Those of us who live in caves (figuratively) have trouble filling all this in. Not a great fan of capitalism, I find “Black Friday” a troubling add-on to the holiday schedule. Now I’ve lost track of all the expanding special days: Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday. Must we celebrate capitalism so much? I have no problem with non-Christian holidays, but when money becomes the sole basis for special days I have to wonder. Mammon is a deity of which we’d been warned a couple of millennia ago. The real irony is that it’s the very religion that posted that warning that now seems most closely related to the capitalistic system that perpetuates its worship. It wouldn’t be such an issue except that the religion that has bought into the system so readily is the one that is putatively based on its condemnation.
Irony is something for which historians are always on the lookout. Perhaps this is especially so among historians of religion. Religion has come to denote a codification of our highest ideals and aspirations. When did money attained such spiritual status? It seems that Christianity was the vehicle. Although it’s most obvious in American politics, the relationship goes back to the whole colonial enterprise. Once Christianity became an imperial religion under Constantine, its focus began to shift. Even those splinter groups that started off with higher ideals soon came under the overarching umbrella of the capitalistic system sprung from the teachings of a poor carpenter from Nazareth. And so we find ourselves amid a creeping array of money-based holidays that provide the secular answer to Advent.
Of course, Advent itself became a season of anticipating the commercialized holiday of Christmas. And here as the calendar year winds down the financial year hopes for a shot in the arm because economy is the doctrine of this new religious thinking. And the irony is that the system is set up so those who already have too much get more while those who don’t have enough end up with even less. Sounds biblical, no? Ever since my ouster from academia, I’ve had to cash in vacation days to make myself a little semester break. A body gets used to a certain schedule, and those rhythms are difficult to shake. As we work our way through pandemic-laced spending holidays I’ve got my eyes on a bit of time off from my small part in supporting this all-consuming machine.