This was a question I’ve had for some time now since the heyday of the Emerging Church came and went, but I haven’t put a whole lot of thought or research (read, Google search) into it until recently. I knew that postmodernism wasn’t quite as pronounced as it had been in culture in general, and particularly in the church, and personally I don’t hear much about it anymore, like during the Emerging Church days, which attempted a synthesized version of postmodernism with Christianity. There are certainly still elements of relativism as it pertains to how you know something for sure (epistemic humility, as it’s called) such as “you have your truth, I have mine,” but this is almost kind of assumed in culture now, not debated like it was.
Category: Philosophy Page 1 of 3
I’d be lying if I said I haven’t ever taken a selfie. Still do with the kids occasionally. However, something about this just feels wrong. So much of the endgame of what the enlightenment has wrought (though much good was brought about to be sure) can be summed up in this one picture; that we would memorialize as important something so vain and trivial. As the center-point of what defines objective reality shifted from the external to the inner-self, the subjective, how could this not be the end? A society centered on making itself great and known to a watching world. As we’ve soaked in celebrity culture, and now possess mediums to broadcast ourselves, how could we not become our own celebrities with our own fans? And how much, in such a short time, has social media enabled all of us to put this narcissistic tendency in full throttle? And now we memorialize such overt self-centeredness? What an age we live in.
Charles Hugh Smith, a writer over at the site Of Two Minds wrote a very interesting blog on the state of the global system, whether political, economic, social, or otherwise. He sums up our situation globally, as many others have, as one based on three fundamental things: 1) debt, 2) consumption, all with the the assumption or presupposition that 3) demand for these will always continue to infinity. And the little/big secret many, if not most, are beginning to see yet don’t want to speak of is that this entire model of debt and consumption is collapsing.
The results are first being felt in smaller nations dependent upon or a part of the West’s system: the Arab nations and southern and peripheral European nations. The riots across the Middle East and now the riots of Greece, Spain and other places in Europe are rooted ultimately in the fact the Western system is coming undone and our policies are making the dollar less valuable, which drives up the cost of food and energy. What follows is anyone’s guess.
That aside, what is interesting in particular is when Smith gets to why this is the case, philosophically, perhaps even theologically, speaking. Why are we reaching this point in the West? What has brought this about? I agree with his assessment and analysis while offering an even better remedy: Christ. Here are some of the best quotes without getting into all the economic talk as much (emphases from his site):
There’s another deeply pernicious facet to a consumer-based economy: our identity and meaning now flow from consumption, not from production or inner resources. I spent a considerable amount of Survival+ explaining how marketing and consumption are two side of the same coin.
The marketing complex has hijacked our sense of identity by engendering a deep, soul-destroying anxiety that only buying more stuff can assuage: since we are judged and valued solely by our purchased externalities, we are constantly in danger of being rendered worthless if we fail to measure up to the current metric of brand-group identity (wearing all black and a tattoo for one “brand,” a BMW and designer clothing for another, reading the New Yorker and claiming to only wear vintage clothing for another, etc.)
What we do in the real world is simply part of the “brand” which we must project, or cloak, to sooth the gnawing anxiety that is the bedrock of a consumer society. The iconography and totems of consumerism define our identity, our strivings, our sense of purpose and our experience of meaning: what I call the politics of experience, a phrase coined by R.D. Laing.
Consumption is our god, our faith and our religion. Like a cargo cult dependent on a magical connection to prosperity, we are terrified by the prospect that our religion is based on a false god–that is, that consumption and consumption alone leads to prosperity and happiness.
Like a cargo cult that we mock in our infinite industrious superiority, we worship the equivalent of rocks painted to look like radios that we can use to “call” the gods of endless prosperity.
This rock that’s painted to look like a radio is called “debt,” and we call upon it to magically provide us with prosperity from over the seas.
This other rock that’s painted to look like a radio is called “aggregate demand,” and it’s carefully worshipped by a special troop of voodoo-wielding witch doctors called Keynesians.
We are chanting magical phrases to these rock-painted “radios,” pleading for a return to easy prosperity, but nothing’s happening. We fear the magic no longer works, and that possibility terrifies us so much we can’t even bear to speak of this loss.
Future generations won’t get to spend their surplus; they will have to devote it to servicing the debts we have gaily borrowed and blown on digging holes and refilling them, part of our worship of the magical painted rocks of our false and hollow religion, Consumerism.
By degrading ourselves from producers to consumers, we have not only lost our identity and our meaning, we have lost the ability to create surpluses and invest those surpluses wisely.
And oh how the Western church has bought into and borrowed from this whole system of Consumption, and with it the marketing apparatus that has become so pervasive in our midst it’s sickening. We have bowed in many ways to the idolatrous “god” of Consumerism as a useful tool if not the answer to the survival of Christianity in the West. We have set it up as an idol that we need to repent of, returning to a more Biblical framework, i.e. faith in Christ, for every facet of church life instead of borrowing from the corrupt and worldly business world of our day.
On a related note, I was considering the other day how much the religion of Consumerism is actually rooted in the philosophical concepts of materialism, particularly dialectical materialism. This is a philosophy put forward by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, whose philosophy gave rise to the theories of none other than Karl Marx. Marx held to this view of the over-arching meta-narrative of life, dialectical materialism, which says (being a bit reductionistic) our sole purpose in life is related merely to the here and now. There is no deity we need to appease or even refer to, simply because he doesn’t exist, so it is thought.If he does exist he’s irrelevant to our lives and therefore we must find our own answers to our own problems.
Of course Marx went in the direction of collectivism as the answer to find hope and meaning in the midst of his bleak worldview. What is odd is that Consumerism as a religion is merely the flip-side of Marx’s view, yet they both spring from the same place: the absence of the true and living God, made known in Jesus Christ. They are two sides of the same coin. Both of these systems are inherently atheistic and borrow from the same corrupt worldview of dialectical materialism. Christianity has no business meddling in let alone borrowing from a worldview that is inherently anti-Christian.
May we repent of our dependence upon materialism, consisting of brands, products, styles, entertainment, fictional worldviews, fictional story lines and narratives that detract from the glory of God by the way we operate in life. May we find our identity in Christ alone, His person and work in the Gospel, not any of the aforementioned results from materialism. May we find our identity in who He has made us and what He desires for us, namely, holiness. Praise Christ there is hope for the lost and self-absorbed materialists. May we be a witness to a world absorbed in self and consumption as the meaning to life.
There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about “isms” and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said. The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that firsthand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than secondhand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.
This mistaken preference for the modern books and this shyness of the old ones is nowhere more rampant than in theology. Wherever you find a little study circle of Christian laity you can be almost certain that they are studying not St. Luke or St. Paul or St. Augustine or Thomas Aquinas or Hooker or Butler, but M. Berdyaev or M. Maritain or M. Niebuhr or Miss Sayers or even myself.
If you want to see a picture of the future of Europe, then read this and watch the video. It is disturbing to say the least and has some cursing and violence in it so proceed with caution … just warning you in advance.
I post this because the video is such a very clear portrayal, from Muslims themselves who shot it during some recent riots in London, of the threat we face in the short and long term, and the impotence of the West to deal with the threat brewing from within its own borders. It apparently does not take much for a Muslim to go from moderate to radical. This video makes that abundantly clear.
“A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself within. The essential causes of Rome’s decline lay in her people, her morals, her class struggle, her failing trade, her bureaucratic despotism, her stifling taxes, her consuming wars.” – Will Durant on the history of Rome
May we learn from history. Rome was great … and it fell
This is a brief clip of one of Lance Secretan’s presentations to a group of corporate employees. Notice how at the beginning of this clip, he disregards anything Christianity had to offer in history as an explanation for natural and supernatural reality. He doesn’t even mention all of the thousands of Christian thinkers who have contributed greatly to the progress of “humanity” who believed Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. These voices are simply ignored. Sure, he mentions Jesus as a good moral teacher, and even quotes Him in the presentation. Yet Secretan cherry-picks what he wants from what Jesus said without dealing with the portions of Scripture where He claims to be God Himself, the only way to salvation, the greatest Person in all of history. This is ignored, for to deal with these texts simply denies his own worldview perspective of reality.
I love Will Smith. I think he’s such an awesome actor. But we part ways on issues concerning Jesus. We do not worship or speak of the same Jesus together. Al Mohler pointed this article out on his radio program the other day.
Of particular interest, Will Smith says,
“I love the nature of humanity’s search for meaning. For me I’m certain about my relationship with the model of perfection of human life that’s laid out with the life of Jesus Christ. I’m certain of that. So I’m at home and not fearful when I sit in a mosque or a synagogue or a Buddhist temple, the same way that I’m home in the Church of Scientology. I like anywhere people are searching for the truth, and I respect their path and I’m intrigued by their path. I think when you are certain in and of what you believe in, you can open your mind to seeing the ways of others. I’m not bothered when someone says “Allah” because they’re talking about God—we are talking about the same person. I was in India recently and my hotel was near the Taj Mahal. Five times a day there would be a call for prayer, and it was the most beautiful thing. I was lying in my bed thinking, no matter what your religion is, it would be great to have that reminder five times a day to remember your Lord and savior.”
“Whenever we come upon these matters in secular writers, let that admirable light of truth shining in them teach us that the mind of man, though fallen and perverted from its wholeness, is nevertheless clothed and ornamented with God’s excellent gifts. If we regard the Spirit of God as the sole fountain of truth, we shall neither reject the truth itself, nor despise it wherever it shall appear, unless we wish to dishonor the Spirit of God. For by holding the gifts of the Spirit in slight esteem, we contemn and reproach the Spirit himself. What then? Shall we deny that the truth shone upon the ancient jurists who established civic order and discipline with such great equity? Shall we say that the philosophers were blind in their fine observation and artful description of nature? Shall we say that those men were devoid of understanding who conceived the art of disputation and taught us to speak reasonably? Shall we say that they are insane who developed medicine, devoting their labor to our benefit? What shall we say of all the mathematical sciences? Shall we consider them the ravings of madmen? No, we cannot read the writings of the ancients on these subjects without great admiration. We marvel at them because we are compelled to recognize how preeminent they are. But shall we count anything praiseworthy or noble without recognizing at the same time that it comes from God? Let us be ashamed of such ingratitude, into which not even the pagan poets fell, for they confessed that the gods had invented philosophy, laws, and all useful arts. Those men whom Scripture, calls ‘natural men’ were, indeed, sharp and penetrating in their investigation of inferior things. Let us, accordingly, learn by their example how many gifts the Lord left to human nature even after it was despoiled if its true [spiritual] good.”
Isn’t it amazing how something granted to man as a gracious and merciful gift (to sinners even) could be taken and used in the service of defaming and ruining His name and honor nowadays? One more example of the total depravity of man.
When coming to the Scriptures, at least when we first start reading them, we all in some way read them through our cultural lens or the lens through which we want reality to exist. By nature, we all have assumptions about reality, human nature, the attributes of God, that are shaped and formed by the culture in which we grow up in. We also can just have personal presuppositions that may not be shaped by the culture, but are just thoughts we have about the way things are. Regardless, we have all of these preset beliefs through which we view the world and through which we view and read Scripture itself. It is very easy to go to the Scriptures with these assumptions and find passages (taken out of their respective context) that support these preset beliefs. However, the Scriptures themselves challenge every single one of our natural presuppositions.
For instance, some people have the presupposition that all mankind is basically good and can perfect himself. Therefore, based upon this, the person will make choices, make judgments, endorse political policies, and will think in such a way that supports this particular understanding of man. In addition, this person, when reading or preaching the Scriptures will ignore all of the hard, difficult, negative passages that cut against this presupposition, because that is what they have pre-decided about the nature of man.
However, Scripture is emphatic that we are depraved from the inside out. Jesus said Himself that it is not what goes into a man that makes him unclean but what comes out of him, meaning from his heart. Our natures are radically depraved, more than we can even believe. Romans 3:9-18 nails this on the head. When compared to the glory of God, there is no one good, not even one. This passage is the thesis statement of the Scriptures commentary on how sinful we really are.
Another example is predestination. Some people have pre-decided (no pun intended) from the very beginning that God in no way predestines some to salvation while justly leaving others to condemnation, though it is clearly written out in Romans 9. Therefore they will either ignore the passages that have the word “predestined” in them as something that was not intended in the English language, something we just can’t understand at all, or as something written only to the particular group the letter was intended. But more commonly, I’ve found, people will acknowledge that God predestines and then make a qualification that puts God in our debt: He chooses those who choose Him. That way it just sounds Biblical.
They say, “God chooses those in eternity past who He foreknows are going to choose Him.” Is that presupposition from Scripture though? The proponents would say of course. I ask, Where? They usually reply with Romans 8:29 which says, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” And I ask, Does that text say anything about the concept of God choosing those who choose Him? No. But they say, Yes, the word “Foreknow” says it all. Ah, but is that a presupposition your bringing to the text, and in particular to the word foreknow, that is no where to be found in Scripture, and definitely not in this verse?
The right thing to do in this case would be to study, research and understand the Biblical meaning of the word “know” throughout the Scriptures: God intimately sets His affection upon particular people. He says to Israel, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth.” (Amos 3:2) So those whom God “fore-loved” is the best way to read Romans 8:29-30. The passage does not say, “For those whom he foreknew [would choose Him] he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son,” but rather simply, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” The word foreknew here is a verb as opposed to an adjective, it is something God does (rather has done). God foreknows specific people. God doesn’t just know data about people in the Scriptures (of course He knows that, He’s all-knowing!). Rather, the meaning of this is that He knows particular people, intimately, and those He knows intimately, He predestines to conformity with Christ. So now our presupposition is that God has fore-loved particular people and that can be found all over the Old and New Testaments, whereas God choosing those who choose Him can in no way be found as a stated, written-out presupposition in Scripture.
These are just a couple of examples why it is important for us all to obtain the fundamental beliefs we hold from Scripture and not our own thinking. We should always be challenging our assumptions in light of Scripture to see if they pass the test. Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” Lord help us, by Your power, to do exactly that. We must read Scripture to know what it says about how we should think about ourselves, God, and redemption. It is how we conform ourselves to what it says, in order that we may be conformed to the image of Christ.