The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience.
So begins the present pope’s welcome encyclical.
It has been a constant theme of mine that turbocapitalism, a capitalism run amok, one which has been overwhelmed by manipulation, advertising and the power of money, one which does not allow markets to work has almost permanently crippled the evangelical life.
It is for this reason we hold to the wisdom of the gospels. The world of 2000 years ago was certainly radically different than ours but the human heart and the power of wealth have not changed. One of six of Jesus’s words as written in the synoptics (the first 3 gospels) are warning against what wealth will do to you.
Luke probably phrases it the best.
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” 16:13
Many prescient commentators, religious and secular, have pointed out the corrosion of values under this turbocapitalism. It simply breaks our solidarity with the poor, deflects our moral passion and we end up in Augustine’s words curvatus in se (bent in on ourselves)
It is an object of wonderment to me how those who most espouse the free market are blind to the depredations of consumer religion. Those in advanced capitalist countries who embrace Christianity and adore the market do not seem to understand that the Friedmanite principles they so vigorously champion in the end serve the purpose of “deregulating” the faith they say they love. In a commodified world where the advertising budgets advance seven times as fast the economy, the great hallowing out is occurring. Everything can be exchanged and consumed-even religion.
In the US the amount corporations spent marketing to children under twelve increased by five times between 1980 and 1990 and ten times more during the 1990s. In 2004 around $15 billion was being spent marketing to children. Conferences on the best ways to market to children are held all over the world. There are also awards for the best advertisements and marketing campaigns with hundreds of entries.The consumer virus is injected early and deep.
The economic juggernaut of the post war years (“The last man standing”) witnessed an explosion of consumption. 6% of the world consumes 30% of its resources. This stunning material advance however had its dark side. It turned a biblical faith into a “bland common civil religion.” With little prophetic power to analyze its own weakness or arrogance, the United States ground zero of consumerism gradually emerged as an empire with a dis-graced culture, subverting foreign governments while ignoring the poor at home. Dogs had better diets than one quarter of the world’s poor. While critical education floundered, the majority were pacified by mass entertainment. Organized religion of all stripes followed the people to a suburban captivity where the tribal flag had pride of place on the altar.
Catholics were not immune here. Post war abundance saw Catholics leave their immigrant status and join the economically privileged. Our votes mirrored our location in the economic steeplechase. US Catholics ended up voting for Reagan, the president who continuously robbed the poor and advanced the rich for whom he was a great spokesperson. Almost half the Catholic populace voted for another defender of wealth and privilege,George W Bush. And so it has gone.
The pope is on the right track here.Neoliberal RCs are about to pounce.