MANN TALK: Jesus and Diogenes on Enough

by Perry Mann

 Diogenes (412-323 BC) was born in Sinope, a Greek city on the shore of the Black Sea in Pontus, which today is in Turkey. He was a Cynic philosopher who believed:  “A man’s happiness is best promoted by the decrease in his wants, rather than the increase of his income.”

 Jesus was conceived divinely and born in a manger in AD 1 and died AD 33 on a Roman cross. He taught the same philosophy:”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.” And Christ added that an increase in income to the level of wealth creates an insuperable obstacle to entering the Kingdom, the seeking of which should be one’s priority and the attainment of which is Heaven for eternity. 

 How strange these teachers sound in a world preoccupied with meat, wine and finery and all things of the flesh and dedicated to no other goal but the acquisition of wealth in unimaginable amounts and the expenditure and waste of it conspicuously; and how strange and ironic it is for a nation so preoccupied and so dedicated to claim Christ as its Savior and Mentor and to laud the Greeks as the pre-eminent philosophers and advocates of moderation in all things.

 I am reminded of the Jew and the Greek by the review of a book “Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age.” Bill McKibben wrote it and Scott Russell Sanders reviewed it. Sanders’ review reflects the thinking of Christ and Diogenes: “We live in a society whose most vocal and influential figures, from the White House to the talk show studios, from board rooms of global corporations to local chambers of commerce, seem incapable of accepting any limits on consumption, technology, private wealth, or economic growth. Their vocabulary does not include the word ‘enough.’” 

Man acquires happiness, said Diogenes, by reducing wants rather then increasing income, the wherewithal to satisfy wants. Diogenes knew that wants have no end. A want once gotten begets another want ad infinitum. And since earning enough income to satisfy infinite wants is a rat race, a Sisyphean labor, a Herculean task, Diogenes’ advice seems to be common sense. But no where can one find in this nation anyone taking his advice. On the contrary, the race is not to reduce wants but to increase income and consume with a passion, the consequences of which is that the health of the nation’s people and environment is poor and the prospect is that it will get poorer, if not catastrophic.

Christ---who is the inspiration, example and teacher without peer and who is the subject on Sundays of millions of messages in thousands of churches and the Way to Salvation---taught “enough” definitively: “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.”

  Sanders in this paragraph quotes McKibben: “Citing those who fought to keep dams from flooding Yosemite and the Grand Canyon, McKibben observes, ‘They were able to rally people by appealing to the other parts of our nature, the parts that aren’t always striving and questing and grasping. Not the limitless parts, but the limiting parts. The parts that understand beauty and scale, the parts that sympathize with the rest of creation, the parts that can imagine sufficiency.’”

Where are the politicians that dare to appeal to the limiting parts of our nature? Where is just one politician in power who pounds the podium and declares, “Enough?” Is there a preacher in all of Christendom that, before a congregation of capitalists, spends twenty minutes expatiating on Christ’s exhortation that one give no thought about material things but give thought to spiritual things and that one who seeks riches precludes himself from knowledge of and entrance to the Kingdom of God? He knows better; for he knows that he would empty the church and its purse by such impudence.

  McKibben titles his book “Enough” “because our refusal to embrace that word, our refusal to rein in our appetites or powers, is at the root of our predicament.” Capitalism cannot rein itself in lest it commit suicide. Capitalism has an insatiable need for natural resources, cheap labor and markets. It must produce more and more and sell more and more, profit more and more always, even though the consequences are a people spiritually maimed and an environment pillaged and plundered.

All politicians voice the mantra ad nauseam: “Jobs, Jobs, and more Jobs.” More Jobs mean progress, they preach.  But “progress” means more mountaintops removed, more forests logged, more seas fished empty, more pollution, more endangered species, and doom if no one says enough.

Diogenes and Christ taught moderation long ago. McKibben teaches it now. But they are voices in a wilderness. Capitalism is expediency sanctified. It acknowledges no future or cares about tomorrow. Enough is its antithesis and sufficiency its bane.


* * *  Perry Mann is a former teacher, a lawyer, a former prosecuting attorney of Summers County and a columnist for Huntington News Network. He lives in Hinton, WV. He was born in Charleston, WV in 1921.
Comments powered by Disqus