Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Conversion, Not Change, Could Be American Dream

By STEPHEN KENT, CNS | Published October 2, 2008

Change is definitely the most utilized—and least defined—word of this fall despite its misuse as an intransitive verb to describe some goal-less event.

Candidates for every office—from president of the United States to county supervisors—make it clear they are the “candidate of change” even as it remains unclear what is meant by change.

Change, it is presumed, is good. Such is not always the case.

To announce oneself in favor of change is like being in favor of up or down. It depends on where you want to be.

It seems that what is sought is not so much change but conversion, a turning to something that enhances personal integrity and the good of the community.

Spiritual writers use a Greek word—“metanoia”—to denote a change of mind, a reorientation, a fundamental transformation of outlook, of a vision of the world and of self, and a new way of loving others and God.

There is some evidence that this desire for “metanoia” exists even if it is not yet recognized as such.

John Zogby is a prominent pollster who attempts to predict the future by determining what Americans think and feel.

The future is hopeful, he said in a recent interview.

“I think more and more Americans are rejecting the traditional American dream, which has been expressed in material terms, in terms of acquiring, and are moving toward wanting to lead a more genuine life, one that’s more fulfilling,” he said.

The implications of abandoning the American dream for a more fulfilling life are huge. What would such a “metanoia” do?

It could bring a total change to the economy. The American dream fuels the consumer economy. A foundational change, a great “metanoia” would be to re-base the economy from a consumer economy.

The operative word is consume—to use up. The economy now depends upon things being used up so something can be sold as a replacement.

If a product cannot be used up, then it is made useless by marketing a change in style or demand. The markets rise and fall by the Consumer Confidence Index.

What if the measure of economic well-being was expressed with words such as use, employ, utilize, use instead of consume?

The current housing finance situation shows how pervasive the consumer mentality has become. It used to be obtaining a home mortgage was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most people, conducted at a polished table in a marble-halled bank.

It was making an obligation to remain in the home for 30 years. The last payment was a time for a party and celebration.

Mortgages became another consumer product to be used up in a year or two and then get a new one to obtain a better rate or to tap equity in the home. The results are now apparent.

We weren’t always a consumer economy and the American dream was not always opposed to spirituality.

It may be unrealistic to expect this “metanoia,” but who is to say when the tide of public opinion begins to shift?

What if we merged the economy and our spirituality?

“There are those who have made it, who’ve achieved materially but have come to the realization that there’s more to us than what we own or where we work,” Zogby notes.

He and politicians and economists are now finding what Catholic social teaching has said for years: true happiness is more than getting, having or acquiring.

A merger of spirituality and economy may be more than just change—it could be a conversion. Why settle for change when we could have conversion?

Contact Stephen Kent at