Boston-area shoppers, like so many others around the nation, will be flocking to the malls the day after Thanksgiving, to scoop up whatever bargains they can find. This day of retail madness, “Black Friday,” started innocently enough as a way to kick off the holiday shopping season. But for the “shop ‘til you drop’ crowd, it’s almost a religion. And that is very worrisome.
Over the past 10-15 years, a movement to put “Christ back into Christmas” has tried to counter the Black Friday insanity, urging people to celebrate the holidays with a little less full-throttle consumerism and a lot more thoughtful, caring, spiritual-minded celebration of the season.
Apparently, the “Christ in Christmas” movement hasn’t made that much of a dent in this retail tradition; Black Friday still rolls onward every year, while church attendance continues to dip – Barna Research says the long-awaited “bump” in Christmas eve attendance is mostly the old faithful church stalwarts who might be coming in from the cold more often.
Meanwhile, another survey reported that the percentage of U.S. adults who say they don’t have any religious identity has more than doubled. And the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life says that over half of all Christians today think Christianity isn’t necessarily the only way to salvation.
But is making pilgrimages to the mall a viable substitute for making those treks to church? Does one achieve any enlightenment, or gain any points toward the ultimate reward of eternal life?
Perhaps not, but it doesn’t matter to that massive population of shoppers, who are only concerned with material needs, not spiritual ones. But do we blame them? Usually, it takes two to tango. But more about that in a moment.
Ben Franklin weighs in on Black Friday.
In one of the telling commentaries of the season, a blogger who channels the spirit of Benjamin Franklin made a wry comment on the ironic similarity between Black Friday and Good Friday. “New” Ben observed, “The one holiday, the religious one, reminds us that Someone was sacrificed for the sins of humanity, and then consequently raised to save us from these sins. The other, the retail observance, asks us all to sacrifice ourselves for the sins of the merchants… and I daresay that these merchants will not care a farthing about our well-being and welfare, especially after depositing us on the doorstep of the poorhouse as the result of our spending sprees.” For more of the blog, go to http://benfranklinexclusive.weebly.com/bens-new-blog.html
So even one of the Founding Fathers (dead for over 300 years!) can see the lunacy in the yearly mad dash to the “Holy Mass of the Immaculate Mall.” Ben may not have been overly religious himself in his day, but his embrace of, and support for, all religions certainly gives him some credibility in this issue of consumerism vs. Christianity.
Franklin’s view was that the best way to serve God was to serve humanity. And that he did, through so many of his own charitable, philanthropic endeavors.
The question is, how does rampant consumerism serve God? And why do so many people choose to ignore what their faith teaches them, and side instead with the prophets of presents and pretty packages?
The Rev. Michael Horton, who blasts these trends in his new book, Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church, thinks Christians themselves are ultimately the ones responsible for taking Christ out of Christmas. Horton is associate pastor at Christ United Reformed Church in Santee, California and an associate professor of theology at Western Seminary.
“Secularism cannot be blamed on the secularists,” Horton declares, noting that many of these secularists were actually raised in the church. “We are the problem,” he says.
So in other words, it’s not simply the merchants, or the consumers, or a materialistic society. Everyone has a small share in this simmering stew.
As the saying goes, it takes two to tango!