On the economy, faith, consumption and the future

On the economy, faith, consumption and the future February 18, 2009

The total negative impact of recent economic developments in the United States alone has conservatively been pegged at around two trillion dollars. That’s more than $6,500 for every person in the country. Now, we have a plan with an $800 billion price tag to help shock the system back to life. Meanwhile, economists not only say it will get worse; many are saying some of the damage is irreparable.

This resonates with recent reports on climate change that suggest even if we stop the increase in Carbon Dioxide emissions worldwide today, some effects of global warming are already irreversible.

We have not seen such pervasive nihilism in some time. After all, part of the American Ethos is optimism in face of the odds, and hope against hope, right? So what in the hell do we do now?

For anyone willing to recognize the facts, this omen has been a long time coming. Consumers have built their lifestyles upon debt, as has the government, and the economy, which once was founded upon a production-based system, now relies more on consumption and credit than on making anything.

As a result, we have presidents issuing multi-billion dollar checks and telling us to go buy plasma televisions with them, and even under a democratically-controlled Congress and White House, we end up with a stimulus package, more than forty percent of which is made up of tax cuts.

We talk systemic change and infrastructure, but short-term solutions and personal comfort and security ultimately dominate public policy. What business, after all, does a nation have in giving itself a tax cut when the already enfeebled medicare and social security systems are dissolving before our eyes on top of everything else? And this economic infusion may be our last, best hope to change things once and for all in the way we operate in the world.

But are we ready?

Perhaps the more appropriate question is, does it hurt enough yet? Sure, most of us have had to cut back, and unemployment is creeping toward double digits, but compared to other nations, we’re still incredibly well off. Most of us have money for new mobile phones, dinner out and the occasional tickets to the movies. Times are tough, but are they tough enough to enact real change?

I think this is one way in which organized religion has the potential to be very relevant in this most important global dialogue. The themes that hold true potential to redeem us, both individually and collectively, are not new, though we may tend to abandon them in times of prosperity. Consider these fundamental spiritual “truths” if you will:

It’s not all about you.

Know the difference between needs and wants.

Discomfort, and even a little suffering, is not entirely bad.

What are you doing TODAY to make the world a better place?

If you/I/we truly lived out the mandate to love our neighbors as our selves, consider how different the world would look.


Seek peace over success, and gratitude over results.

See God in ALL others, not just those who are easier to love.

We are caretakers of the earth. Act like it.

You need much less than you think.

No object you can buy, finance or consume will make you a better person.

Author and theologian Frederick Buechner says that your personal calling can be found where the world’s deepest need and your deepest joy intersect. For me, I believe that is found on the written page. For others, it may be right where you already are, and if so, you experience a rare blessing on a daily basis. If not, how many more days will pass before you find your own calling?

I firmly believe that, if we all were operating within the framework of our personal calling, we not only would be better off as a planet; we would be more joyful as well. The dualistic nature of the human animal is that, in the words of Paul, we do the very things we hate. And not once, but over and over again.

When might we catch on that the voice that has led us this far may not have our best interests at heart after all?

"goodness, some pple shld just learn not to speak at all"

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