A Better Economy: Driven by the Spirit

November 28, 2011

First, I would like to mention that I am not, by any means a financial expert, nor do do I have any “business sense.” I have neutral feelings about my lack of financial dexterity. Sure, such skills would be nice to have but I can more than make do without it by keeping to simple budgeting principles. This is not a reflection fleshing out those principles but I mention this because it enlightens any readers as to where this argument comes from and, thus, where it is going. I do not try to veil the fact that I am a Christian. I am theologically trained and so I will think about things from the standpoint of theology. However, that does not mean that I cannot contribute to the discussion of the economy. If anything, theology may very much be the much needed “breath” of fresh air that we who suffer the dismal state of the economy need.

I do not think it an oversimplification to say this: an economic problem, simply put, is money is going where it is not supposed to be going. Then, two questions should arise for us, one empirical and one moral: Where is it going and why? This first is easy enough to answer. Just research what industries, resources and people has money been poured into in vast quantities. The results should be disturbing though I would not put it past some to think it just a “natural” consequence of human development. The answer to the second question, though accessible, is even more disturbing– veritably a difficult truth to face. In short, the economy is simply a symptom and expression of the greatest problem of our time. Read on!

Given the current financial climate and state of the economy (and thereby the country, the world even,) we are looking to business-minded politicians and civil leaders to lead us out of this current mess we’re in. I can’t help but thinking that in doing so we’re only swimming further out from shore. Hasn’t it been the business-mind that we have left without moderation that has in return left us in this problem? I specifically chose the word “moderation” and not “regulation” because for far too long have we made moral and spiritual reality exclusive of our economic-political one, as if they are separate worlds. The right and left ideologies argue for less or more government regulation of the economy as the way out of this mess. I foresee neither as being of much use. The problem is the entire situation was set up toward failure from the beginning. To discuss the matter in terms of what the government should do is the wrong debate. The debate we should be having is what responsibilities do we have toward each other that are beyond legislating but we have not been upholding.

We have grown up raised to believe that the government is an omnipotent equalizer that we can influence by our votes, letters to congressman and public protests. The reality is, the government’s sphere of influence that many, even those (perhaps especially those) in government fail to see is limited. I once got into a debate with someone about the LGBT community’s argument for marriage. We ended up talking past each other majority of the time because my interlocutor thought I was arguing for same-sex-marriage to be illegal when I was trying to explain that it is beyond the sphere of legality as a religious ritual and sacrament. In short, I was mistaken for a straw man. The complexity and confusion lies in the unquestioned role of government in the minds of today’s Americans. I would venture that no one really knows and few dare to really ask what the relationship between legality and morality is supposed to be!

This is why I posit that at the root of the economic hardship is a spiritual problem. We have mistaken our government for a god. We send in our “prayer” by ballot or letters to our senator, our “prayers” are then answered positively or negatively by whether we “prayed” with the majority, and if we didn’t get what we wanted we set up “prayer” lobbies for our particular interest. All the while we toss aside our relationship to the one true God in search of separation between church and state. Then we mistake legality for morality. What a horrible mess of idol-worship that we have stepped into. As scripture says, while we can pay to Caeser what is Caesar’s, we cannot serve two masters. All the tax laws that will be passed in the near future are more or less irrelevant if we never come to understand what it is that taxes are for but more important what they are not for.

I mentioned earlier to seek an answer to the problem we must find out where are money is going (or conversely not going). Just to throw out some places to look: $58 billion was spent on lotto tickets, about the same is spent on alcohol, one of the highest grossing industries is pornography and adult entertainment, supplemental to the adult entertainment industry is all the money that is poured into media devices (computers, phones, televisions, DVD players, internet connection, cable/satellite TV connection, etc.). Frankly, I’m too lazy to do the research but I’m sure the money spent for those devices is an astounding amount and part of it is paid to contribute to the porn-industry. On a related but side-note, I wouldn’t be surprised if that scene from Tropic Thunder about why blu-ray beat hd-dvd as the hi-def medium is verifiable with a little research (blu ray vs. HD DVD). Perhaps, above all else the money  people are really chasing after is found in advertising and market research. Are there more places to consider, of course but for the purposes of this post let’s focus here.

Why mention some of the facts surrounding the flow of money? The question of where money goes to is in direct correlation with what we are devoting time to–what we devote our lives too! We have implicitly conceded that each hour of our lives is worth a certain amount of money and the amount of the money is determined by the demand of the skills, experience and education needed to perform said work when we are employed. For example, an unskilled laborer at a construction company is paid less than say a carpenter, welder, plumber or electrician; or in broader contexts, say, a theologian makes much less money than a medical doctor. The justice behind a wage is not the issue here but I simply want to point out that our time has been bought by our employer, and in return we receive money as compensation. What we then devote our money to is nothing less then what we have devoted our time too. And what is our time but one way that we quantify the experience of life’s finitude.

Let’s model daily life simply based on what one may do with time. Given twenty-four hours a day the typical American will work eight hours a day and sleep eight hours a day leaving eight hours for leisure. Of course this is an ideal enjoyed by very few. Commuting time ranges between fifteen minutes to two and a half hours one way. There’s the time needed to prepare for work and then to “wind-down” so to speak. That is only if overtime at work is not needed. And I’m sure many Americans, especially given the state of employment, are frightened of turning down overtime, not only because of the extra income one may miss out on but I’m sure job security is at stake for those who cannot commit those extra hours when “requested” by employers. So between overtime, commuting and daily maintenance chores that leisure time is very strained and could hardly count as true leisure. Of course work has even overcome part of our sleeping as well but that is a whole other issue.

Consequently, the money we make working goes to what we do in our leisure and our leisure is a very tragic picture, indeed. The money spent on lottery tickets suggests that many of us stop by the liquor store on the way home from work to pick up the bottle of “feel-good” and a ticket in the hopes of the off-chance our numbers will hit and  never have to work again. Get home and while waiting until we see whether we’re millionaires, we jump onto our couches or desk-chairs, fixate upon a screen for a number of hours, not to mention what may be on the screen or what we might do while watching, with some eating in-between. The entire time our consciousness is invaded by advertising: billboards on the drive home, commercials on the radio, signs and paint up on the windows of your favorite chains, commercials and product placement on TV and finally the internet triad of pop-ups, ad banners and even video commercials as one may find on youtube.com that you have no choice but to play in order to play the video. Only after all that, we finally hit the sack and sleep… if we can.

Here’s the senselessness about our current economy and society. We are raised thinking that money determines the quality of our living  and so we pursue as much of it as we can. We seek employment often times seeking the greatest pay-off for the least cost to ourselves. We work ourselves into unhappiness to get the money that we need to get climb out of the hole we just dug for ourselves to make us happy again, spending it on insurance, bills, food and amusement only to find we are not returned to a state of happiness and so we work some more to make more money in order to pursue correcting this imbalance in our lives only to find that it is not working and so we look to the government and where our taxes are going to because maybe the happiness we’re looking for is in the taxes we’re paying so maybe the answer doesn’t lie with what I do with my money but what the government does with my money so looking at the government programs I see that my money goes to the companies and banks that I’ve already given money only to have the government spend my money on companies that will use my money for advertising and research (though in many cases the CEOs kept large portions) to get me to give them more of my money. In realizing in a limited capacity the exercise in futility my time comes out to be I’ll hide away in a bottle for a while or escape with one of the myriad fetishes I entertain in this warped understanding of life I live, which is fueled both for and by other ads (btw CEOs themselves get wrapped up in this cycle as well… why do you think they’ve kept such large portions of money for themselves?).  This suffocating lifestyle is just a cycle of emptiness. So much money is paid into what I call a “fruitless” endeavor–advertising. Anything “free” is really bought and paid for by companies through ads. Ads are fruitless. By the end there is only a message urging us to buy and consume more in order to be exposed to more advertising. Advertising is not bread in my mouth nor is it drink for my thirst, a tool toward my craft, or a means to real understanding and freedom in my life. It is the instilling or in-ceiving of an unnecessary desire–a fictional thirst, a poseur as a necessity, an imposter of what leads to human flourishing.

Suffocation is indeed the accurate description for the problems we currently face. For which, the solution is simple but not easy. We must return to a normal and at rest rhythm of breathing. The example of Jesus, whether you believe him to be divine or not, really sets the paradigm for what our job and what the economy is supposed to be. In the Gospels, you’ll find a pattern that Jesus follows which is not emphasized enough in preaching especially in America. Jesus follows a pattern of being among the crowds doing public works and freely ministering, and then retreating into “the wilderness” by himself to pray. He goes out each time to give his service to those who are in need of what He offers, then his spare time was devoted to prayer. In the same way, we have to see to it that what we are doing for work is in service to those who really need it and that the work produces real fruit in that it effects some change for good. Many nurses, though overworked by their employers, experience high job satisfaction because they are there to help people in terms of health. However, the said employers often make nursing a painful experience because they have lost sight of work as a vocation instead of a mere job, and medicine as a service or gift instead of a mere business. Even banks have a place for good in this world and were quite so before instituting the practice of usury. The common complaint of all who see companies make it big is that they become more about profit than what they had originally set out to do. Good movies with a message, that were meant to stand alone as a story and did well in the box office are often followed by extremely bad sequels because suddenly the name is marketable and will draw in at least a fraction of the previous profits. Movie-making is an art being warped and deformed by Hollywood’s greed into a marketing scheme for mere amusement (by the way, one definition and literal understanding of amusement= “to stare stupidly at something” as in apart from the muses versus art which is inspired by “muses” towards our creation and fulfillment).

We must individually and corporately seek out our personal vocation not just a job, not just an income. But in the end we are seeking the true living of our lives.  The end is not profitability nor is it even money, the end ought to be the work itself. Even if this blog never lands me a single paycheck writing is something I’d fight for and I’d continue to do so in the name of my Catholic faith, in the name of Goodness and, above all, in the name of Jesus. Our lives were meant to be the continuous opportunity to be inspired by the creativity of the true Muse, the musings of the Holy Spirit. This is where our work and our spirituality coincide. When we see work as the public extension of our love toward all humanity in service of some kind. The economy will take care of itself and money will naturally not be going to where it shouldn’t be. Money will instead be poured into what is really important. Not our personal ego-mania and further self-deception but toward our daily bread and toward the well-being of someone else.

I think the fairly recent movie, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, sums up our economic situation. Charlie after finding the golden ticket gets offered all kinds of money for it. Given the situation his family is in financially, and his naturally self-less disposition nobly thinks it may be better to sell off the Golden ticket to the highest bidder and use the money to better the community at home. In a moment of counsel with his grandfather, who realizes he too would benefit from this course of action, responds in the radiant freedom and creativity sourced by his experience of life and says to Charlie, “Only a dummy would give this up for something as common as money. Are you a dummy?” Even though some of us may find our situation does not provide us a lot of comfort and ease of movement, the golden ticket in our possession is the gifts of service that God has given us to give away. Having enough will never seem like it is enough but we were not made for lazy-comfort and idle amusements. In a sense, we are made to be happy in service to God through service to one another, and through others’ service to us, we are served by God. That is the economy, the “household dynamics” that is not too late to live out now. An economy that is driven by the breath, the inspiration and creativity of God, for us to love and serve one another. Just be who you are meant to be and receive well whatever may be offered to you in return even if the only return is that you lived your life as you were meant to–in loving service.

One Response to “A Better Economy: Driven by the Spirit”

  1. You have brought up a very superb points , regards for the post. “I am not an adventurer by choice but by fate.” by Vincent Van Gogh.

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