Maybe it is time to put Christ back in Christmas. Bill O’Reilly annually demands we acknowledge that the man, or myth, that has been moved to the center of this once pagan ritual be properly identified with a religion, or philosophy as he puts it, that carries a moral message. True, the nation’s early Puritan settlers considered the holiday somewhat blasphemous, but we obviously are in need of moral guidance from any quarter that is plausible.
So, what would Jesus do about the profound inequality of opportunity that both the pope and our president have identified as the most pressing moral crisis of our time? O’Reilly didn’t cotton to the statements of either man and took particular umbrage over the comments that the spiritual leader of his own Catholic faith made in late November: “Pope Francis said that income inequality is immoral. … I don’t know if Jesus is going to be down with that.”
It is a timely question to ponder when many of us honor the purported moment of Christ’s birth with a last minute burst of shopping so desperate as to suggest the gluttony of the Roman Empire that led the early Christians to revolt in disgust. It is an indulgence much in evidence today, as the pope warns: “The worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalance and, above all, their lack of concern for human beings. …”
Score one for the pope. Although there is much to argue about in Christ’s enduring legacy, divinely inspired or not, there can be no doubt that equality of opportunity is explicit in the core Christian doctrine that every infant has a soul as significant as that of any other, and that we all will be judged by how well we respect the sanctity of the lives of those born into the most forlorn of circumstance.
That is also the crisis of the moment. As President Obama stated recently in pledging, once again, that he would treat the growing inequality of opportunity as “the defining challenge of our time,” he noted “the premise that we’re all created equal is the opening line in the American story.” That precept drew heavily upon the predominant Christian faith of the settlers even as they betrayed it in their treatment of this land’s original natives and its imported slaves.
Clearly the nation’s founders skipped Christ’s tale of the Good Samaritan in Luke where a compassionate response to a disheveled wretch is offered as the necessary requirement for eternal salvation. But it is the sentiment that informed Pope Francis’ recent apostolic exhortation condemning the growing worldwide gulf between the super-rich and the vast majority of more humble folk:
“The thirst for power and possessions knows no limit. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the rule. … Behind this attitude lurks a rejection of ethics and a rejection of God.”
Quite a challenge for our nation that largely continues to request at every public occasion that God bless America. We are a country, as our president tells us, where “the problem is that alongside increased inequality, we’ve seen diminished levels of upward mobility in recent years. A child born in the top 20 percent has about a 2-in-3 chance of staying at or near the top. A child born into the bottom 20 percent has a less than 1-in-20 shot at making it to the top. … The combined trends of increased inequality and decreasing mobility pose a fundamental threat to the American Dream, our way of life, and what we stand for around the globe.”
What we stand for is a launching pad for multinational corporations that wantonly exploit the resources and peoples of this planet with abandon. All the while, these modern plunderers are protected by the massive military power of a U.S. government that those same corporations refuse to support with the profits they have buried abroad. In return, they stuff the shopping malls, real and virtual, with an intoxicating display of imperial spoils that most of our citizens can barely afford.