December 23, 2003 | Peter

And So This Is Christmas…

Whenever Christmas rolls around and there is the usual debate about how commercial it all is these days, it just brings into stark relief how much we need to have a sense of moral direction in our lives. Our new religion, it would seem, is faith in a volatile mix of technology and markets.
Not that we should bring back the old days when human minds were in servitude to harsh religions that gave us very little in return for our unquestioning devotion. The revival of Christian, Islamic, Hindu etc fundamentalism is enough to remind us just how bad that deal was.
As for the remnants of the insitutionalised churches, their abject failure to show genuine moral leadership is obvious enough. The Catholic Church is still largely preoccupied with waging its war against human sexuality, and thus mostly women, through its irrational policies on birth control, AIDS, etc, while dodging and weaving over its reponsibilities to those abused by its ‘celibate’ employees. And the Anglicans are in a furor over homosexuality. These days the Christian church seems obsessed with sex; meanwhile horrific abuses of life and limb go on around the world with little resistance from these supposedly universal bodies.
Our technology and markets have provided humanity with unprecedented levels of material abundance. For some, anyway. But leaving aside the environmental and social costs of this rampant commodification of the earth’s bounty, these things clearly fail to give us a sense of purpose and higher meaning.
Most trivially, this lack makes us feel hollow at Christmas time, when we are supposedly celebrating the birth of a man who, rather controversially, said that the purpose of life was to love (and who seemed to be skeptical about the value of material goods). And in a somewhat more extreme case, it makes us completely unable to understand why some people are so affronted by the lack of morality in our ways (as they see it) that they are prepared to offer their own lives in protest.
Oppressive religion had to go if a new rational society was to be born. And in a way the old certainties were replaced by a more conditional set of rules based on socio-cultural values, including increasingly open negotiation and a rejection of monolithic authority of all kinds. Civility and legal formality were both aspects of this new way of seeing things, and as democracy progressed, they became more and more legitimised.
But these concepts and practices never answered our most basic needs, like how to relate to death, and in any case they are now being steadily replaced by a new social order defined in terms of money.
Ultimately, money, as the most abstract form of information, embodies no meaning other than that of commercial utility. It is irrelevant to our most basic concerns about birth, death, suffering, meaning, and morality. Money is useful for some things – like organising production and consumption of goods and services – but it has to be mixed in with other ways of living, including constant discussion about our personal and social values, if we are to live good lives.
Christmas is a vestige of our attempts to create meaning and a sense of true morality. That is why the commercialistion of Christmas seems so wrong; that is why our failure to recreate some kind of meaningful moral order seems so poignant at this time of year.

Posted by Peter at 2:04 pm | Comments Off on And So This Is Christmas… |
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