Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Caves, Malls & Holidays

by Frank Scott

The consumption frenzy that is the annual celebration of market religion once began after Thanksgiving , but as economic problems grow the season of overspending starts even before Halloween. During this time when many seek spiritual joy through shopping but often find material sorrow through debt, we really should consider what it is we celebrate, and why.

Long before humanity invented religion or calendars , our ancestors huddled in caves during the darkest cold, discovering in the process that we needed one another to survive. The winter solstice brought our primitive communist forebears together to cope with fears, but also strengthened faith that the darkness would ultimately lift, that light would return and bring a rebirth of nature . And this was always the case, thereby setting a tradition for the celebration of future light , and the warm security provided by the community of kinfolk and tribes .

In the 21st century another darkness is descending, not as a result of nature but by our systemic attack on nature. Continuous war and threats of environmental and economic breakdown present us with more crises than we’ve ever had to face, not simply as families or nations, but as a race . And while we slowly learn that despite geographic and cultural differences, we are one human family, those differences are manipulated by rulers and used to keep us in mental darkness that threatens our future survival.

So as we enter the season of further increasing already unpayable debt, we should consider this natural impulse to come together at special times , and its perversion into a mass marketing orgy that covers evidence of a society going mad under a cloak of senseless individual consumption.

During our earliest days life was a struggle for all , and not just some. But as we evolved we found that clinging together was the best way to survive, as when the coldest, darkest nights offered no other security. That impulse is still with us, though it seems hard to find in our present divisive reality of competitive and warring national organizations that corrupt individual instincts by perverting the social nature of their origins.

While much of the religious impulse is toward material good for the whole human community , dualistic racial supremacists control the dominating biblical faith, and threaten to do the same with Islam . Their fanatic absolutism denies our commonality by separating us into individual cults. It rationalizes violence as protecting some of us from the rest of us, in support of governments which wage war for political economic systems. But when we gather in places of worship it is usually to create communities, not destroy them. The contradiction between our spiritual dreams and our material reality must finally be confronted. It can no longer be considered balanced while preaching charity and togetherness for a season, and accepting brutality and alienation the rest of the year.

The holidays are never joyous for the billions living in abject poverty, nor those invaded, occupied and made refugees by a warped moral code that glorifies waste and celebrates pain. When we have reached a material level which could assure decent comfort to all humanity, what allows this situation to prevail? The reason is not supernatural or mythological; it is political and economic and needs to be changed by the democratic human family which has been manipulated into being dysfunctional for far too long .

Wouldn’t it be nice to celebrate a holiday season not only with those at our dinner table or religious service, but by extension with all those unable to physically join us where we huddle in greater material comfort than our ancestors could ever dream? We don’t want to return to the material status of those ancestors, and it could happen if we don’t gain control over our environment . But we might advance as a race, both spiritually and materially, by relearning their solidarity in times of stress and need.

Political systems use religion to keep people focused on an immaterial future and oblivious to the material present , but the best religious motivation brings people together for the betterment of all, here and now. While politics is creating radical change in much of Latin America, it does so balanced with strong religious belief . In the same way, religion has provoked political movements in the Middle East to improve people’s material life and to fight against their oppression. These movements are portrayed as menacing by ruling forces that would maintain a system of commercially immoral despotism and call it enlightened moral democracy.

It is no longer weather or seasons which oppress humanity, but political systems of domination, and even when climate change seems most dangerous it is often due to the political damage of uncontrolled economics.

Our ancestors clung together hoping for a rebirth of nature, which always came. We live in a time when the death of nature is threatened, not by mysterious means but by very earthly forces which need to be overcome. We could try to exercise the spirit of the season in the communal way in which it was born, and revive its past social impulse as a means of working for present social change .

Rather than throw our money into the cash nexus that is a major part of our problem, if we shop for presents this season we might at least consider buying them from organizations working for another world, of peace and social justice. We would further its possibilities by helping to create a celebration of humanity, and not simply an economic bottom line that could cause our civilization to bottom out. Let’s spend, if we must, with acts of thoughtful hope for the future, and however we choose to label them , have happier holidays in the process.

Copyright (c) 2007 by Frank Scott. All rights reserved.

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frank scott
email: frankscott@comcast.net

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