The Only Thing That Matters
The Leaven Community, Part 2
"But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? Bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her." — Luke 10:40-42
"But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." — Matthew 6:33
In the first article about the Leaven Community (see Sound Sense or Utopian Nonsense?) I lacked room to describe more fully what I find disastrous in modern industrial society (“modernity”, for short). This month I want to describe for you a disease that flourishes in that society, one of the “disasters” I want to escape.
To begin with, no fruit is worse than really good fruit gone rotten. The perversion of virtue is worse than mere vice. In modern America what draws in most men so tightly, and ravages them the worst, is a perversion of the Protestant work ethic. I call it “The Only Thing That Matters.”
A CASE IN POINT
Recently I was talking to a good friend who was obviously downcast. What’s the matter, I asked?
Something I’ve never told anyone before, he answered. It happened to me once before, but I escaped it. Now I can feel myself falling into it again.
THE DISEASE PROGRESSES
Work becomes The Only Thing That Matters in your world, he continued. Every interest, every relationship, every thought, and the use of every minute are subjected to The Only Thing That Matters. It becomes so important that it justifies literally any aberrant behavior: neglecting your wife and children, adultery, drunkenness, cocaine addiction, even using heroin. The shining light of TOTTM can rationalize and beautify any of these. None of them count, as long as you can continue to serve The Only Thing That Matters.
You fall into a state where work is literally the only thing in your life. It is the only thing you serve, or want to serve. In deepest truth, it is the only thing you care about, although you’d deny that outwardly. And you’re good at it. So good in fact, that you realize that you can do it better strung out on cocaine than other people can do it stone cold sober. When you hear that statement come from yourself, the arrogance of it waves a gigantic red flag that something has gone far, far astray, but you are travelling too fast to stop. Besides, it’s The Only Thing That Matters.
I escaped it once, he added. I was in the catbird seat when I sold my company. I had plenty of time to think, to pray, to read Scripture—no problem then peace and righteousness. Now, travelling all the time, I can feel it again, The Only Thing That Matters taking over.
Inwardly I was terrified because I recognized instantly what he was describing. I’ve lived through the same thing—different details, different aberrations, but same essence. (And yes, I’m telling this as a man, but do not from that viewpoint conclude that women are immune. Not even housewives are immune, they just work out TOTTM in a different way as Supermoms. Same game, different field.)
CURES STRONG AND MILD
What’s the cure? my friend asked.
In order to break free in the short term, I said, you have to outrage The Only Thing That Matters periodically—even if that only means taking off a whole day to go fishing. You have to break off contact with that world and to witness, before your own eyes, that everything does not depend on you.
To break the hold of TOTTM over the long term is another challenge. Cures might range from informing your boss that you just quit working overtime to refusing to answer the telephone before nine or after five. If TOTTM’s hold has gripped you unto death, you might need to quit altogether and move out into the country. The strength of the cure depends on the severity of the disease.
The Only Thing That Matters disease is spawned by the Bottom Line mentality, the false notion that the only thing that counts is how much profit you end up with (another variant of “the end justifies the means”). This in turn springs from the worship of Mammon, the American national religion. Not coincidentally, it’s also the natural religion of modernism with all its materialistic presuppositions.
THE RADICAL TREATMENT
Is the only solution giving up everything and moving out of the city? Not necessarily. Besides, moving out into the country won’t do any good if you just pack up your illness and take it with you. That only changes the location of your lunatic asylum. You have to carry with you a resolve to change the way you live. To my mind, a change of scenery that also carries a change of lifestyle speed and intensity offers indispensable aid to those fleeing TOTTM. Just like a recovering alcoholic, you have to stop hanging out with drunks in bars. As much as possible, you have to remove yourself from temptation and surround yourself with a different community.
Once you realize that TOTTM has taken hold, the immediacy of the cure assumes paramount importance. Otherwise, you’ll never escape it. Your soul, your entire self, is at peril, because day by day it keeps whispering in your ear, “Just one more day, just one more commission, just one more score, and then I’ll leave.”
Truth is, the last day will only come the day you die.
I, for one, am no longer willing to wait that long.
Originally published February 2001