Pub: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: News and Features
Did Jesus make us fat and greedy?
Christianity, some say, caused the crash. Not traditional Christianity, in which next-life success depends on this-life frugality, but the new so-called prosperity gospel, whose spirituality comes wrapped in worldly expectations like prunes in bacon. Devils, you might say, on apocalyptic horseback. Prosperity churches offer credit facilities for the offertory, require tithing as an investment strategy (promising huge returns) and see usury not as sin but as sacrament.
“We love the money in Jesus Christ’s name!” shouts Pastor Fernando Garay from his pulpit in Charlottesville, Virginia, promising a $10,000 return on a $100 offering. “The rich,” he explains to his mostly Latino congregation, “are closer to God.”
But it’s not just America. At Hillsong Church, not more than five minutes from where I live and a conspicuous presence on the Block , pastor Brian Houston whips his audience into a “giving” frenzy while religiously pointing out the credit facilities in the foyer. In Garay’s words, “Jesus loved money, too!”
So in view of the over-consumption monster now blocking humanity’s path – with its three snarling heads of climate crisis, financial crisis and obesity crisis, all with their big googly eyes right on us – it is worth asking: how much does Jesus have to answer for?
Consider the manger. We’ve always taken this straw-filled washtub to signify the infant’s outsider status, his fringe cred, his underdog appeal. But perhaps – manger being, after all, the verb “to eat”, as in munch – it is really about consumption. Like the wafer thing, you know: eat the body, drink the blood … it has to make you wonder.
It’s inconceivable that democracy or capitalism would have arisen without the risen Christ. The entire doctrine of a new world order born out of divine love and sacrifice; Catholicism’s spawning of the individual conscience that was Protestantism, which brought the self-knowledge of the Enlightenment, the self-betterment of capitalism and the self-affirmation of democracy; followed by the gradual erosion of morality by abundance and the relentless, locust-like munching of the world’s resources. Whammo, before you know it we’re eyeballing the three-headed monster.
Of course, retrospect makes history look inevitable, and can suggest causality where none exists. But it is striking, as we wonder how much Christmas cheer we can stuff in before doing workout penance, that if we wanted to do something special for Christmas lunch, we’d skip it. We’d fast.
Not me, of course. I don’t fast. I figure if God wanted us to fast he’d have put a vacuum-cleaner option on the tummy button. He’d have made it easy, even fun. And although there’s a long tradition of Christian fasting, much of it is more like super-strict veganism. The so-called Daniel Fast even markets its own cookbook, giving a whole new meaning to the term “fast food”.
But two people who are probably not agonising over whether it’s turkey, prawns or takeaway Maccas this year are hunger strikers Pete Spencer and Daniel Lau. Neither has eaten for a month, but that is where the similarity ends. For where Lau, an economics doctoral student from Wollongong, is one of thousands who fasted globally for climate action throughout the Copenhagen conference, Pete Spencer, a 61-year-old grazier from the Monaro, is still fasting to bring one small piece of climate action to an end.
Each has a case.
Lau is not, he says, a spiritual person. For years he worked at a steel plant which was frantically pumping out carbon dioxide but when, during his PhD, he examined climate science and just how little mitigation would truly cost, he could no longer remain passive.
Spencer, by contrast, has spent more than a month chained to a platform several metres above one of the highest pieces of private property in Australia, fasting against land-clearing laws that, he says, make his farm unviable. He is not your standard sceptic, but he feels the Kyoto brunt has been unduly borne by country, and perhaps he is right (though there are other compelling reasons for constraining land clearing).
Each man says his cause is to die for, and for Spencer that is on the cards, since he will soon reach the point of permanent damage. Not that he is likely to achieve his aim, worthy as may be, since with so profoundly anti-democratic a tool as the hunger strike the Thatcher argument holds. Yield to one and pretty soon you’ll have half the population threatening to hold its breath, or else.
In any case, 1200 people die of hunger every hour, although not here. And as food becomes the new oil, many more may soon be starving for climate change, although perhaps not us. We seem to have managed climate change, like the crash, rather well; we pollute, they die.
Which makes Copenhagen’s Christmas box to the world especially dismal. Say what you like about consciousness raising and business stepping in where governments quail, Copenhagen spent billions and polluted wildly in order to change precisely nothing.
It also brought us the pre-emptive arrest, with a thousand eco-protesters arrested for crimes they might commit while the oil and coal men, wielding the new Christianity’s entitlement to planetary plunder, spun that denialista hysteria like a shroud.
So me, I’m hoping the Jews are right and that the messiah is still en route.
I also hope he’s not born here, or Nicola Roxon’s new maternity laws may force him from the manger and into the staphylococcal embrace of a NSW hospital where the Mother of God will risk the attentions of some rogue obstetrician to whom her midwife will have been statutorily shackled – and who, tacitly protected by the profession, will remove her pudenda without permission or leave her to deliver the holy infant in a toilet, and send her the bill.
Funny old world. Merry Christmas.
ILLUSTRATION: Greg Bakes