The god of Materialism

Our Country, and perhaps before long every corner of our world, is in the midst of a financial crisis that some experts believe is worse that that of the Great Depression.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, with whom I often disagree, has rightly said that much of this crisis stems from the fact that our financial system isn’t real. Wealth – enormous wealth – has been made by the buying and selling of pieces of paper called stock certificates. The prices of stock are determined by the sellers’ and buyers’ “confidence” in those pieces of paper. The problem is that there isn’t anything tangible behind those pieces of paper. There aren’t any goods or services, merely the notion that I own something. If you ask me what I own, all I can show you is a piece of paper – and I can buy 500 sheets of blank paper for less that five dollars.

Perhaps one of the most interesting things in all of this crisis to date is that the price of gasoline has actually dropped more than a dollar a gallon. I’m certainly not complaining about paying less for gas, but if gas is coming down as everything else is going up due to fear and superstition I take it as a pretty good indication that we have been getting gouged by the oil companies in this country for a long time – and I believe it is time for real governmental regulation of not only the oil companies but much of our economy. In America the rich get richer while the poor get poorer. We are now reaping the harvest of that corrupt system.

As Christians, we are called to love God and love our neighbor. For all the nonsense we hear from the religious right about this being a “Christian nation” we as a nation are consumed with acquiring wealth – very often at the expense of others. How is that love?

Jesus spoke of acquiring wealth for ourselves in heaven – not on earth, because earthly wealth perishes. We are certainly seeing the wisdom of that teaching! While we all need enough to eat, clothes to wear and a roof over our heads, if you asked the average American how much is enough I suspect their list would go way beyond food, clothing, and shelter. We have bought into the extremely erroneous god of capitalism that teaches us the lie that the road to happiness is paved with belongings and senseless acquisition.

How much is enough? We probably live better without the stress of wondering where our next meal comes from, but we now see in a very real way the stress of wealth.

On the other hand, if you aren’t heavily invested, this isn’t hurting you so much yet. If you didn’t have half a million dollars in the stock market, you didn’t just lose two hundred thousand dollars. That isn’t to say that the impact of a slowed down economy won’t hurt people who aren’t heavily involved in Wall Street, because it will. I am saying that it is more than a little ironic that those who tend to hide behind a wall of denial about the existence of the poor are the ones who have been most heavily impacted by this crisis – and their fear is that they will become those very people they deny exist – the poor.

In fact those who learn to live with less have more time to spend with their families. Those who learn to live with less have better relationships with their children, fewer stress related illnesses, and avoid the roller coaster ride that so many who took a bigger mortgage than they could ever realistically afford are on right now.

It’s time to take another look at St. Francis.

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