Thursday, December 28, 2006

GOD: Creator, Savior, Free Market Capitalist

So the other day, I'm sitting watchin VH1 Soul (everything BET should be, but isn't) and there's a video by Common--one of the finest emcees out today--where he's performing before a live crowd. Being part lyricist and part philosopher, Common often prologues his songs with a bit of witty words on politics, spirituality, activism, etc. This time would be no different. Sometime during the performance, he urged people to give thanks to God that both he and they are able to live in a place where food and goods are bountiful--rather than in some of the more impoverished regions of the globe. Those words got me to thinking. Are the trappings of the modern Western world due to some benevolence of God? Is God a Free Market Capitalist who sends plauges of odious debt on poor nations and smites them with unfair trade practices? Is this a God who performs miracles through legacies colonialism and exploitation that blesses the West and curses the rest? Or are we trying to use "faith" to avoid an ugly truth.

To paraphrase and summarize, Common began to recount the many ills affecting much of the world--from Katrina to the Iraq War to global poverty. He then asked the crowd to count their own blessings, and to give thanks to "God" that we (presumably "we" in the West) are able to partake in such bountiful amounts of food, a higher level of living, Puma kicks and Ipods. Because, afterall, we could be as bad off as so many other parts of the world. To this Common was greeted by a round of applause from the audience. Watching through the flat screen of my television, I was only left frowning with alot of disturbing thoughts.

This is not a slight on Common, whose music I've enjoyed since he was Common Sense. But it is part of a larger issue that's troubled me all throughout this holiday season, including our current move towards the Greco-Roman derived New Year, where many will be giving their thanks and blessings for their fortunate lot in life.

If the reason we in the West are able to enjoy our Blackberrys and deck ourselves in diamonds or designer apparel is because of God--then I'm assuming this God figure is a free market capitalist who works through neoliberal trade policies that favor rich nations, destroying the fragile economies of poor countries, making them dependent on those who would exploit them, including helping to sow the seeds of conflict that always follows poverty and disease, and endorse past events from slavery to colonialism that helped set up this system to begin with.

Common's words, while superficially nice, seem to exist in a world of disconnection. There's a false ideology that the rest of the world is poor, simply because that's the way things are, or--even more disturbing--because some God entity has seen fit to bless the West and curse the rest. But this ignores the reality that in fact we are all very connected.

Poor nations are kept poor today because rich nations have made it so. They've been able to do so because a legacy of colonialism has allowed them to retain economic power, writing the laws of trade unfairly to benefit themselves and keep everyone else mired in poverty or something close. Its no coincidence that the nations that make up the G8 come primarily from the old colonial powers. It's no coincidence that many nations like those in Africa are in debt to the very nations that once conquered and held them as colonies. Without slavery, much of the West--including the US--would not exist as a power today, or perhaps have existed at all. Without colonialism, the riches of Britain and France and Belgium would not have come about. The divide of rich and poor on this planet is written in a history of blood and conquest, and its legacy continues with us strongly today. It is far from happenstance.

The God that supposedly favors the West must also not mind environmental destruction, as the US drains a vastly disproportionate amount of the world's resources. Today, the average US citizen consumes well over *thirty* times what the average citizen in the Third World does. The developed nations of the world account for only 20% of the global population, but are responsible for pumping out over 75% of the world's pollution and waste. The richest 20% of the world consumes some 86% of all the goods and services used. In short, we in the West are literally devouring the planet, and as the rest of the world tries impossibly to follow in our footsteps, we are depleting forests and oceans to feed our capitalist-driven gluttony. Global warming is but one of the side-effects we'll be reaping as a result.

Basically put, this is a vastly unfair world. And its not by coincidence that it is so. No, I'm not talking about some conspiracy theory where a few men get together and have secret meetings to decide the fate of the 6 billion and growing members of the global community. Those are fictitious tales created to deflect us away from our own responsibility. The truth is much more mundane and much more damning.

The world is unfair because of a global economic system maintained by trade agreements that are passed as we tune into American Idol; it's maintained everytime we buy a pair of sneakers or some clothing that is being sewn together by the desperate in places like the Saipan or Bangladesh; it's maintained by our desire for flashy diamonds that send the poverty stricken into war in Sierra Leone, and even the coltan in our mobile phones that help drive mining/resource wars in the Congo that kill millions; it's maintained by a massive arms trade, of which the US is remarkably the number one death merchant. It's the real world that we'd rather not see, as we don our little white ONE bands and try to act as if we are the saviors of the world's poor, and not a key factor in their continued existence. The troubling reality is that in some way, we're all complicit--even if by varying degrees of responsibility.

Lest I seem to be standing too high on my soapbox, let me state that I don't set myself apart here. I'm as much a part of the system as all else. And like everyone in this consumerist driven society, I want nice things too--and would rather not think about what has to be done in order to acquire it. But at the least I try not to delude myself, into believing the world that exists to benefit some today, while keeping others poor, is the work of some God entity.

Unless of course in the end, this God people worship in the West really is a God of free markets, neoliberalism, sweat shops, poverty and hunger--with prophets with names like Creflo Dollar, inducing their flock with divine pyramid schemes and Horatio Alger parables of eventual wealth. And if that's the case, then maybe we should think on overthrowing that God and replacing Him/Her/It with a better one. Or perhaps, if this is the best a God can inspire, maybe we could do without such a being at all.

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