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Camden New Journal - by ROSE HACKER
Published: 11 October 2007
Beware the prophets of profit

NOW I’m really frightened… In one week last month I attended three funerals.
The first was a very orthodox Jewish family. Their only daughter married an equally orthodox Jew in a sect that follows extensive rules and regulations permitting no birth control.
They became extremely orthodox and had a large family intended to replace the millions who perished in the Holocaust, so there are many grandchildren.
The second funeral was a mixture of humanitarianism and Unitarianism. These people are working hard for the unity of all religions. We celebrated humanity and universal love and paid tribute to the wonderful deeds of the dear departed. He had been a very progressive man.
The third funeral was druid, with some similarities to the humanist one. It was for a wonderful man who had been, among other things, a green party candidate. His widow was a dear friend whose parents and grandparents were my friends. Over the generations I watched their evolution from orthodox Jewish to freethinkers who believed in working for the community.
The ceremony was beautiful. A woman in long robes said prayers to the four corners of the universe and everything that grows, lives or exists, including wind, water and air. That inspired me to think of floods, earthquakes, natural explosions, the big bang. It was very moving.
We drank mead from a large horn, bigger than a rams horn, and shared apples. Everybody spoke, as in Quaker meetings and funerals, about all the amazing achievements of our departed friend.
The same week we celebrated the Jewish New Year. Because I’m unable to go to the synagogue, rabbis brought me apples, honey and wine and sounded the shofar, the ram’s horn blown to rouse God to hear our prayers for the forgiveness of sins on the Day of Atonement.
All this gave me food for thought.
Because of my sight loss, I now spend much time listening to Radio 3. Earlier this year I experienced an epiphany through music by the American composer John Adams. Its repetitive beats and rhythms suddenly made clear to me the process by which ideas and concepts are literally drummed into us.
That brings me back to how ideas are transmitted and become part of our belief structures.
Words and thoughts associated with religions and sects are things with the power to manufacture fences and walls. They condition our lives forever, if hammered into us as small children, through hymns, prayers and tab­oos. They have often been exploited by fanatical dictators seeking power under the guise of religion.
Whether it’s a phrase, a beat, a mantra, a rhythm, the power of repetition to create and reinforce ideas has been recognised since humans were able to speak. In religions, constant repetition is used to impart doctrine.
In biblical times, doctrines were frequently religious and spiritual. Prophets existed who preached ethical and human values.
Nowadays we have prophets who preach profits and not just in the capitalist West. Nearly 30 years ago in China President Deng Xiaoping succeeded Chairman Mao and adopted the slogan “To Get Rich Is Glorious”.
Religious taboos and indoctrination have been replaced by political and commercial taboos and propaganda. Religious institutions no longer set the moral agenda. That is spread and promoted by the media, instant communications, television, the internet and so on.
The messages indoctrinated over the past quarter century include: “the public sector doesn’t work”, “we must follow a private enterprise model”, “we can have anything we want right now, irrespective of whether we have earned it.”
Let me share one example of how instant gratification has become just one new religious dogma.
Much distress is being expressed about the inability of young people to “get on the property ladder”. What is this “property ladder”? What makes it so wonderful? To me, ladders don’t sound a very safe proposition. They are inherently unstable, difficult to climb and balance on, have to be propped up to prevent them falling, people easily fall off them and they can fall on unwary passers-by.
Worryingly, ladders can only go up a limited amount and collapse if people pile onto them. For those of us playful enough to remember, they are just one part of the game of snakes and ladders.
Instead of religious prophets calling us to pursue higher spiritual paths, media prophets urge us to pursue higher profits paths. Questioning the infallibility of the property ladder or market forces is considered heresy. Instead of exalting the welfare of all, we worship the greedy gamblers who insist the market actually follows sacrosanct rules demanding privatisation. The cult of the billionaire requires everyone to jump on the property ladder.
The consequences of this are now becoming clear. Banks like Northern Rock, HSBC, Barclays, UBS and Citibank writing off tens of billions of pounds of bad, housing-secured debts in the past few months are just the first visible signs that the ladder has collapsed.
We are beginning to see the frightening result of the collapse of these modern beliefs. Like markets, ladders go up and down. As they come down we must face the reckoning for greed replacing community.

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