Sunday, November 22, 2009
The Christmas Crisis
Because Christmas has become so central to the American economy and American consumption is so central to global capitalism, this festival of ‘Holy Days’ has become a central expression and embodiment of American imperial domination, an imperial religion. Americans consume the vast majority of world resources and Christmas provides not only a dramatic spike in the retailing that dominates the US economy, but a powerful motivation to the whole enterprise of consumption of goods quite apart from human needs. Besides the dehumanization and impoverishment of other peoples, employed at minimal wages in the manufacture of unneeded consumer goods, the huge American drain on the world’s resources has ominous implications for ecological sustainability.
Richard Horsley, Religion and Empire (2003)
Can you hear the corporate engines revving? At the end of the week, the Christmas season will officially be upon us.
Horsley's work has connected the vital strands of American imperialism, consumer capitalism and acculturated Christianity (what Cornel West would call 'Constantinian Christianity') into a false sense of spirituality. This conspiracy reframes 'salvation' by equating it with the acquisition of goods and services through the profit-driven agenda of corporations:
Working mainly through images and associations, advertising invests commodities with power to relieve anxieties, gratify fantasies, carry meanings, express feelings, and confer moral and spiritual value.
This kind of spirituality energizes what Ched Myers calls today's 'four horsemen of the Apocalyse' [Revelation 6:28]: empire, militarism, economic exploitation and environmental revolt. The American system, with its (mostly) unknowing participants (both consumers and producers) leads to the dominance of many other citizens of our planet: including ourselves. Indeed, our spiritual malnutrition leads to the destruction of our planet and the dehumanization of workers here and abroad.
We participate in an American narrative that justifies materialism under the guise of 'stimulus.' We spend so that the economy can expand and grow jobs. Adding insult to injury, it is virtually impossible to live with a subversive consciousness without being socially stigmatized. Alternative Christmas = Bah-Humbug! This is how empire works. We are so inundated with de-humanizing and destructive practices that to even think 'outside the box' leads us to an abrasive vocation.
However, the work of imagining prophetic Christmas practices constitutes the very essence of what it means to actually celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior (saving us from needless goods and services that give us false identities). Here are some ideas to stimulate a wider dialogue and deeper prophetic praxis. Tis the season!
1. Participate in a Black Friday protest(the day after Thanksgiving): buy nothing!
2. Recycle gifts! Don't be afraid to be that guy (or girl)...
3. Buy your gifts from a thrift store (got this one from my sister-in-law).
4. Support our brothers and sisters who farm in the Third World. Buy fair trade to ensure a living wage and substantial benefits.
5. Support our environment. Buy local to decrease shipping effects.
6. Adopt a family in need and play Santa.
7. Shop at Ten Thousand Villages.
8. Use the Better World Shopping Guide to support corporations who care.
9. Write personalized poetry (or prose) for your loved ones.
10. In honor of a loved one, buy a farm animal for a Third World village.
11. Boycott the Holidays and buy nothing at all.
Whatever you do, don't get bogged down with trying to be the perfect subversive shopper. Doing one thing differently this season is better than giving into the whole damn conspiracy. These 11 spiritual-political action steps constitute what the late James McClendon called 'powerful practices.' These are creative, tangible ways for Christian communities (and individuals) to engage with the powers that organize and govern our world (economically, politically, socially, etc). Institutions, organizations, systems, corporations, political parties, special interest groups and, yes, even churches are powers that organize us but, due to the human condition exponentially rebelling and deforming in community, are fallen and deceive us. They become pseudo-gods that ultimately demand our allegiance--they give us identity.
For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority.
He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.
God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.
Jesus won the battle on the cross by exposing their selfish, manipulative agendas as a farce. Jewish religious and Roman political leadership [the rulers and authorities!] were the coalition that had to do something about the Jewish carpenter-prophet who formed his own alliance against their power-craving platform. When we participate in these, we embody the kingdom of God inaugurated in Jesus. How else will the world know what God's tender mercy, loving kindness, abundance and liberation look like in this specific economy uniquely shaped by the ideology of consumer capitalism?