Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Curse of Materialism

A recent letter to the editor in the Los Angeles Times caused me to do something I do not normally do: open the business section of the newspaper. The original article was a set of four stories about families getting themselves out of debt. What caught my attention was the strong language in the letter written in response:

"I am infuriated by the families you profiled. They lived foolishly ... They took little responsibility for their spending and were grossly materialistic ... The families in your story are not inspirational, just pathetic."

While these words will certainly sound harsh to our ears, it would be a mistake to dismiss them too quickly. Some of our discomfort comes from being so accustomed to the language of faux tolerance and political correctness. Who are we to judge someone else's lifestyle? But our greater sense of unease probably comes from the words hitting too close to home. Who among us is not guilty of indulging in luxuries we do not really need? We live in a society that is obscenely materialistic, and we all participate in the gluttony in some way.

The first reading today is a passage from the Acts of the Apostles (4:32-35) that describes the life of the early Christian community. They lived in ways that we would deride today as socialism or communism. If we are really being honest with ourselves, however, we must acknowledge that they were simply living as authentic followers of Jesus, and we are not. We can come up with all sorts of rationalizations for why their lifestyle cannot work for us today, but that is just an exercise to hide from the harsh truth that we are not being inspirational, just pathetic.

"Family is about sharing all that we have, not hoarding it. We do not earn anything; it is all a gift from our Parent." If the early Christians could live as a family, so can we.