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January 31, 2005


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I think the primary reason that we have become so enamored of things is a confluence of two streams: Darwinism and individualism.

We Americans are indoctrinated in the usual "pull yourself up by your own bootstraps" mentality from the second we are born. This is not to say that this reasoning is always pathological; it can be argued that America became a dominant power because so many stubborn iconoclasts put it on top.

However, the great days of expansion are largely over and our individualism has been syncretized with Darwinian thought. It is now all about survival of the fittest. We are creating little bunkers or islands in the human stream in order to keep from sinking in the gene pool. Subsequently, a fortress mentality has bonded itself to individualism and resulted in this "look out for nunmber one" attitude that powers everything we do.

Materialism is simply an outgrowth of Darwinian individualism. Since we are no longer defined by God, merely by impersonal matter, anything goes as long as it serves me or my immediate kin. I have to get my kid into Latin classes at age three or else he won't get into Harvard, get a job on Wall Street, and rise above the rest of the human slime. And if he doesn't rise, my Selfish Gene dies with him. I have to always be proving myself better than the person next to me (by out-thinking, out-careering, out-"status-ing," and out-buying him) or else I'm roadkill. And sadly, from society's perspective, this does appear to be how one goes about keeping one's name out there.

We don't give this enough consideration when we talk about materialism. It truly is just a symptom of a Darwin-corrupted worldview.

"a fortress mentality has bonded itself to individualism and resulted in this "look out for nunmber one" attitude that powers everything we do."

This is an interesting thought, Dan. How do you see this fortress mentality fitting in with today's multiculturalism, tolerance, and egalitarian ideologies?

that's a powerful phrase:

"If money and materialism possess an inherant power that can thwart even ... the gospel"

what it will take to turn us is the loss of materialism, either voluntarily or not.

fall on the rock, or the rock will fall on you.

'my Selfish Gene dies with him.'

Dan -

i'm reading "Adam's Curse" by Bryan Sykes. what you say above is a strong theme in the book. the book is not from a christian persepctive, but it's strong on evolutionary genetics, and quite interesting. you might like it

I know I am over-simplifying this, but maybe, just maybe the whole idea of "retro" will come into play. Here's what I mean.

I'll turn 40 this year. So I'm a "cusper". I'm young enough to be part of this new era, but I'm also old enough to have friends who lived in a different era! One friend I have was at Woodstock. She remembers it well. Another friend I have can remember first hearing about Jesus in the late 60s. It is his experience I'd like to relate. But first, a two-point preface:

(1) We've all seen the slogan "He who dies with the most toys wins" and we've all probably seen the Chtistianese take-off on that which says "He who dies with the most toys...still dies"

(2) And we all know America is now past the point in time when you could simply go door-to-door and ask questions like "If you died tonight, would you go to Heaven or Hell, and why?" The population is too multicultural, agnostic, and individualistic for that.

Now back to my friend's story. He was in his late teens, experiencing the drug culture. He met some hippies who had turned to follow Jesus. They told him of this Natural High -- but they also were able to clearly communicate that Jesus was coming back. SOON! The truth he saw expressed in their lives -- The Way -- was so powerful that he was honestly frightened, and chose to give himself to The Way so that, when Jesus came back, he would be "found ready". His first motivation was fear. But once he was on that path and began experiencing Perfect Love, his motivations matured and deepened.

This is close to the surface for me just now, since I taught on Jonah last week. The Ninevites had a similar reaction to Jonah's doom prophecy.

So here's my $0.02: maybe what it will take for us to change is for enough people to find these retro ideas plausible:

(a) There is a God
(b) He did send His Son to die for us because we blew it and need a Savior
(c) There will be a second coming
...and most importantly in this light...
(d) There will be a reckoning -- a final "performance review" with The Boss of All Bosses.

(OK, OK, take a deep breath people. I know that sounds a lot like the Four Spiritual Laws -- sorry if that gets your dander up!) =O)

Maybe, just maybe, in the midst of our post-modern shift, we've seen enough embracing of mystery and such that people will be impacted by this theology.

Maybe, just maybe, we are again approaching a time when calling "sin" what it is will not be offensive to a relativistic people. Maybe, instead, it will be catalytic toward change.

Cultural biases aside...

It worked at Ninevah "In about 40 days God's gonna nuke you!".
It worked at Pentecost "This Jesus, whom you crucified..."
It worked for Nicodemus "You mean I have to change from the inside out?"

What do you all think?

~ Keith

Isn't if funny that we have such a hard time talking about money, when it was one of the most talked about topics by Jesus?

"Fear is the anticipation of evil." -Dallas Willard

I don't think money and material things are inherently powerful. I think humans invest them with power when we believe they are the means by which we can stave off evil (whatever "evil" means to a given person in a given moment). Darwinianism and individualism play into what one thinks might be evil, but I think materialism has been around a lot longer than Darwin, and is not derivitive from individualism- cf Chris' Chinese scholar's quote for an ancient source from a person in a very non-individualistic society.

I think the prospect of Jesus' return holds less of an incentive for change for a believer who has walked with the Lord for a while. Though it may make a difference for some people, it reminds me of the "Wait 'til your father gets home!" threat I used to hear as a child when I did something my mom couldn't cope with.

I look at becoming less materialistic as an opportunity to encourage inwardly and work out outwardly whatever faithfulness and compassion ("with-suffering") is being worked in me by the Holy Spirit- part of the ongoing cooperation I bring to the project of God re-creating me. It all has ramifications not only in my own life, but in the lives of those near to me, and also at the other side of the globe (if you want to discuss economics).

I remember Woodstock too, though I am a bit too young to have even thought about going there- I'm only 49 :)

here's a thought that came to me while reading this post. many problems with the witness of the body of Christ is that the words we proclaim aren't the actions we live out. we say we are for the oppressed of the world but our bank statements, for instance, might reveal otherwise. what if as a church we made public how we individually and collectively spend our money? don't know how this would work, though, practically speaking.

of course, i'm speaking here to myself and my own struggles with selfish-materialism (I'm an apple computer junkie, for instance).

great quotes in the post, by the way. i haven't read any chuang-tsu since reading the tao te ching in my freshman intro. to philosophy class.

Keith, someone else who taught on Jonah last week! I actually found it interesting that Jonah did not tell the people to repent, and yet they did! He was simply pronouncing judgment.

Chris, you ask a question that many people have been wrestling with for a long time. Ron Sider's book, A Rich Christian in an Age of Hunger, helped a lot of people, but it also left him with a particular image in other people's minds. In other words, overcoming materialism is something we should be working toward, but it is also something we can't force on people. God has to do the work in the lives of His people.

As far as the fortress question, I wonder how multiculturalism, tolerance, and egalitarianism exclude individualism. Tolerance would seem to encourage it. None of these things, in and of themselves, encourages or discourages community. Breaking down the fortress mentality is a building up of the life in community.

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