About a month before Thanksgiving, several major retailers announced that they intended to open for their Black Friday sales at 8:00pm on Thanksgiving evening. Of course, that is a Thursday, not a Friday, but the incongruity did not seem to matter. Neither did a hundred-plus year tradition of commerce ceasing on Thanksgiving so workers could spend time together with family and in worship.
What mattered was getting stuff and gaining profits.
Stuff —flat-screen televisions, the latest dancing or giggling Elmo, CD’s /DVD’s, gaming systems, computers, 2 for one deals on jeans, and so on. And profits, obviously, for the good of retailers and corporations, the promise of a jumpstart for the economy.
There were a few voices raised in surprise and protest. Even people of no particular faith wondered how this would impact the rhythms of long-held family traditions. A couple of on-line petitions were started by employees of a couple of big-box stores, asking that the stores reconsider.
But mostly, there was a sense of resigned inevitability. Over the past several years, we had steadily moved from early-bird specials at 7am, to super-early-bird deals at 5am to midnight madness, Black Friday edition. And now, before most families could finish pumpkin pie and settle for a lingering cup of coffee, the stores would be open.
How would people respond? What would happen?
People camped out in front of stores – even through Thanksgiving Day. Parking lots at most big-box stores were jammed with cars. Aisles of stores were crammed with people with no elbow room between.
But most disturbing were the videos of masses of people stampeding feverishly into stores as doors opened. Or the pushing, shoving and elbowing, the yelling, glaring and cursing -by men and women alike -for position to grab certain products from the sales tables. Arguments and several incidents of violence were reported. It was bare economic Darwinism—survival of the fittest at the sale.
All in the name of acquiring stuff.
Now fast-forward two weeks—and another frenzy broke out. This time it was over the latest Powerball drawing—the closest thing we have to a national lottery. When the drawing passed without a winner during Thanksgiving week, it became apparent that the next prize would be massive—somewhere north of ½ billion dollars. That’s billion with a “b”.
News organizations pumped the story so much—often leading newscasts with lottery stories over the violence in Syria or our looming “fiscal cliff” – that one had to wonder if they were getting a kickback from lottery corporations. Powerball advertisements increased on radio and television, promising a thrill and the possibility of a completely changed, worry-free life
And the public responded with near-Pavlovian predictability. Tickets sold at a record pace—even with repeated reminders that the odds were better of being struck by lightning six times in the same spot or winning an Academy Award. Illogic won the day. As usual, the people with no money to spare, or with money they only possessed due to government aid, purchased most of the tickets. As the drawing neared, lines formed for blocks outside convenience stores. The night of the drawing there were special “Breaking news” bulletins with live shots of the bouncing ping-pong balls inside the globe from the Florida studio where the drawing would be held.
All in the name of gaining more money, or profit for our bank account.
So, what is the common denominator of these dual frenzies? It is materialism. Stuff and money. Things you can touch, see, measure, hold, keep, polish, upgrade and brag about owning.
Materialism is not a surface issue. It is the evidence of a deep heart commitment to living by the secular spirit of the age; that is, a worldview that leaves God to the side and leans heavily on the material things. It pants after the temporal as ultimate and dismisses the eternal as childish fantasy.
This secular materialism is exactly opposite of reality. In fact, the eternal is the priceless treasure and the temporal is mere vapor.
But that approach to life dominates our culture. It is mindlessly accepted as the way Americans do life. It is why we cannot tolerate the stillness of contentment, giving a day to reflect with profound gratitude for what we already possess. It is why we itch to get back into the fray to gather even more stuff and gain even more profit.
And it is idolatry.
Our culture worships at the idol of stuff and money. It is our national religion, with far more adherents than any denomination. To put it more simply: we bow before “More”.
In more ways than we can imagine, it is killing us. The quest to satisfy More is ruining families and relationships. The worship of More is shaping government and public policy. Delighting More is training successive generations to live for practical and productive things, so that the quest for beauty and joy in simple things is dulled. Pleasing the tug of More is making us view human beings as tools useful only to produce stuff and money, so that life is devalued across the lifespan, demonstrated by violence, lack of civility in speech and even abortion. More is suffocating our soul.
But it is so ingrained in us. Is there a way to break the stranglehold of More?
Yes. It involves recapturing the value of one human soul, reevaluating the place of stuff or money –and reordering our lives accordingly. More on that next time.
Where have you experienced or seen evidence of the tug for More?