There is more evidence of the fragility of the American social fabric. It is the same fragility of the American church. Once we start associating one too closely with the other we have a problem. Why? Christians do not make a distinction between the two in their minds. Fragile things are treated as precious. Unfortunately too many people do not believe it is worth it.
Fragility And Faith
The fragility of the social fabric is more emotional than actual. Consumerism, as a societal viewpoint, is based on inordinate desires. If we want to have cake to buy, we must buy cake in enough quantities so producers will make more. If we want, we must consume enough so producers will see enough profit to make more of…anything. This thinking has existed in American society since World War 2. If we desire, we must consume.
The availability of a product is always the issue. It is not about need. The importance is in whether one can get something. Just a few years ago, a criticism of the Venezuelan economy was there were few necessities available. Toilet paper was one such necessity. American media was faithfully showing empty shelves where toilet paper once sat. Now Venezuelans could not buy it. A year ago, American media faithfully showed people filling grocery carts with toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and meat because of “hoarding.”
The fragility of production and supply is in the planning of producers. People hoarded because they knew the consumerist promise ultimately cannot be fulfilled. There is no faith in such a system. Something is wrong.
Need And Greed
I want therefore I am. Two-year old children have this motto. And so do consumers in a consumerist society. Every thing and every person becomes a commodity. A common claim of entitlement is, “I want my money’s worth.” Churches are not immune to this mindset.
Mistaking greed for need is an emotional issue. Resentment is unfulfilled expectation. Greedy people expect to have everything they wish. This attitude of entitlement keeps people from working together to overcome social ills. It is truly anti-life.
Need on the other hand recognizes the necessity that sustains life. I exist therefore I need to preserve existence. I have written before about the fragility of the “science” of Economics. An economy that creates money without creating true wealth is unsustainable by definition.
Economies that produce food, clothing, and shelter while denying employees the need for freedom and leisure time do not produce enough of any of these necessities. Working people need security in these needs. Otherwise there is no quality to life.
Fragility of Faith
Faith that is fragile is not faith. I heard early in my ministry how difficult it is for clergy to live under the constant threat of losing their job. It is difficult for faith to grow in these circumstances. It is equally difficult for anyone to enjoy life under the threat of losing their basic necessities. There is no faith when this thought is present.
Is it possible to lose everything tomorrow? Yes. Do I believe it is likely? No. Do I have enough resources just in case? How much is enough? The last question explains the problem. The future is a source of anxiety. Understand this point. What has yet to happen is the source of consumerist anxiety. This anxiety produces every negative result – violence, hoarding, falsehood, and exploitation. These results are the opposite of faith. There is no faith in the system and no faith in God.
Faith is fragile among people who fear not getting all they want. And getting along with such people in community is impossible. The fellowship of the church like the American social fragment is tested by fear. It always has been.
Sainthood And Fear
Historians tend to agree with the following scenario demonstrating the beginning of the custom of “praying to the saints.” The great persecution under Emperor Diocletian (AD 284-305) required Christian leaders to surrender copies of the Scriptures. These copies were subsequently destroyed. After the persecution, many people, later called Donatists, argued the leaders who complied should be forever excommunicated. The faithless were saved by the intercession of those who suffered and survived. They knew enduring was not easy. And they believed they could not have endured much longer.
The people who suffered showed grace and called for mercy. Those who gave in to the persecution were readmitted to the fellowship of believers. This “intercession of the saints” led the fallen church leaders back into the faith.
This example serves as the template for how the fellowship of the church can restore the social fabric of the church and be an example to the larger community. The day will come when those who hoarded goods needed by everyone else will see the error of their ways. The faithful in the Churches can start practicing grace and mercy to such people now. We know how tempting giving in can be. If the problems persist, we would probably fall to the temptation ourselves. Choose grace and mercy. Forgive and reconcile when the time comes. Love other people more than they deserve.