Christmas and the Religion of Consumerism
In my article "Ding Dong Merrily on High" (The Island 11th Dec 2002) I discussed how Christmas, the feast commemorating the birth of Jesus has been appropriated and subverted to serve the ends of global consumerism. It has become what it was meant to replace, the Saturnalia of Ancient Rome. Even Christian ministers do not seem to be aware how the totally paganised celebration of Christmas worldwide has collapsed the boundaries between the sacred and the profane.
The same carols sung in Churches enclaves of the sacred are piped through the sound systems of supermarkets and shopping malls. During the entire Christmas season last year, the compound of a fashionable Church, in a Colombo suburb was turned into a Christmas pola ground. The compound, in fact, is regularly rented out to various merchants to sell their wares. The serried stalls of the pola symbolic of prayer pews in the New Temple of Trade. (But), "When Jesus went to Jerusalem for the Passover feast, in the Temple he found people selling cattle and sheep and doves, and money changers sitting there. Making a whip of cord, he drove them all out of the Temple, scattered the money changers coins, knocked their tables over and said: "Take all this out of here and stop using my Fathers house as a market" (John 3/14-17, Jerusalem Bible) Traditionally the four weeks preceding Christmas are observed as the sacred period of Advent.
The faithful are supposed to prepare themselves through prayer and penance to commemorate the birth of Jesus and his second coming at the end of the world, to establish the Kingdom of God. It would be the end of humankinds sinful history. Advent would have been the ideal period for sober meditation by Sinhala and Tamil Christians about the cease-fire and to reflect on how they could become a nucleus of citizens working together for a just and enduring peace. Instead the period was allowed to be co-opted for vulgar consumerism by the moneyed classes.
Francis Fukyamas, "The End of History and the Last Man" (1992), is a secular-theology celebrating the end of history anticipated by Christianity. According to Fukuyama the hidden purpose of history has reached its supreme goal with the collapse of the communist Soviet Union and triumph of liberal democracy underpinned by global free market economics.
Today, he writes, "this is the only coherent political aspiration that spans different regions and cultures around the world". The end or goal of history is a globalised paradise of mass consumerism. Perhaps it is this state of affairs which simultaneously satisfies secular desires and fulfills religious hopes which was celebrated last Christmas Season when the government sponsored a kada vithiya, a rock concert by UB 40 and a grand carol service in St. Lucias Cathedral presided over by the Archbishop of Colombo.
All the paraphenelia for Christmasing Vesak is already in place, greeting cards, bhakthi gee, cantatas, fireworks and crackers and poojas as tele spectacles. Who knows, we may soon have plastic Bo trees and ready-to-hang gok kola decorations and assemble and plug on lanterns on supermarket shelves.
Bopping to Danno Budhunge
This year the government and the Chairman of Rupavahini are preparing to celebrate Vesak on an even grander scale. A novelty on offer this year is a Tunnel (of Love?) through which the devout could pass edifying themselves, viewing depictions of events from the life of Buddha and from the Jataka stories.
A foretaste of a future Disney Land style Buddhist theme park? According to Rupavahini announcements one of the patrons of the extravaganza on Bauddhaloka Mawatha is the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress! One wonders how any devout Buddhist, congressional or not, would be able to meditate on the Noble Truths in viharas located on the mawatha, while rock music played to kotthu roti beats are being blared out from giant loud speakers? If the present trend continues the observance of the attangika sil will be a thing of the past.
The aim of mass consumerist culture seems to be to infect the masses with a form of cultural AIDS (acquired immunity deficiency syndrome). The cyber techniques deployed to snuff out indigenous resistance consumerist culture and to create a counterfeit one dimensional culture, masterfully disclosed by Jean Baudrillard, will be discussed next week.
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