Keeping the peasants in their place.
In these tough economic times, with costs constantly rising, we all need, at the end of the day, to give a brutally frank answer to the difficult question. Can we still afford to be catholic? Absolutely, you know.
Election year brings another round of clichés, platitudes and promises. The powerless are deluded into putting questions to politicians, and imagining solutions. The powerful have no delusions. It is all about the vote. Unfortunately the vote has nothing to do with democracy. It is simply a mechanism for giving power away. Instead of getting on with doing whatever you think needs to be done, you hope that someone else will do it all for you, while you sit and read a magazine, just like you are now.
This is known as the “cargo cult”. The idea that you can sit in the sun and do nothing, because one day a great white ship will come across the ocean and bring you everything you need. This is familiar territory for catholics. Suffer now in a wretched world, and heaven will come along later to set the balance right. Rather than finding your own way to God now, the institutional church will tell you how to get there a little later.
No one is going to vote for a party that confronts the real issues facing the world today. Why should they? Our culture has been successfully built on the exploitation and destruction of the wonderful world God has given us. Dig it up, cut it down, sell it. Our consumer society assumes endless growth in a finite world. We are promised growth as the panacea, when growth is just another name for cancer.
We have invented “the economy”, and “the economy” delivers. Affluence in its turn breeds complacency. Everyone is having such a good time destroying the planet that they would have to be mad to vote for anything else. Everyone cherishes their cancer. Every politician knows that.
A few brave individuals bleat on during election year about helping the poor, or justice, or leading an ethically responsible life, but those with power know that the right political promises will reduce them to ineffective silence. Defusing revolutions before they get underway can be easily achieved by giving everyone a voice, but not listening. If you can take power away manifestos can be reduced to talk-back radio. We now live in a society where voicing personal opinions has become more important than anything else. Even National Radio is rapidly descending to the sound-bite. Our news focuses on comment rather than fact.
Who will speak for the fish? Who will speak for the forests? In an election year tokenism is the political tool for dealing with any issues that refuse to go away. By getting DoC to save a few high-profile media-savvy birds, or build a few mansion-huts for tourists to shelter from the reality of wilderness, you do not need to admit that the extinction of species is now greater than at any time since human beings have been around. We are on the extinction list. Who is going to vote for God or her creation? That box is not on the ballot paper.
The great advantage of election year is that we can postpone doing anything while we are listening to what everyone else is going to do for us. Instead of going outside and just building a house we can listen to how the profit-driven building industry is going to give us “affordable houses”. They will leave us crippled by a hefty mortgage for the rest of our lives, but this is just a price to pay if we want an investment rather than a home. We get the chance to become part of an economic system that is devoted to stopping everyone else from getting a house. That pushes values up, and keeps that tax-free 14% return rolling in. In contrast the “right to build” and “owner-building” feature regularly in English media, even in reputable publications such as the Guardian or the RIBA Journal.
Where does God fit into all this? The Second Vatican Council saw the church as the people of God rather than the institutional church. It was a radical move. Power was moved down to the people. The institution, of course, fought back. The jury is still out.
Beyond election year we should look forward to post-election depression. The realisation that your vote has gone and nothing has changed, even if the government has. You will still be powerless, and someone else will be running your life for you. Stopping you from building a house.
In these tough economic times no political party can tell you how to find God. You need to do that on your own. Now. Absolutely. You know.
First published in Tui Motu August 2014