A New Reading from The Acts of Simon Magus
It is Simon’s fate to be forever linked to the corrupting influence of money in spiritual affairs, as the only person to have a major sin named after him (Onan doesn’t count). But as with Onan, the sin associated with Simon is not the one he actually committed. Simony, the selling of time off from Purgatory for the not-entirely damned, was one of the major causes of the revulsion with the Church that led to the Reformation. But Simon in the Bible wasn’t selling salvation, he was trying to buy it, and the representatives of the nascent Church weren’t selling. (Future readings from The Acts will reveal his true motives in that affair.) Meanwhile, here’s how Simon learned about the other Great Power from his Ba, Adonis the Messager.
Once when I was about six, Ba announced that he would reveal the greatest mystery of all. He reached for my ear and produced from it a small shiny disc, which he handed me.
"Look at this. Tell me what you see."
"It’s yellow metal. There’s a man’s face in profile on one side and a wreath of leaves on the other."
"Who is the man?"
"I don’t know. Is that his name? There’s some writing, like Greek, but not really. ANSNZT…?"
"It’s Roman writing, and that’s Caesar Augustus, thy God & Master. And what thou holdest there is called money. It has a mighty power. With it, thou canst make men do anything thou wist."
Now you should understand that where we lived, this thing called money was just not used. We grew what we needed, and what we couldn’t grow, we traded for. /sm
I turned my money around in my hand. How did it work? I aimed it at Soch, willing him to stand on his head, but to no avail. Ba laughed.
"Not that kind of power. But offer anyone enough of these, and he’ll be thy willing slave forever. He will grovel before thee, kiss thy boots, offer up his wife or his own arse for the fucking, all for the power given by this magical stuff!"
I looked again at my money. It seemed scarcely credible.
"It is pretty," I said, "but why would you want more than one?"
"It is true," he replied, "that it has no value in itself. Thou canst not eat it, or use it for any practical task, but Caesar has decreed that everything: food, beasts, work, time, love–all these may be got or given in trade for a certain number of these bits of metal. The more thou hast, the more power thou hast over others. And this may be accomplished in two ways: thou mayst buy their services outright, and this may be effective for so long as thou continuest to pay them, and there are no competing bidders.
"But listen o my sons, here is the true secret of money! Once thou hast some to spare, simply persuade a man (or his wife!) that he needs more of the things it can buy than he has or can afford, and offer him enough of these to get them. Only have him vow to repay at a future time a little more than you lent him, and thou shalt surely find at the end of the day that he is thine!
"Hear me o my sons! Greed is a muscle: the more thou workest it, the greater it grows. One who’s never known more than he needs will never desire more. Only let him taste something new, and he will want more, and then more, and gladly work harder and harder yet to get it. But when his own labour is not enough, as it cannot ever be above a certain point, he must turn again to the lender to fulfill his new desire. And of course from this point he can never repay, only borrow anew to keep on top of his old debts and new purchases, and thus he and his kin become flies in thy web forever.
"Doubt not, o my sons, that the true rulers of this world are not the emperors or the kings, but the lender who finances them! Yet he desires not power, nor glory, nor honour, nor any of those things princes hold dear. All he craves is more of these, more than he can possibly ever spend, and to get them he must enslave all mankind!"
My mind was swimming with new words: "money", "lend", "debt", "finance"; but I got the idea, and added lender to my growing list of potential future careers. Soch, however, was skeptical.
"And what," he enquired, "prevents those rulers from simply giving the lenders the chop once they have what they want of them, and become pressed to repay?"
"Nothing," admitted Ba, "and of course it happens. But when next they require more than their taxers and armies can provide, they’ll have a hard time raising funds."