In his dictum entitled, Evangelii Gaudium, or The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis puts it this way, “We can no longer trust in the unseen forces and the invisible hand of the market.” He goes on to call for a redistribution of wealth and reform of economic structures that would ensure greater equality of income and opportunity. The rich, he says, should share their wealth and he even calls for a new commandment saying: “Today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality.”
Confucius put it this way, “The superior man understands what is right; the inferior man understands what will sell.” Sri Lankan economist and practicing Buddhist, Neville Karunatilake, once wrote that: “A Buddhist economic system has its foundations in the development of a co-operative and harmonious effort in group living. Selfishness and acquisitive pursuits have to be eliminated by developing man himself.”
The reality is that most, if not all, spiritual practices and teachings stand over and against, systems that allow for a small group of people to hold the majority of the wealth while the majority of the people suffer.
Sadly though, as Israeli historian, Yuval Noah Harar says, “The history of ethics is a sad tale of wonderful ideals that nobody can live up to. Most Christians did not imitate Christ, most Buddhists failed to follow Buddha, and most Confucians would have caused Confucius a temper tantrum. In contrast, most people today successfully live up to the capitalist–consumerist ideal. The new ethic promises paradise on condition that the rich remain greedy and spend their time making more money and that the masses give free reign to their cravings and passions and buy more and more. This is the first religion in history whose followers actually do what they are asked to do.”
Capitalism is a spiritual crisis. It should be of no surprise that we now print “In God We Trust” on our money, because it would seem that money is the only God in which we truly trust. Sadly, it is a blind and false trust, for the Capitalism which it represents, does not want the best for us nor does it have aspiration to improve our lives spiritually or otherwise. The Capitalism that it represents, the power that it measures, the God that it emulates, wishes nothing more than to create a “god” class. A class of society to which the rest of us are subservient and must obey. A ruling class who can afford to live outside of the destruction and ruin they are creating while the rest of us toil amidst the muck with the false belief that things will get better.
This is not some dystopian view of the future. This is a open-eyed reading of most of the world’s current reality. And there is nothing good, or kind, or loving, or spiritual about it.
You see, while Capitalism has generated incredible wealth for a tiny portion of the world’s population, it has taken an already devastating toll on the planet and it has failed to improve the well-being of the vast majority of humanity. If anything, it has done the opposite for most. Not only that, because of the uncontrolled or regulated impact of capitalistic pursuits, species are going extinct at a rate 1,000 times faster than that of the natural rate over the previous 65 million years. Every year 18 million acres of forest are lost. And as I’ve mention in many of my messages, even in the U.S. – the richest nation in the world, 15% of the population live below the poverty line. All thanks to the impact and outfall of allowing Capitalism to become the God of most Americans.
At this point, you may be thinking that Capitalism and global sustainability are incongruous with one another – and you’d be right. As a matter of fact, a recent paper prepared for the UN’s 2019 Global Sustainable Development Report backs you up on that thinking.
We must remember that the primary issue at the heart of the crisis of climate change is the very way in which we produce things globally and that is tied deeply into the core value of Capitalism which is profit over sustainability. As long as we chose to continue operating out of that myopic understanding of economics, the crisis will continue and, given its progressive nature, it will only get worse.
In the UN paper. scientists argue that worsening climate change is having a drastic impact on ecosystems and biodiversity, and that symptoms of unchecked capitalism like rising inequality, unemployment, and debt are also contributing to the destabilization of society. In order to guarantee that humanity is able to have a good quality of life on earth for future generations, the paper’s authors argued that new economic systems will have to be created, rather than the standard band-aid approach governments have taken in the recent past.
To put it plainly: Capitalism is at fault.
Spiritually minded people, particularly those claiming to be Christians, should be at the forefront of the effort to impact this necissary change – without it, Creation is lost. As I said, Capitalism is a spiritual crisis.
Does what we claim with the way we lead our lives match with what we say matter to us spiritually? Now, we don’t need to beat ourselves up too badly because of the answer to that question. The reality, is that in today’s world, particularly living under the constant impact of Capitalism in the U.S., any American who’s even being half way honest with themselves, has to answer that question “no.”
No matter how much we want to have our spiritual confessions match with our live’s actions, the only way to exist and participate in a consumer oriented society is to not always live into our spiritual confessions and expectations.
Which is exactly why we must work for change, we must work for a society structure in a way that promotes our ability to care for all people, a society that enables us to lift up the founding concept that all are created equally and should be treated that way, a society that values sustainability not just of resources but of humanity over profit.
Because of the way our nation is structured this will necessarily be a political pursuit. Like Christianity was used in the earliest stages of embedding Capitalism as a god in the U.S., we must use spirituality, morality, and our humanity to change our nation’s economic practices toward the health, well-being, and inclusion of all people.
It means becoming more active in the political process. It means being more vocal about systems that will sustain Creation and life. It means being willing to engage in civil disobedience when unjust laws are promoted. It means actively divesting from stocks that promote division, mass-consumption, and inequality. It means actively supporting companies who promote a fair wages and civil rights. And it also means actively avoiding those who don’t.
The list could go on and on and there is no way that all of us can do all of them. But, all of us can do some of them. But the one thing, we can all do, the one thing we all must do is vote. That is currently our real path to change. It begins locally and then extends nationally. That is where the change we need begins. It begins with an educated populace showing up at the polls and voting for sustainability, voting for the welfare of all people, voting for basic human rights and dignity – voting for a system that values Creation and all of humanity which depends on it.