The Call, Column 61 – Bah Humbug!

15 01 2017

(December 18, 2016)

The Urban Farmer

Bah Humbug!

            “I say, ‘Bah Humbug’ to these things! We don’t need these things to feel the holidays. We feel the holidays – the holy days – by focusing on the Kingdom of God, here and now!”

These words were part of a particularly fiery sermon, given by my Pastor, Lynn McCracken (of Arnold Mills United Methodist) a couple of weeks ago. Pastor Lynn was holding up a catalog that advertised Black Friday sales, rejecting its claim that the feeling and enjoyment of the Christmas season is dependent on buying the goods it was advertising.

I think you all know how I feel about consumerism. There are some goods that we need to survive, of course, and others that truly add meaning to our lives – I’m not talking about those things. I’m talking about the widgets and devices and cheap plastic stuff. I’m talking about the stuff that we have all, myself included, been convinced to buy by insidious marketing campaigns, designed to make us feel unfulfilled with our lives and then appeal to that feeling of insecurity.

I dislike consumerism. I dislike it, in no small part, because the very idea is based on cold economic models which define us not as individuals, with hopes and dreams and creativity and ingenuity, but as easy-to-manipulate consumers, lowly cogs in an industrial machine. The economic system built on the foundation of consumerism values our lives only insofar as they fit into a tight mold: repeatedly perform a highly-specialized task, buy as much as that situation will allow, have offspring that will continue to do the same, and die as soon as possible, after being unable to complete steps one through three.

I cannot respect – no, I cannot even accept as valid or unavoidable or somehow desirable – any economic system that produces this ugly mess; that reduces each of us to a dollar-figure and tally-mark, and doesn’t have much better to say about the natural world; that distracts us from the true purpose and nature and importance of life on this magnificent ball of rock. My Pastor was right-on in her condemnation of this, and her call to focus on the Kingdom of God. I’ve been thinking a lot about her ideas on this topic, and my own, and I want to bring it a bit further.

At the risk of sounding cliché, I have had some quotes from Charles Dickens’, “A Christmas Carol” bouncing around my head in relation to this column, at least as long as Pastor Lynn has been weaving references to the book into her sermons.

When first confronted by the ghost of Jacob Marley, Scrooge is astonished by the fate that has befallen his long-dead business partner, praising him as “always a good man of business”. Marley’s Ghost responds with the book’s seminal quote: “‘Business!…Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!’”

This, I think, is our first clue into what is truly meant by “the Kingdom of God”, “the Tao”, and so many similar references made by our religious texts. It is this idea that collaboration between human beings, of using our gifts towards the betterment of all and not just ourselves, should be the underlying driving force of human society.

This flies directly in the face of the western economic system as it is made to exist today. It is based on competition, on the idea that life on Earth – for human beings and every other creature – is a competitive struggle for limited resources; and that individual success is defined by control over the greatest amount of these resources, and societal success by achieving the highest rate of growth in their exploitation. We will discuss the disastrous environmental implications later on, but this mindset and the system that it brings about are DIRECTLY responsible for the poverty, inequality, and suffering, the ills of the world that Scrooge was so content to overlook from the safety of his Counting House.

In the Gospel of Mark (9:35), Jesus summarizes the Kingdom of God, explaining that “‘Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.’” This is no short order. To meaningfully celebrate the Christmas season, to focus on the Kingdom of God now and at all times during the year, we have to live our lives toward the betterment of all of humanity. Consumerism and competitive economics are incompatible with this goal.

I think this is a good place to leave off for now. In the next column, we’ll expand more on this idea of the true meaning of the Kingdom of God, and how it pertains to the human economy and the environment in which we live.

For right now, I’ll leave you with one last bit of wisdom. This season is one of the best opportunities we get every year to put our beliefs into practice, to spread the cheer and goodwill that exists in all our hearts, to our fellow human beings. It is the time of year, in yet again the words of Charles Dickens, “when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys”. With that in mind, may you all have a Merry Christmas, and a joyous Holiday Season!

My column appears every other Sunday in The Woonsocket Call (also in areas where The Pawtucket Times is available). The above article is the property of The Woonsocket Call and The Pawtucket Times, and is reprinted here with permission from these publications. These are excellent newspapers, covering important local news topics with voices out of our own communities, and skillfully addressing statewide and national news. Click these links to subscribe to The Woonsocket Call or to The Pawtucket Times. To subscribe to the online editions, click here for The Call and here for The Times. They can also be found on Twitter, @WoonsocketCall and @Pawtuckettimes.

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