Encinitas, CA 92024
December 1, 1986
Christmas greetings to everyone! Tis the season to be jolly and to reflect and take stock and consider how the life of a man born 2000 years ago, whose birthday we celebrate at this time of year, impacts on us today.
Tis also the age of Reagan, Reaganism, Reaganomics, Reaganorama, and now, Reagangate. If President Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” Reagan seems to be saying, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you or what you can do for your country, but what you can do for yourself.’ It is the age of privatization, of concern for selfish pursuits,
in which the public-spirited, the bleeding heart liberals and the do-gooders are out of fashion.
Privatization is the hallmark of the Reagan administration. If he had his way, anything public would cease to exist except perhaps the Defense Department. Public libraries and schools would be sold to private enterprise. Public parks would be privatized. Everything that is public that is open to all and supported by tax dollars would be turned over to private enterprise which would charge sufficiently for the use of its facilities and services to make a profit. Of course user fees would increase considerably which would exclude the poorer segments of the population, but we could derive some comfort from the fact that the trend towards socialization, which public schools, parks and libraries represent, had been reversed, and that privatization of resources and services would mean higher quality for those who could afford to pay and lower taxes to boot.
By this philosophy, I'm sure, even the interstate highway system would be sold off to private corporations who then would erect toll booths and charge appropriate user fees, thus making our transportation system, which consists of private, individually owned modules driven over public, tax-supported roads (an unfortunate philosophically impure amalgam of privatization and socialization), a totally privatized system.
Take heart, General Motors. You may be losing out to Japanese and Korean imports but, if the Reagan revolution proceeds as planned, you may be able to diversify by buying large stretches of the interstate highway system! Think of the benefits to the individual consumer. Instead of long stretches of road where there is nothing interesting to look at, only things like trees (if you've seen one you've seen them all), mountains, amber waves of grain etc. (boring, right?), the motorist would be treated to innovative billboards announcing things like “This is GM country.” Also American ingenuity, instead of being confined to TV commercials would result in a veritable sprouting and blossoming of stationary, driver oriented, payway adjacent marketing tools (to coin a phrase) that would exhort the driver/consumer to spend more. By the way all freeways would be replaced by payways. Some of these marketing tools might also be animated and might sing and dance making a trip to Aunt Bessie's house similar to a day at Disneyland.
Finally, after driving so many miles, psychological studies have shown that the driver can stand it no longer and will pullover at the first conveniently placed, payway adjacent shopping mall (owned by GM of course) and indulge in an orgy of shopping.
The fact that all this roadside stimulation would take the driver's attention off the road to a certain extent and result, statistically, in a few percentage points being added to the payway fatality rate should be of small concern. After all the economy is being greased by free enterprise, and we don't want Big Government regulating us and telling us what we can and can't do so on with deregulation - let the corporations go! Please let's not cramp their style and interfere with our right to more and better shopping!
Thus privatization becomes a way of life, a way of thinking, a way of being. This results in the privatization of consciousness and the privatization of spirituality. The breakdown of American family life can be explained in terms of the taking to heart of the philosophy of privatization, the atomizing and breaking down of the process of community life into the smallest constituents - individuals. After all the family represents the smallest manifestation of community - of community values as opposed to individual values
and the smallest unit of socialization, not the largest unit of privatization. The consideration only of private values, which is to say the consideration only of individual self-interest, breaks the community down into smaller and. smaller units much as matter was broken down in the search for the elementary, indestructible particles. Conservatives applaud this breaking up of community into smaller units (privatizing, if you will), but they say, ‘Hey, let's stop at the family.’ Let's make the family the atom of society, the basic social atom which can then compete with and bounce off of the other social atoms. But, hey, you know what? It's not the family but the individual who is the basic atom of society, and the flaw in their thinking is that the privatizing process will stop at the family and not proceed to the individual level.
Remember the Gestalt credo from the sixties: “I do my thing and you do your thing. I am not in this world to live up to your expectations and you are not in this world to live up to mine, but if, by chance, we find each other, it's beautiful.” With a slight rewording we have what might be called the Yuppie credo of the eighties: I do my thing and you do your thing. I am not in this world to diminish my self-interest on your account and you are not in this world to diminish your self-interest on my account. But, if, by chance, our being together is in our mutual self-interest, it's beautiful.
Not very romantic, is it? To say nothing of compassionate. In fact what does it have to do with Christian love, neighbor love at all? Nothing. When mutual self-interests become unaligned, the relationship's over. For two people married in their twenties, the situation may change by the time they're in their forties. She may have put on weight; he may have gained wealth and power. Suddenly, it seems to be in his self-interest to abandon his fortyish wife and take up with his twentyish secretary. Although this may not be in his wife's best interests, good Reaganaut that he is, he places self-interest first and the family is broken up.
The ultimate denouement of the philosophy of privatization which is the same as the philosophy of placing self-interest above all else, is the atomization of society, the atomization of community and the atomization of the family. Christian love and the love that is necessary to hold human beings together at the family level represents a consideration of the interests of the other, a willingness to diminish our own freedom on the other's account, a willingness to back off from the sole consideration of self-interest. A diminution of
liberty, yes; a backing away from the pursuit of happiness to some extent, yes; a sacrifice of privatized, individual values, yes; but an increase in love, the glue that is necessary to hold the community together at any level; placing community values over individual values. Consideration of the other and backing away from the sole consideration of self-interest leads us to the values that Jesus taught. Yes, we are our brother's keepers, Reaganism to the contrary. The values of caring and Christian love are the values that lead us
to be concerned for the plight of all human beings everywhere - for the poor, the homeless, the starving, the freezing, the sick, the lonely. To the extent we are concerned for our fellow man is the extent to which we place the values of socialization over the values of privatization, the extent to which we are willing to consider the interests of the other and not just the interests of self, the extent to which we are willing to love our neighbor as ourselves, the extent to which we are willing to place the value of equality on a par with the value of freedom. Christian love is when we place a value on the other's well-being, the other's happiness, equal to the value we place on our own.
Just as in alcoholic families in which the members agree not to mention the subject of alcohol, we as a nation agree that there are certain topics, certain contradictions, if you will, that we will not discuss, sort of national blind spots. For example, Jesus in passage after passage preached against the accumulation of wealth. But our economic system, capitalism, is based on the private, individual accumulation of material wealth. We have gotten around this contradiction by creating a church which confines itself quite neatly to matters of faith and sexual morality while largely ignoring Jesus' social Gospel, the bulk of His teachings. The Pope, supposedly, is infallible on matters of faith and sexual morality, but only a layman like any other layman on economic matters. This compartmentalization of morality to the point where we are led to believe that it has nothing to do with anything outside of sexual matters, as if it didn't apply to all the other voluminous forms of human transactions might be a result of the fact that historically the Catholic church, itself, has been mightily into the accumulation of wealth and cannot condemn really what it is about. The Catholic Bishops, in their recent pastoral letter on economics have sought to refocus our attention once again on the fact that economics are indeed a moral matter. They write of how a society's worth is to be measured by how it treats the poor, the vulnerable the marginal members of society. That in fact it is a moral imperative of a decent society to see to it that minimum levels of basic human necessities are provided for everyone. Yes, we are our brother's keepers. The Bishops call for a “preferential option for the poor”, for a society that rejoices in the fact not that there are twice as many billionaires this year as last, but that the hungry are fed, the homeless are housed, the sick are given medical care. What kind of a society is it in which insurance companies seek to deny those with AIDS, those whose need for medical care is the greatest, medical coverage on the grounds that as a profit-making enterprise they have to write off the bad risks?
Finally, Christian fundamentalists have accomplished the neatest trick of all. They have turned Christianity into the exact mirror image of Reaganomics, the ultimate privatization of spirituality and the complete rejection of Jesus' social Gospel which represents the socialization of spirituality, the message of caring and responsibility for one's fellow man. The privatization of spirituality means that just as one's chief earthly concern is for the provision of one's own private material well-being, one's chief spiritual concern is for gaining a suitable billet for one's self in the afterlife. This is suitably guaranteed by fundamental evangelists providing that one is willing to accept the party line on matters of faith and sexuality - to be born again, if you will. Conveniently, on matters of economic morality, it's hands off. After all, if Electronic Evangelists can amass financial empires, live in $500,000 houses and drive Rolls Royces, who are they to preach against the private accumulation of wealth. That brings us to the contemporary American phenomenon of the Christian businessman - a person who lectures down his nose to those he considers non-Christians (anyone not born again) about matters of faith and sexual morality while at the same time lying and cheating them in financial matters.
What the fundamentalists ignore is that Jesus, Himself, in his last and probably most important teaching placed the matter of salvation not in the establishment of a cult of personality around Himself but in terms of acting in such a way as to improve the lot of one's neighbors. Jesus sought not to have worship defined in terms of idolizing His persona or divinity; He equated worshiping Him with serving and helping “the least of these my brethren”
Matthew 25:31-46: “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say to them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.”
May the spirit of Christ's message be with you and guide you in the coming year.