This morning I picked up Jacob Needleman‘s The American Soul: Rediscovering the Wisdom of the Founders in the hope of finding some useful material on my dissertation on pluralism and the founding fathers. But early in my reading, I was distracted by Needleman’s discussion of materialism and its impact on our health as Americans, and as human beings. He writes:
The root of materialism is a poverty of ideas about the inner and the 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
On the next page, Needleman continues and suggests that the root of materialism is
… the cultural neurosis of an era that believes that only the external sense show us the real world and that only physical or social comfort is worth striving for. Simply put, the neurosis of materialism leads us to despair. Despair because the impulse of hope, which is implanted in human nature as part of our unique consciousness, finds nothing in the world or in our concept of ourselves that carries the mark of indubitable, enduring truth and goodness, those two ultimate principles towards which that impulse of hope is meant to lead us (Page 7).
These ideas are powerful, especially in this Christmas season when family and friends oftentimes express their love for one another through gifts. Perhaps the Christmas season is a proper time to contemplate our obsession with possessions. Is materialism allowing us to live nobly as the founding fathers had hoped? It’s a question worth pondering.