Christmas, Capitalism, and Consumerism

Manila Bulletin, November 22, 2009 | Go to article overview

Christmas, Capitalism, and Consumerism


This coming Christmas will be the second celebration of the birthday of our Saviour Jesus Christ since the ongoing Great Recession began in the third quarter of 2008. It is hoped that it will be the last one as recovery seems to be in sight in many parts of the world, especially in the so-called emerging markets. Let us not waste the opportunity to reflect on what the spirit of Christmas can contribute to our understanding the roots of the collapse of capitalism and consumerism.The supreme lesson of Christmas is without doubt the immense love that God has for mankind in sending His only Begotten Son to take on our human flesh in order to redeem us from our sins. God gave us the highest example of the love of benevolence when He came down to suffer for us without expecting anything in return. It was a completely gratuitous love. As I have written in this column quite a number of times, capitalism or the free market economy can only be saved from future catastrophes if the producers, financiers and consumers who make up its system are convinced that a gratuitous or selfless love is an indispensable ingredient in their human relationships to one another. They have to renounce once and for all the false premise that virtues, especially the virtue of charity, are irrelevant to the efficient and sustainable workings of a market economy. They have to accept the empirically demonstrated fact that markets--whether in the real economy or the financial sector--are not self-regulating.There is, however, another important lesson from the Christmas story that can save capitalism and its allied culture, consumerism, from their excesses. As we pray in front of the manger in Bethlehem, worshiping the Child God and venerating His parents Mary and Joseph, one obvious truth that hits us in the face is that an accumulation of material goods is not the end all and be all of human happiness. Bereft of even the most essential physical comforts, the Holy Family--all three of them--exudes the greatest joy on the birth of the Redeemer. It is also joy that we see in the faces of the first visitors, the impoverished shepherds that came from the hillsides of Bethlehem.The great lesson of Christmas is not that poverty is in itself a virtue. After all, the God Child when He grew up did not hesitate to attend sumptuous feasts tendered by friends who were sinners; performed his first miracle to save a married couple from the embarrassment of not having enough wine to serve to their wedding guests; wore an expensive garment as He was being crucified; enjoyed many times the hospitality of his friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus. The lesson of Christmas is detachment from the goods of this world, even if we have to use them in order to live in the middle of the world as ordinary citizens. The lesson of Christmas is not to put our happiness in the accumulation of earthly goods. The lesson of Christmas is to rejoice even if there are times when we do not have even what is needed for minimum comfort and decency.The two typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng taught many of us some of these lessons. I am not referring obviously to the poor who lost even their meager possessions. I am referring to those in the middle class who live in Marikina, Cainta, Pasig, Dagupan, Rosales, and other places where floods and landslides caused much destruction to property. Those who still had their whole families intact realized that the TV sets, DVDs, refrigerators, pianos and other appliances and in some cases, as in Magallanes Village, the cars that were damaged by the floods were of little consequence compared to still being able to love their families and being loved in return. …

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