It’s interesting, if not divinely inspired, that Pope Francis should publish Evangelii Gaudium—in which he calls unfettered capitalism “a new tyranny”—just before Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday.
I’m on the board of directors of our local chamber of commerce, the primary objective of which is to promote business in Forest Park. That is, to encourage shoppers to buy so that merchants can make more money. They argue that if businesses make a profit, the village receives more income in taxes and the appearance of Madison St. makes our whole village look more attractive and therefore raises the value of our homes.
At the same time I’m a member of a Christian church in which I heard Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46ff) in which Mary declares, “My soul magnifies the Lord. . . .He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away.”
Clearly, there’s a tension here. The Christmas stories in Luke and Matthew cannot be used to support capitalism, let alone unfettered capitalism. But at the same time, the Judaeo-Christian tradition clearly declares that the created world is good and that God wants to bless his people with enough material goods to enjoy life.
The extremes—asceticism on the one hand and on the other hand greed and gluttony—are rejected as not being compatible with the shalom God intends for his people. Moderation, the golden mean, seems to be what God has in mind.
So the question is, “Have we moved from the golden mean toward one extreme or the other?” Pope Francis declared that we have, and it’s toward the idol of materialism that our society has drifted.
We can blame the capitalists and their marketing experts, but if we, your average Joe and Sally, didn’t take the bait we’d never get hooked on consumerism. You are not being in a Scrooge if you put your foot down this month and say we’ve gone too far. Your kids might whine and complain if there aren’t as many presents under the tree this year, but when they are in your place years from now, they’ll thank you.