As I read the writing on the wall, our situation in the United States has become untenable—one that clearly cannot be reformed under the current political and capitalist economic system. Yet, for many so-called middle-class U.S. citizens, even those on the lower edge, the situation may not seem so dire. After all, most people in the U.S. get to wear Nike’s or Adidas, have smartphones and other entertaining electronic devices, eat fast-food whenever they want, drive relatively newer cars, and live with some sense that life is at least not as bad as it is in many other countries.
Nevertheless, the inequality in our country and the social problems that result from this inequality are staggering. And, if we were doing so well why is that (the writing on the wall shows):
Over 40 million people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with Anxiety Disorder, and 15 million have Major Depressive Disorder. Those numbers only represent those who have been diagnosed; many more millions suffer untreated. Those with addictive disorders number 20 million, with 50,000 accidental drug overdose deaths every year (100 per day). 121 people in this country commit suicide every day. There are 2.2 million in jail and 4.7 million on probation. Last year 30,000 were murdered, 100,000 were shot with a gun, and 90,000, mostly women, were raped. These statistics are some of the highest rates in the world, only rivaled by countries actively engaged in war. And speaking of war, for such a noble country, the U.S. has been at war with some group for 222 of its 239 years of existence. This addiction to war and imperialism is the primary reason the U.S. is 18.9 trillion dollars in debt. Finally, most of us have heard that the richest 1 percent in the United States now own more than the bottom 90 percent, and that just eight people, six of them U.S. citizens, now own as much combined wealth as half the human race.
These statistics are overwhelming and undeniable. This dire situation is why thousands of U.S. citizens are mobilizing in collective action to attempt, at least, to bring some attention to the injustice and oppression caused by our broken political and capitalist system. However, we need many more to get involved to effect any real change and overturn this corrupt system.
Unfortunately, tens of millions have not engaged, but, instead, have withdrawn from collective action out of a false sense of malaise and powerlessness. This withdrawal from engagement is sometimes referred to as alienation and is a direct result of our broken political and capitalist system. Humans, through the capitalistic system, have been systematically commodified to anesthetize them from engaging in collective action. One of the 19th century’s great thinkers observed, “A direct consequence of the alienation of humankind from the product of their labor, from their life activity and from their species-life, is that humankind is alienated from other humans. … humankind is alienated from his species-life means that each person is alienated from others and that each of the others is likewise alienated from human life.” Those words were written in 1844. The situation of alienation in the US is worse now over 150 years later.
We have become an Alien Nation—commodified and separated from our collective humanity.
Scripture also speaks of alienation as sin (missing the mark): “Once you were alienated and hostile in your minds because of your evil actions” (Col 1:21) The essence of these “evil actions” may initially seem to speak only of individual sin, but should also be interpreted to include the systemic sin inherent in our societal apparatuses. In Christ, sin is not only to be recognized and confronted individually, but systematically as capitalistic (and racist) economic oppression: “Now in those days, when the disciples were growing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Greek-speaking Jews against the native Hebraic Jews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.” This sin of ethnic/economic discrimination was not dealt with individually, but systematically through the development of a more just and humane system (Acts 6:3).
If we focus solely on our individual problems (or sins), we actually exacerbate them and continue to be alienated from God and others. Psychologists mostly treat mental illnesses as individual problems and religious folk speak way too often of individual responsibility for sin. But when we pull our heads out of our overly individualistic mindsets for just a moment, we will see that much of what is individualized as sin or mental illness is the result of a political and social problem which needs drastic treatment as well. In the case of the U.S. capitalist system, which is killing our world, my suggestion is “shock treatment.” We need to shock ourselves awake, re-engage in collective action, and radically replace the alienating capitalist system with a more equitable system.
Jesus told us how to do that: “You cannot serve both God and money” (Lk 16:23c), so “Sell your possessions and give to the poor” (Lk 12:33a).
© Paul Dordal, 2017