Thursday, July 17, 2014

Money Over God?

In a passage in Friedrich Nietzsche’s “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”, the German philosopher traces the excesses of the modern world to its inevitable consequence. Nietzsche introduced us to one of the most controversial philosophical perceptions of all time: “God is dead.” What did he mean by that? One might think that Nietzsche meant God was dead in literal terms. But that’s not what he meant at all.

What Nietzsche was trying to say was that we, as modern individuals living in a modern civilization with all its modern forms, norms, and technologies, have metaphorically killed the conception of “God”. Our culture of science and secularism has eclipsed what was once an unbreakable faith in a heavenly divinity and has taken its place. What also radically changed social paradigms about religion in modern society was the fast and furious appeal of money and of everything it could purchase and symbolize.

It is the undiluted reality as we live and breathe today: money has supplanted the power and grandeur of God in our hearts and minds. To disabuse those who think this piece is the ranting of a gleefully atheistic nihilist, let us first consider the gap between what we would do for money and material possessions and what we would altruistically do in the name of God. How many of us monetarily capable of doing so would give up substantial amounts of money and material possessions for shall we say, the charitable benefit of the impoverished? I would venture to say that not too many would even if the material sacrifice were of a modest nature and even if the endowment had little effect on their finances.

Despite the outward philanthropy and compassion articulated by many of the Christian faithful, the truth is far too many of them cannot practice what they preach or what they profess to believe in. The philosopher G. K. Chesterton came close to the point I am trying to make. He once said “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” Chesterton laid bare the chasm between the Christian ideal and the conducting of a wholehearted effort to meet that ideal.

Many self-proclaimed Christians are misguided in believing that by merely going through the motions of the core Christian rituals (attending mass, constant prayers, taking communion, going to confession, etc.) that they are being good Christians. But are they being good Christians when they exhibit the proper religious observances on the surface but flout the ideals of Christianity in their actions? I argue that going to mass, saying your prayers, taking communion, and going to confession is the easy part of being a Christian. Anyone can perform these formalities with the same amount of effort that is required to turn on the television. However, the hard part is actually behaving and functioning as morally compassionate and conscientious Christians.

This contradiction is especially highlighted when the question of money comes up. We have become not only a society, but a world of extravagant consumer appetites and desires. We are a world of material accumulation and possessiveness in which deified brand names and fetishized status symbols such as cars, houses, clothes, and bank accounts come to be the pivotal assets that determine who is good or bad, who is right or wrong, and who is superior or inferior.

Christianity as it is observed today doesn’t match the traditional idea of how it is supposed to be observed. Although in all fairness being a Christian can be challenging and sometimes unbearable in our modern society. In today’s universal framework of money and materialism, it might be too much to ask for Christians to be Christians. That doesn’t mean they cannot try harder in acting like they are really adhering to the teachings of their faith, rather than deluding themselves into thinking they are acting like Christians when in fact they are simply fulfilling on a barebones scale what is expected of them from their Christian upbringing and culture.

I am tired of seeing human relationships and humanity in general suffer terribly because we have traded our spiritual and moral identities, Christian or otherwise, in exchange for a material one. Nietzsche saying that God is dead is one way of describing this polarizing path. Selling your soul to the devil is another.


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