Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Disease of Materialism

From Jacob Needleman's The American Soul

Our world, so we see and hear on all sides, is drowning in materialism, commercialism, consumerism. But the problem is not really there. What we ordinarily speak of as materialism is a result, not a cause. The root of materialism is a poverty of ideas about the inner and outer world. Less and less does our contemporary culture have, or even seek, commerce with great ideas, and it is that lack that is weakening the human spirit. This is the essence of materialism. Materialism is a disease of the mind starved for ideas.

Great ideas are always part of a living system of ideas, all of which are necessary for the full understanding of any one of them. When we speak of the "idea of America," we are speaking of many interconnected ethical, social, and metaphysical ideas, which all together offered hope to the world. The idea of America, with all that it contained within it about the moral law, nature, God and the human soul, once reflected to some extent the timeless, ancient wisdom that has guided human life since the dawn of history.

America was a new and original expression, in the form of a social and political experiment, of ideas that have always been part of what may be called the great web of Truth. Explicitly and implicitly, the idea of America has resonated with this ancient, timeless wisdom and has allowed something of its power to touch the heart and mind of humanity. It is necessary to recover this resonance, this relationship, however tenous and partial, between the teachings of wisdom and the idea of America.

All the rights guaranteed by the Constitution were based on a vision of human nature that calls us to be responsible -- responsible to something within ourselves that is higher than the all-too-human desires for personal gain and satisfaction; higher than the dictates of the purely theoretical or logical mind; higher than the instinctive loyalties to family and tribe.

We need to rediscover the deeper, "mythic meaning" of our nation. We need ideas; but we need ideas expressed in ways that touch our feelings of wonder and the sense of the sacred.

Many of us may think of myth as something opposed to fact, as falsehood or superstition. But in the root meaning of the word, the great myths of mankind are representations of cosmic and spiritual ideas, expressed in a way that touches the deeper springs of the mind -- the intelligence of the heart.

The mythic world does not exclude the world of concrete, everyday reality, but includes a greater awareness of the paradox of human existence...a reflection of the mystery of the two levels within human nature -- the divinity within man joined to the all-too-human. We need to reclaim our mythic symbols before they are destroyed by narrow "realism" or naïve "idealism." We need to reclaim them in a way that corresponds to what is necessary for us now in our own era.

Ideas communicated through myth show us a world that is perceived through the vision of wonder, love of truth, and the sense of the sacred, the impulse to serve and to participate in a greater reality----what we may call the inner world.These myths live in our subconscious, and we need to let them come forward and act upon us again. As it is, they are now being covered by a foolish realism that sees only "facts" of the outer world and is blind to the laws of the inner world...

Democracy in its specifically American form was created to allow men and women to seek their own higher principle within themselves. Without that inner meaning, democracy becomes, as Plato and Aristotle pointed out 2500 years ago, a celebration of superficiality.

We need to re-mythologize the idea of America.
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