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We can no longer trust

February 20, 2015
Bill O’Brien , Shepherdstown Chronicle

As I write, it is Tuesday morning. Earlier, my wife and I were enjoying a snug winter snow day when a telemarketer jangled into our home and opened with the seduction, "You are among the few selected". Is that the same as the "chosen few"? We now have biblically inspired commercial manipulation. During the mercifully past election cycle we were treated to one exaggeration after another amplifying the candidates' good qualities and what they plan to do for us. Those were the ones that weren't flat out lies which we now apparently must refer to as "distortions". Numerous talking heads have informed us that politicians use "attack" or "negative" ads because they work. Nobody on the air at the time ever inquires how that becomes ethical. Add to this the near universal "Hurry!!!!!! Offer expires soon". "Hurry!!!!! While supplies last". Then there's "the movie everybody's talking about" or "will be talking about" and at holiday time "destined to become a classic". It seems we can no longer let something become a classic because everybody keeps watching it because they love it, such as "It's a Wonderful Life". Now we have to have it declared a classic so we'll buy it tomorrow, not wishing to miss out on a classic for fear of being losers. Then there are all the "hidden persuaders" that we learned about in the classic book by the same name: beautiful women standing next to the car; Mr. Freedom himself, the Marlboro Man; that cute puppy that stirs our hearts; that elderly woman so moved by a phone call; and humor that unconsciously renders us friendly to the product.

We Americans delight in ignoring the exhortations of our Presidents in their Farewell Addresses but one of them, Gerald Ford said, "Truth is the glue that holds the fabric of society together." (No, I am not promoting anybody's politics but I do like this quote). And is it any wonder that Pope Francis, in his November, 2014 apostolic exhortation Evangelium Gaudium ( "The Joy of the Gospel"), writes "We can no longer trust in the unseen forces and the invisible hand of the market." (Yes, I am promoting almost anything Pope Francis says or does not because he shares my Catholic and Jesuit roots but because I think he's cool.)

"We can no longer trust". This regrettable state of affairs has come about because of greed and the desire for power attaching themselves to global capitalism and perverting what could, and at times is, its uplifting potential. In short, truth is being sacrificed. While distorting truth is an ethical matter, human ethics is rooted in a person's interior spiritual atmosphere. This atmosphere is partly innate, partly nurtured by our family of origin, significantly stretched by religion at its wise bestand then put under assault by the demands of what is called "reality". As one of my former students once wrote, "There is no room for ethics in today's marketplace". The way that we withstand this plundering of our souls is ongoing, lifelong spiritual development. An official in Washington once told me, "We don't need spirituality; we need ethics." My response is yes, but the capacity to keep practicing ethics is rooted in drawing upon the transcendent power of Spirit within us. This is why I have volunteered to teach a course entitled "Journey to Mysticism: Dynamics of Spiritual Development" in this Spring's Lifelong Learning Program. Attention male humans: it's for you too).

(Bill O'Brien is a spiritual development mentor. He and his wife Linda have lived in Shepherdstown since 2005. He can be reached at )



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