Tuesday, November 25, 2014

When Decemberisation Crucifies Christmas

I was appalled to hear on the news that Australians are expected to spend $30 billion for Christmas this year (in 2013 it was $18 billion). For a country of just over 23 million people, $30 billion is a lot of money. And a lot of money that could be more usefully directed to support people and projects in our global village. It would be staggering to calculate the spending for Christmas around the world. I am mindful of sisters and brothers in our diaconal community around the world, and especially those living in countries where life is a struggle.

David Mitchell
notes, 'Christmas extravagance only continues with our collective consent'. Brian Konkol writes: 'To call this all an unintended consequence of Jesus’ birth may be one of the greatest understatements in all of Christian history'.

The focus in the parable from Matthew 25 about the sheep and the goats from Sunday's readings serves as a sobering reminder about the way we as individuals and communities respond to the compelling need to feed the poor, clothe the naked, visit those in prison and welcome the stranger.

Brian Konkol has written a provocative article, When Decemberisation Crucifies Christmas, published on the Sojourners blog. I commend it to you for reflection. He writes:

One of the dominant dogmas of the season seems to be both loud and clear: Our value as human beings is often dictated by our capacity to contribute toward economic growth.

This is what happens when Decemberism crucifies Christmas.

One may define “Decemberism” as a state in which the value of human life is determined exclusively by our personal rates of production and consumption. We notice this condition most often, of course, in December. Decemberism is the predominant religious tradition of the so-called “holiday shopping season,” and the significance of Christmas is consistently crucified as a result.

As Victor Lebow states: “Our enormously productive economy … demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption … we need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate.”

In striking contrast to the Christmas ramifications of God’s incarnation, to be a human of any value in our current context is closely connected with supply and demand, even if it all leads to our personal and public self-destruction.

To appraise human value based solely upon production and consumption, as Decemberism does, is an explicit form of dehumanization. Specifically, “mechanistic dehumanization” is a way in which powerful systemic processes – such as our enormously productive and consumptive economy – strip away the dignity of human life by plugging us into mass mechanisms such as Decemberism.

Our culture of obedience to the so-called invisible hand of the market has a direct impact upon our sense of personal value (not to mention our public health), for the desire to belong and be validated in society seems directly related to whether we make offerings to the gods of gross domestic product. And so, because the highest rates of selling and spending typically occur during the final months of the calendar year, and due in part to our longing for communal acceptance, the Christmas season is — in many ways — a period of mechanistic dehumanization, for economic participation seems to be the accepted price of our personal justification. 

To call this all an unintended consequence of Jesus’ birth may be one of the greatest understatements in all of Christian history.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

G20 meeting in Brisbane, Australia

Pop Francis
Pope Francis: ‘There are constant assaults on the natural environment, the result of unbridled consumerism, and this will have serious consequences for the world economy.’ Photograph: Riccardo De Luca/AP
A prayer for the G20: God, we pray that policy makers from G20 countries will open their ears to the cry of the poor; we pray for tougher anti-corruption and tax transparency regulations to take place. And we pray that each nation would implement the new standards. In Christ Jesus we pray. Amen.

The G20 is taking place in Australia over the weekend, with world leaders meeting to discuss the world economy. The G20 is the premier forum for its members’ international economic cooperation and decision-making. This year they will discuss to discuss ways to strengthen the global economy and implement the key economic reforms that are needed in each member economy.

Today, Saturday 15th November, is the first official day of the G20 Leaders' Summit. Along with the leaders, approximately 4000 delegtes will also be in attendance to discuss global economic systems.

“The G20 is an opportunity to secure key agreements between governments of some of the world’s largest economies to help crack down on tax evasion, tax avoidance and corruption - activities which particularly harm developing countries.” Mark Zirnsak, Tax Justice Network, Australia

I've learned that it is customary for the Pope to send a letter to these kinds of gatherings of world leaders. In his most recent letter, Pope Francis has called on G20 leaders to be “examples of generosity” in meeting the needs of refugees, while also taking action against inequality and environmental attacks.

In a letter to the Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, who is hosting the G20 summit in Brisbane this weekend, the Pope emphasized the need for efforts to curb climate change, eliminate the root causes of terrorism and prevent financial system abuse.

The Pope told Abbott the G20 preparatory work highlighted “the fundamental imperative of creating dignified and stable employment for all”, but he urged leaders not to forget that many lives were at stake behind the political and technical discussions.

“Throughout the world, the G20 countries included, there are far too many women and men suffering from severe malnutrition, a rise in the number of the unemployed, an extremely high percentage of young people without work and an increase in social exclusion which can lead to criminal activity and even the recruitment of terrorists,” the pope said in the letter released by the Vatican on Tuesday.