Richard Pithouse, reflecting on the recent riots in England…
…The young people contained in decaying council estates are bombarded by relentless corporate propaganda conflating access to consumer goods with meaning, beauty and dignity. Cameron likes to say that there are communities in England that are broken. But it is a society that tells young people that they have to consume to live with dignity but denies them work or the money to consume that is broken.
In the age of enclosure, rioters tore down fences. In the age of mechanisation, rioters smashed machines. Its hardly surprising that in the age of consumerism some people should leave their grim and fearful council estates, with their stairwells littered with needles and rank with the stench of urine, to, for a night or two, occupy, smash and loot the temples of consumerism…
They have seized public space, desecrated the temples of consumerism, a religion from which they are structurally barred from full inclusion, and affirmed their existence in a society that holds them in contempt and insists that they keep to their place.
There has, to be sure, been vile and tragic behaviour amidst the upheaval. And while vile acts must always be resolutely opposed we should recall that in a riot, an event that is spectacularly outside of the norm, every perverse act is hyper visible and will be exploited to stand in for and to condemn the whole. In the everyday passing of time the structural vileness of society… is masked as normal and remains largely invisible.from The Return of the English Riot by Richard Pithouse
The over arching meta-narrative of consumerism – a meta-narrative we are not suspicious of, despite what postmodernism would have us believe – is not serving us well. Coupled with a ‘do whatever is right for you’ approach to morality, it isn’t working at all. Whether you are spinning corporate propaganda to convince a fifteen-year-old that new trainers are a matter of life and death, or whether you are a fifteen-year-old who believes you must satisfy your own desire for new trainers no matter the cost – what feels right to you may cause untold grief and heartache for someone else. Unfortunately, a society that privatises morality has no framework to address these issues.
What is needed is not an increase in wealth, or structural social changes so that the poor can participate in the religion of consumerism. What is needed is a change of religion.
People need to know they are valuable, not on the basis of what they own, or what they do, but on the basis of their humanity. Meaning, dignity and beauty are their birthright, not something they have to purchase on the way.
People need to know that it is possible to move from devastation and despair, through to peace and hope.
People need to know that mercy and forgiveness and grace could swallow up the whole world’s evil, if only we let them.
People need to know they are so loved, that God didn’t even spare His only Son, but sent Him to the cross and raised Him from the dead so they could be in a relationship with Him.
People need to know your story church.Tell it, live it out. Never has it been more necessary.