We Christians are fond of quoting Matthew 6:24, “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.” Here, Jesus names one master, mammon. Lest we forget, mammon is not the only master humans serve. Binx Bolling, the protagonist in Walker Percy’s 1961 novel The Moviegoer, makes this lover of beauty aware that even beauty can be an unworthy master to serve. If my attention to beauty is not a way of contemplating the beauty of God, then I, too, am an idolater. All gods except the Triune God are whores. Consider his thoughts as he and Kate take the train to Chicago:
Balancing there, her oval face aglow in the dark vestibule, hair combed flat on her head and down into the collar of her suit, she looks like a college girl. She drinks, pressing fingers to her throat. “Lord, how beautiful.”
The train has stopped and our car stands high in the air, squarely above a city street. The nearly full moon swims through streaming ragtags of cloud and sheds a brilliant light on the Capitol dome and the spanking new glass-and-steel office buildings and the empty street with its glittering streetcar track. Not a soul is in sight. Far away, beyond the wings of the Capitol building stretch the dark tree-covered hills and the twinkling lights of the town. By some trick of moonlight the city seems white as snow and never-tenanted; it sleeps away on its hilltop like the holy city of Zion.
Kate shakes her head slowly in the rapt way she got from her stepmother. I try to steer her away from beauty. Beauty is a whore.
“You see that building yonder? That’s Southern Life & Accident. If you had invested a hundred dollars in 1942, you’d now be worth twenty five thousand. Your father bought a good deal of the original stock.” Money is a better god than beauty.
“You don’t know what I mean,” she cries in the same soft rapture.
I know what she means all right. But I know something she doesn’t. Money is a good counterpoise to beauty. Beauty, the quest of beauty alone, is a whoredom. Ten years ago I pursued beauty and gave no thought to money. I listened to the lovely tunes of Mahler and felt a sickness in my very soul. Now I pursue money and on the whole feel better.