by Brad Nelson 11/28/14
The Drudge Report had a link at the top of its page yesterday about Early-Bird Shoppers Turning Out on Thankgiving. The unbridled spirit of homo economicus was evinced by a revealing quote from this shopper:
Even some shoppers who were out on Thanksgiving felt a tinge of guilt. “I’d prefer to spend the whole day with my family,” said Hector Huayamade, 34, who was shopping at Toys R Us in New York while visiting from Florida with his family. “But the stores are open, so we do it.”
The new Whore of Babylon may be the commercialization of Christmas. And yet there are those who would say that Christmas was never anything but a holiday event with mild religious overtones, at best…an excuse to make merry, a holiday self-consciously wallpapered over an existing pagan celebration of the end of darkness and the coming of light. In fact, many Christian denominations used to opt out of Christmas celebrations entirely, citing the fact that not only is the exact birth date of Christ unknown, but that there is no Biblical support for attributing anything more to this mere happenstance of a celestial event, the winter solstice.
Still, this is not going to be yet another gloomy and dour putdown of Christmas as a commercialized excess. This is now who we are and thus to criticize Christmas, as celebrated, is to dismiss much of humanity as it lives its life and struggles and tries to find a little bit of happiness. That this creature’s world view is now tied to tangible trinkets rather than to loftier goals is now but a footnote…
For God is indeed dead. Yes, killed by Christmas. But the commercialization of Christmas is just another instance of the ascendency of our secular way of life. It is certainly not the cause, for we value not values (restraint, kindness, mercy, integrity, frugality) but values (deals, specials, two-for-ones, instant rebates). And we need to find a way to live with this Godless mindset. And it’s not all bad. Being dirt-poor is no fun, and it has been a hard slog for humanity out of the gutter. Why not revel in our prosperity? There really are far worse things to fuss about.
Some of these thoughts are inspired by reading the first chapter of a biography of Samuel Adams that Timothy had mentioned. (See: 1 Timothy Recommendation). It’s doubtful I’d want to live in the mid 18th century in America. It was too religious. There were people then who really did believe this stuff, who believed that America was Providentially blessed and that our good (or bad) behavior as a nation could gain God’s favor or his wrath. (Jesus, let us hope this is not true, for we may have a Noah-like flood coming our way.)
Samuel Adams is a good example of this sort of man before the Westerner became an exclusively commercial animal. On November 1, 1997 — after receiving news of the crucial and surprising victory at Saratoga — Samuel Adams drafted a report to Congress that was adopted and which declared Thursday, December 18, as “a day of thanksgiving” to God. As noted in this biography by Ira Stroll, the resolution went on to say:
…with one heart and one voice the good people may express the grateful feelings of their hearts, and consecrate themselves to the service of their divine benefactor; and that together with their sincere acknowledgments and offerings, they may join the penitent confession of their manifold sins, whereby they had forfeited every favour, and their humble and earnest supplication that it may please God, through the merits of Jesus Christ, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of remembrance; that it may please him graciously to afford his blessing on the governments of these states respectively, and prosper the public council of the whole; to inspire our commanders both by land and sea, and all under them, with that wisdom and fortitude which may render them fit instruments, under the providence of Almighty God, to secure for these United States the greatest of all human blessing, independence and peace; that it may please him to prosper the trade and manufactures of the people and the labour of the husbandman, that our land may yet yield its increase; to take schools and seminaries of education, so necessary for cultivating the principles of true liberty, virtue and piety, under this nurturing hand, and to prosper the means of religion for the promotion and enlargement of that kingdom which consisteth “in righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.”
Virtue and piety? Clearly Sam Adams, for all his rebellious inclinations, was not a Libertarian. Stroll also writes:
So, too, was the association, in the thanksgiving declaration of 1777, of liberty with virtue and piety. These ideas help explain why the American fought on in the revolutionary cause in the face of discouraging setbacks and overwhelming obstacles.
With no desire to belittle my fellow Americans and our culture — for where else on this planet are we going to live? — we can’t get through a day of leisurely Turkey dinners and football games without feeling the penetrating need to purchase trinkets on sale for half off at some mass-merchandizing mall in the middle of the night with the dinner dishes still unwashed in the sink. “I shop, therefore I am” is the battle cry of today’s culture. (Or maybe “I consume, therefore I am.”) This is not the Valley Forge generation.
God is dead. He’s been replaced by Narcissus. And maybe this is for the better, for all that shopping goes toward constructing and spurring on the most important cathedral of our creation: The Economy. So what that little Billy and Jane miss out on stories handed down by grandpa or grandma as retold by mom or dad around the good cheer of a domestic after-dinner hearth with eggnog in hand? It’s the economy we must keep burning, and we do so via consumption. We are thus taking a vital part in “creating jobs,” shovel-ready or otherwise. It is the Gift of the MasterCard.
I drove by the mall on the way home from the Thanksgiving feast last night. Target was bustling. Best Buy was jammed. Several of the stores at the mall were packed with cars. And it all seemed silly. People can’t take one day off from shopping, whether to give thanks to Dead White Men (and Women) for what they had built and bestowed to us, let alone to show a little gratitude to a Divine Creator. And rather than stoking the fervency of a bit of Calvinistic fire and brimstone, these people evoked amusement in me. As that one shopper said in that AP article: “But the stores are open, so we do it.”
That is perfectly understandable for an animal who can’t help himself. The virtue of a commercialized culture is necessarily found not in restraint. So we dress up our excesses, and our lack of a deeper personal dimension, in what amounts to whistling past the graveyard (at 50% off). Surely deep-down, somewhere, the super-shopper knows there is something he lacks. That it might be the big screen TV at Best Buy occurs to him, for what else can occur to him?
Brad is editor and chief disorganizer of StubbornThings.
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