(photo from NYtimes.com, a stock broker reacts to plummeting numbers on monday, one of the worst days in the history of the New York Stock Exchange.)
When asked to characterize our home country's biggest vice in a class in Spain, every american student's answer was greed or materialism. It's no secret to any of us, or anyone watching us in the rest of the world.
Is there a bright side to the economic crisis? Economic brainiacs predict that our generation will be the first since the depression to experience less wealth than our parents'. This sends many into a full blow panic attack. I had a professor who would stand in the front of the auditorium absolutely shaking with fear as he warned us of this imminent danger.
But, what have we to fear? Recent analysis has shown that the point of diminishing returns in the equation of wealth and happiness bottomed out long ago. Money is not making americans happier, it's making them richer (and now slightly poorer and far more anxious), busier, more stressed, more isolated, more wasteful, and more selfish. Moreover, the sector of the economy hardest hit by the crisis is our culture of credit and debt, fake money, making americans feel richer than they really are, drowning in debt to look and spend like the wacked-out celebrities that our society idolizes.
I don't want to be insensitive to the real hard spot that this will probably lead to in many families in terms of lost jobs, homes facing foreclosure, and emptied-out retirement funds, but I think money has long become an idol in this society, and I want to look at what good it might to for us to see a big crack in it, if not the whole thing crumbling to the ground.
I've been reading Jeremiah lately. Its all about the Lord's heart brokenness over Israel and Judah's idolatry, and His vengeance, which was ultimately merciful, in destroying their idols. I'm not trying to claim that the economic crisis is God's hand destroying the idols of our society (though it may be), but I think there is mercy in the shaking of our dependence on our economy's ability to make wealth, in terms of big houses and extravagance, an easy and ultimate thing to be grasped, a.k.a "the American dream."
It seems to me that where prosperity has left us isolated and unhappy, surrounded by mass-produced, fast-food-esque, fabricated versions of creativity and community, a little bit of crisis could actually draw us out of isolation and into an actual neighborly dependence on one another. It might even lead to us having to slow down a little and think a lot more about how we consume. What if we were even forced to make things rather than buy them--meals, gardens, clothes, gifts? I think that could be beautiful.
What are your thoughts?