to July 1914 in Vienna.
The events of September 11 brought to mind another vivid and uncomfortable memory. I am sixteen years old, lying in bed at my home in London on a noisy night in September 1940. I am violently hostile to the British Empire and everything it stands for. I hate London, the citadel of oppression, with its grandiose buildings sucking the wealth from every corner of the world. I lie in bed listening to the bombs exploding and the buildings crumbling. What joy to hear, after each explosion, the delicious sound of buildings falling down, the great British Empire audibly crumbling. The joy far outweighs any fear that my own home might be hit, or any pity for the people in the falling buildings. How many sixteen-year-olds all over the world are now seeing on television the pictures of the World Trade Center buildings collapsing, and feeling the same joy that I felt in 1940. I find it easy to imagine the state of mind of the young men who so resolutely smashed those planes into the buildings. Almost, I could have been one of them myself.
The only wisdom that I can extract from these memories is that the problem of terrorism is not a military problem. It is a problem of people's hearts and minds. Attempts to solve it by military means will only make it worse. I don't pretend to know how to solve it. A good way to start would be for our country to stop telling the rest of the world how to behave. We must learn to live with the world as it is, not as we want it to be. We must treat our enemies with respect, so that we do not appear to be trampling on their cultures and traditions. The ultimate goal must always be, not to destroy our enemies but to convert them into friends. And meanwhile, do whatever we can to defend ourselves without killing more thousands of innocent victims.