Monday, December 26, 2011

Bring Back the CHRIST in Christmas

Christmas has now departed into Boxing Day and so I thought I would try and write a few words about what it was like to spend Christmas in Singapore instead of heading back to Germany. Although I had a pretty good Christmas with friends and family, I find myself agreeing with Pope Benedict. It’s time to bring CHRIST back to Christmas.

Everyday of walking down Orchard Road (Singapore’s main shopping district) was a nightmare. Not only was the place crowded with shoppers, one couldn’t help but be bombarded with endless, meaningless promotions to get you to buy things that you don’t really want or need. Yes, I am well aware that Christmas is supposed to have gone beyond its Christian roots and become a “universal” festival. However, a trip down Orchard Road has confirmed my belief that we’ve merely moved away from the Gospel of Christ to the Gospel of Mindless Consumerism.

OK, let’s clarrify, I am not against business. Of all people, I should be very pro-business and I should be greatful when people like retailers do well. I am also not against gift giving or having a good meal (though I should probably have a lot less of those). What I can’t take is how all of this has over shadowed the most significant part of Christmas – Christ.

I’ve not been confirmed in Church so you can’t call me a Christian in the truest sense of the word. However, I believe in the divinity of Christ and his message. If you read the Gospels and try to understand what the man was saying, you’ll find that he was preaching a simply put powerful message. This message is revered by everyone or at it least in should be.

Let’s face it, everyone agrees that Jesus is Holy. Christians see him as “God, the Son.” The Muslims revere him as one of God’s greatest prophets (Fact – the Koran mentions Jesus more often than it mentions Mohammed and it talks about Jesus’s return to fight the Anti-Christ). There is a sect of Hinduism that recognises Jesus as a Saint and the Dalai Lama has described Jesus as a Bodhisatva. Everyone agrees the man was Holy – we merely disagree with the extent of how holy he was.

So let’s start with our common ground – Jesus was Holy and what he said and did was sacred. From here we need to look at why he was so.

I think the answer is fairly simple – he taught us that life was about something greater than ourselves. Life, if you are merely focused on “Me, Myself and I” is pretty pointless. As I get older, I also realise that when people become so focused on themselves at the cost of everything else – they also don’t get very far.

I don’t believe that Christ was advocating being a doormat for every mercenary shit on the planet. My former half’s former pastor said it best – “Meek does not mean stupid.” There are times when one has to be firm about certain things. However, I believe that Christ did teach people that it was important to be driven by something other than the need to feed yourself.

If you study the Gospel, Christ talks about the willingness to “carry ones cross” to follow him. He urges rich men to sell their posessions and distribute it to the poor so that they could become followers of his. One of his best sound bites was “Man cannot serve two masters.” You serve money or God not both.

Once again, I don’t believe he was being “anti-business.” I don’t think Christ ever argued that one cannot make a profit. What I believe he said was that ones motive had to be about more than just making money.

Business should make money. However, that money has to benefit humanity rather than encourage greed. Businesses need not necessarily be philanthropic but at the very least they should create benefits – ie they should provide people with a means of making a living as well as making life better through the products or services that they provided. Businesses that encourage greed and thrived because of it would eventually fail.

There may be a point to this argument. Look at the banking system, which moved from being about lending money to people to being about creating financial products based on some fantasy to create vast sums of money for a few people. When you are focused on lending money, you remember things like risk and return. When you are focused on creating money out of thin air, you forget basic laws of physics.

I look at the people who have topped the Forbes Rich List consistently over the last two decades. Two names stick out – Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. Both are highly decent men who were driven by something more than just personal enrichment. I know the technies will hate me for saying it but Bill Gates did do something good when he made computers useable to the average person. Sure Microsoft PC is dull when compared to Apple Mac but serves a purpose and it gives people a chance to do more that what they ever dreamed of before. Bill Gates has created vast wealth for ordinary people – Seattle is filled with ordinary people who did the ordinary thing of taking a job with Microsoft for normal wages but ended up becoming millionaires through their stock options.

Warren Buffet only invest in “real” businesses (those with a genuine product or service) . He avoids things that are complicated and don’t make sense even to the chaps who created them. Buffet avoided investing in “Dot.Com” because it was too complicated and he realised the valuations were created by funny money rather than something real. What’s the result of this – Mr Buffet has created wealth for people and his AGM (Annual General Meetings) are constantly packed. Mr Buffet does not need to hide behind “National Security” and “Libel” laws to show that he’s making money.

Messers Gates and Buffet have made legendary fortunes by not being obsessed with personal enrichment. Their focus has been on doing something else and by doing their something else well, they’ve made their fortunes. Warren Buffet says it best, “I am more interested in processes than proceeds – though I’ve learnt to live with those too.”

The Gospel of Christ is in people like Gates and Buffet. The Gospel of Mindless Consumerism is in the people who gave us the Sub-Prime Crisis. Both have created wealth but only one has been sustainable.

People should give gifts at Christmas and they should spend time with friends and family. What we should not do is to see Christmas as an exercise in buying things we don’t need and stuffing ourselves into something unrecognisable.

Christ taught us to look at life as something greater than ourselves. Its tough doing it but when people find the strength to do good, they become better people. When they don’t the worst in them takes over.

In the last few years, the world has gone through something of an economic downturn. This has been brought about largely by a culture that encourages people to behave at their worst. This is the type of culture where Christmas is celebrated by excessive spending driven by the need to own more for the sake of owning. This is the state where we talkbout “Xmas” and other variations of the festival because the Christ has been forgotten.

Given the economic downturn that we’ve been living in, isn’t time we brought back the CHRIST to Christmas and worked on having a culture that encourages us to bring out the best in each other?

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