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Reflecting Materialism 

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Materialism and morality have an inverse relationship. When one increases, the other decreases.”

The grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, India’s great pacifist leader, was in Salt Lake City recently to speak for nonviolence and against war—particularly weapons of mass destruction like missiles with nuclear warheads.

During a panel discussion at the University of Utah, Gandhi noted the obvious, that this country has embraced wealth and materialism to the extent that its moral underpinnings are becoming eroded. Gandhi didn’t use the word “careened,” and it may not be the right word here, unless you hold up a snapshot of 1975 America to compare to what is happening today. In the last quarter of the 20th Century, our values have shifted—one day at a time—towards the material.

Gandhi was not talking about campaign finance reform when he made his observations, but he could have been. For the first time in that same 25 or 26-year period, the U.S. Senate has passed legislation that would to some degree rein in the political donations and campaign spending that has reached dizzying heights.

Although no one likes to dwell on it, all that money has a corrupting power on our institutions and the people we elect to steward them. Recently, Dan Harrie and the Salt Lake Tribune unmasked Sen. Orrin Hatch as someone who likes to preach fire and brimstone to the religious right, as well as Utah Mormons, while taking big political money from liquor, tobacco and gambling interests. In fact, Hatch is in the top ten of senators who capitalize on those “sin industries.”

Not to worry, say Hatch’s aides. That money—some $60,000 last year alone—does not sway his decision making. Right, and absolute power does not corrupt absolutely. Of course, Hatch is not the only self-righteous Washington politician in the money boat. Just about every one of our congressmen is spending a majority of each day asking special interests for donations.

Our political process has been completely undermined by money. That’s why the McCain-Feingold legislation to limit “soft money” ought to be just the beginning. Ironically, the only reason the McCain-Feingold bill passed the Senate is that Democrats had practically caught up to Republicans in soft money contributions. Because it was no longer in the interest of the majority party not to limit that kind of money, it passed.

But the political system’s thirst for money is not what’s wrong with the country’s collective morality. Rather, it’s just a reflection of the nation it serves. Or as Arun Gandhi so eloquently observed: “Materialism and morality have an inverse relationship. When one increases, the other decreases.”

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