Americans lined up outside stores last week for deals on technology ranging from tablets to TVs. Many spent all of Thanksgiving, a day intended for reflection on the many blessings we already have, camping outside Best Buy to get a good deal on a laptop.
Black Friday, that national holiday celebrating consumerism in America, is ironically placed one day after Thanksgiving. We’re thankful for the things we have, briefly, right before we run to the store in order to trample other Americans to get a deal on an iPad.
And now Black Friday is actually invading Thanksgiving: some stores opened during the day itself, meaning you could start shopping before you’ve even digested your turkey.
I know many of you who will read this aren’t American, or even Western. You’re from India, or China, or Mars. But all of you are familiar with the idea that Christmas is becoming too commercial. It’s a cliche that transcends borders, thanks in no small part to Snoopy and Charlie Brown.
The talk is that America is a Christian nation, but it’s not the complete reality. We have a second major religion, which I’ll get to later.
For now lets talk about the universe. Some night this week I want you to hold a tennis ball in front of your face and look at the night sky. That ball is blocking light, however feint, from thousands of galaxies further away than you can contemplate. All of those galaxies contain hundreds of billions of stars, many of which have planets orbiting around them.
And that’s just the one’s we’ve managed to see.
If the odds of life arising spontaneously are one in a trillion, your tennis ball covers up more than enough galaxies for it to happen multiple times.
I point this because some of us believe that a single entity created all of this, and is in control of it. That’s power beyond contemplation, and it might sound silly, but it’s what some of us in the West believe.
Some of us also believe that, two thousand years ago, this entity became human. That he was born an infant and had a relatively normal childhood in Roman-controlled Palestine.
Weird, right? But it gets even better: we believe that entity, while human, gave up the things most of us value most: wealth and power. He lived without possessions, preferring to travel light. And when people tried to make him king he turned them down.
But not only did the most powerful being in the universe scorn power and comfort for himself; he questioned the morality of having it. He said it was easier for a camel to walk through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to go to heaven, and told the rich without ambiguity to sell everything they own and give it to the poor.
We killed him, the story goes. Humanity couldn’t let someone say things like that, so we killed him.
Anyway, this is the month that entity was born in human form, some believe. And we celebrate the birthday of this man, who could have had everything but instead lived simply, by buying shit we don’t need and giving it to people who probably don’t want it.
Because like I said, there’s a second national religion in America: consumerism.
Christianity, in its early days, took over pagan festivals and turned them into Christian holidays. The winter solstice became Christmas, easter displaced a fertility festival. Consumerism is doing the same thing today and most people don’t notice.
So this year, during December, try to do something good. Help the poor. Give money to worthwhile causes. Make our planet better, because you really don’t need another tablet.
Originally part of Technophilia 46: Sexiest Man Alive