Black Friday. That’s the name first given by police for the frenzied, aggressive shopping day after Thanksgiving.
This year the Friday after Thanksgiving is a big deal for another reason: It’s the deadline for Obamacare’s website to be fixed.
Thus, this Black Friday we will see two overpowering forces shove their way into family life: The market and the state.
The market drives the consumerism orgy of Black Friday in two ways. First, by keeping us working five days a week and overtime with no chance to shop, and second by the siren song of bargains on the black day itself.
This year, Walmart and other stores will be calling people out of their homes starting on Thanksgiving Day itself. While the market calls us out, the state will be working its way in via the new and improved Obamacare website.
Consider what Obamacare plans to do to families. It will drive wedges in between husband and wife, promoting contraception on a wide scale with money from taxpayers and even from churches. It will sever the ties between parent and child, paying for abortifacients now, and for surgical abortion before too long (just watch). It will split individuals’ consciences, forcing them to make a Sophie’s choice between their morals and harsh penalties.
Pope John Paul II presciently described America in 2013 in 1990’s Centessimus Annus:
“The individual today is often suffocated between two extremes represented by the state and the marketplace.”
The state is already overpowering in its presence in our lives: Nearly half of us receive government money of some kind — Obamacare will greatly increase that number immediately, and it will only get worse as its internal incentives force it to an ever more government-controlled model. As care becomes federalized, we will live what Pope Benedict warned about:
“The state that would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself, would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the very thing that the suffering person — every person — needs: namely, loving personal concern.”
But the market is every bit as intrusive. On average, shoppers have 3.5 credit cards, and households with credit cards have an average $15,799 in credit card debt. If you add other forms of debt into the equation, an American household’s average debt is more than $50,000. This makes us essentially wage slaves, owned by our debt, going to work each day to feed it.
What to do?
There is no clear political answer. Activists on the Left tend to see the trouble with the market but not the trouble with the state, while activists on the right reverse the equation.
There is no clear cultural answer. Our culture has become a product of the state on the one hand, through the government-run school system — and the market on the other, which has turned our entertainment, books, restaurants and vacations into money-making corporate product.
The answer is in Maccabees.
It tells the story of the attempted suppression of Judaism in Palestine in the second century before Christ. Here’s the Maccabbees’ answer:
After tearing off the skin and hair of his head, they asked him, “Will you eat the pork rather than have your body tortured limb by limb?” Answering in the language of his ancestors, he said, “Never!”
I wonder how a modern-day American Catholic would answer an equivalent question.
After offering him a deal on a large-screen TV and showing him his healthcare options, they asked him: “Will you devote your family’s money to unwholesome entertainment and trade your religious convictions for a government check?” With an ironic grin, he said, “Yesh.”
Pope Francis’ new apostolic exhortation points out what our culture’s idolatry of money does to us.
“The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience.”
“I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day.”
We have unfortunately been taught that “Jesus” is a safe and easy answer to problems. It’s not an easy answer, it’s a hard one: One that requires becoming less like Michael Scott and more like the Maccabees. But it can be done.
A good time to start is the Sunday after Black Friday: Advent.