Friday, 26 December 2008

Reflections on Christmas

Yesterday the outgoing Cardinal of Hong Kong Joseph Zen, 77, urged people to reflect on the values of poverty and frugality, what Christmas truly represents, because over-consumption has caused the current financial crisis that has still seen no end to its existence and sphere of influence.

"Is it not over-consumption, greed for easy money, irresponsible financial management, refusal by government officials to answer to the people or to fulfil their responsibilities in financial market control which caused the crisis?" asked Cardinal Zen, as quoted as saying by the South China Morning Post in his last pastoral letter to all Catholics in Hong Kong before retirement.

Coincidentally, Anglican Archbishop Paul Kwong of Sheng Kung Hui also urged people of Hong Kong to return to the virtue of love because "mythologising rampant capitalism" is "a recipe for social unrest".

I can't agree more with Cardinal Zen and Archbishop Kwong on their timely and well-intended reminder of what Christmas truly means. More importantly, their remarks are extremely relevant and valuable to those who never had a chance to learn about God. For many years, I have become too sick of the brainwash of consumeristic and materialistic festive "celebrations", if anything has been done to celebrate anything at all other than shopping. This epidemic behaviour now seems to me a surreal existence that eradicates the original meanings, connotations and significance of all festivals, regardless of their cultures of origin. Those meanings, connotations and significance are replaced by an artificial urge for tangible commodities as some sort of compensation.

For many years, shopping has been positioned and promoted as a widely practised form of celebrations, which in turn creates strong social and peer pressures on those who don't follow suit. This "under siege" mentality, founded on consumerism that is tirelessly advocated by business enterprises, in particularly those powerful transnational corporations based in Europe and the United States, has become truly addictive and irresistible. Countless people have now been brainwashed and believed wholeheartedly that such special occasions as Christmas and St Valentine's Day are not much more than legitimate excuses for excessive and wasteful shopping.

As I wrote last September when the financial crisis became more visible, I believe it is time for us to rethink capitalism as the preferred economic system for the long-term and sustainable development of mankind. In other words, capitalism that encourages deregulation and excessive consumption to promote economic growth has now come to a crossroad where serious thoughts and reflections are required to identify the direction for its survival, as well as that of mankind. From the environmental perspective, I cast serious doubt on how much longer we can afford to wait until capitalism rectifies itself. After all, the nature has already issued too many warnings in one way or another that we are terribly running out of time.

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