I was outside St. Paul’s, London, recently dressed as an angel. Something which I’m pleased to say didn’t at all feel out of place. In fact, I believe a life well lived would be one where that stuff is common place!
As I was dancing around, along with my fellow angels, talking to people about The Church of England’s investment in fossil fuels, I noticed an open topped London tour bus pass by. On the top deck was a man, who looked to be of an Asian heritage, filming the sights with an IPad. Which I found to be profoundly odd. Not so long ago, if a person wanted to remember an event, a view or a sight, they would have to experience the thing and remember it. This would mean allowing oneself a period of exposure. A time where the body could absorb the experience though all the senses. Now all you need is an IPad and it’s done in seconds. Only it wasn’t. This man, who had likely travelled thousands of miles, was in London, but experiencing the city though an IPad screen. Something he could have done in his front room with a Wi-Fi connection.
It not only seems like you haven’t been to a place unless you have a picture of it, but, what’s more, our attitudes have changed so much that a picture is all that’s required. Once upon a time, when a sunset sky exploded into beautiful reds and violets people would stop in wonder; staring for hours. Now it’s noticed, captured on a mobile phone, and life moves on immediately.
It seems we’ve turned beauty into a commodity. A life well lived is a life captured but not necessarily experienced. Success is measured by productivity of which stopping to watch the world go by is no longer a part.
The same can be said of education. Today I was pondering the wonder that is Wikipedia. In fact, according to Wikipedia, the website is the 6th most popular site on the internet. The wondrous thing being it’s a non-profit making site. It’s simply there as a depository of information. It’s success is measured by education itself. Unlike our education system, which is no longer built upon the astounding beauty of education for educations sake.
Our attitude has become one of expecting people to pay for education because the only point of education is so that a person can achieve a job which pays more money. A person invests time and money in education in order to receive an economic dividend later in life; almost as if they were investing on the stock exchange. Tuition fees triple and so the idea of education as a commodity is secured; who can afford to enjoy education for educations sake now?
The Church once turned prayer into a commodity through indulgences. Priests would accept money in order to pray for a person or a person’s family. In the hopes that this would mean less time in purgatory. The beauty of prayer, of connecting with the creator for the single purpose of that connection, was lost.
Jesus, in the temple at Jerusalem, once, famously, turned over the money changers tables saying: “‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a den of robbers.” (Matt 21.13). Normally the temple was a place for prayer and teaching, but where’s the profit in that? So a place of prayer, peace, solitude, rehumanisation, had been turned into a commodity and rented to market traders.
More and more things receive affirmation from profit and more and more of this type of affirmation is considered exclusive. The only mark of success is what is made for the shareholder. As more and more countries have their water supply privatised, even something as fundamental as water no longer makes sense in our world without the ability for it to be bought and sold.
Which, going back to our friend on the bus, isn’t to say that taking a picture is wrong. The ability to take a picture is packed with its own unique awe-inspiring potential. However, if we were to only focus upon the photo, allowing beauty to become just another commodity, then we dehumanise ourselves. We need those times of exposure; it’s nourishment for the very soul!
Then, what’s just as terrifying is that this attitude starts to permeate into our whole lives. Our society has exchanged free time for overtime; family time for office time; staring at the sky for an extra few pounds. I say society, as, due to how companies now see even people as a commodity, wages are driven down, so many can only afford to live a life of overtime.
Which brings us to the final insult; people as figures, commodities, on a graph. There’s more money to be made for the shareholders if the workers are paid less and so people are forced to work more hours. Profit over humanity and human dignity.
The most extreme form of this is the arms trade, where the lives of women, men and children, souls with dreams and ambitions, are scored as simply collateral damage. An unfortunate, but acceptable, loss in the pursuit of profit from the sale of arms.
During the summer just gone, I witnessed thousands of people buying and selling such arms. The transactions were as normal as filming St. Pauls, with an IPad, from the top of a London tour bus.
I beg of you to check your attitudes. Find what nourishes you and your neighbour’s soul and chase it at all costs.
It is only through a change of all our attitudes will profiteering from slaughter and the commodity of death become so strange to the world’s eyes that it will shrivel and cease to exist.
Let people live for the sake of life and the fierce beauty of this world permeate all our souls.