Monday, November 28, 2005

The koan of the talents
I get an FAQ as I have been doing interviews about The Gospel According to Oprah: Does Oprah encourage consuermism/materialism? Yes, I am somewhat troubled by the excess aspect of things that Oprah does. In answering that, I am put in mind of the Christian parable of the talents, which I took somewhat literally when I was first taught it when I was little. (I thought somebody could sing and dance and so forth..) The stewards are given different amounts of talents. Those who have put their talents to use are put in charge of more things. The fearful servant who does nothing with his talent is punished. The master says in the parable, "For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away." (Matt 25:29)

In this parable, I am really sure Jesus is not telling us to become investment bankers or that the poor are lazy. What I take from this puzzling story is a lesson about right use of resources leading to recognition of abundance. I think Oprah's "abundance" ethic -- give because there is more than enough to go around -- is very unorthodox as a basis for giving. But more and more I see that she is doing things on her own terms, which means commanding resources and then distributing them according to her reckoning of "deserving."

I often think of it like this: If people were asked, would you rather be Gandhi or Oprah, what do you think the response would be? Myself, I'd probably say Oprah and feel very guilty. But I know Oprah does a lot of good, and that I know experimentally.