23 April 2015

The Cult of Self: It Rules the Day in Both the Left and the Right, Within the Church and Without

Since I'm a fanatic and a ranter, it's time for another episode...

Our society which is on a road to collapse and probably a violent one at that is following the course of many that preceded it.

For years I remember reading in history books that Rome fell due to its decadence and I never really understood what that meant until just a few years ago.

You cannot have a society that focuses so extensively on the individual and expect it to stay together. I've noticed recently a lot of Libertarians are railing against all forms of collectivism. While some forms of this are indeed are evil and tyrannical, in all actuality you have to some form of collective to have any kind of society at all. What they're railing against is the very notion of society. It's a strange position for Christians to take who believe in the power of sin.

They fear the authority of government but fail to understand that every society must have authority. Otherwise you have no society. It will last a very short time an end in violence. Should it be a group that is (supposedly) accountable or gangs of profiteers, often nameless and faceless who not only control life but have tremendous power to manipulate through the utilization of media that a brain-dead populace willingly consumes with abandon?

Society with no regulative authority was once called the Wild West. They think that's what they want because they've romanticised it. But surprisingly most people who lived through it were more than happy to see order come to their neck of the woods. Living in a lawless land means you have to kill or be killed. It's the law of the jungle. Why this would be the Christian ideal is beyond me.

In fact many on the Right who claim to be critical of all collective forms of thought are still passionate in their promotion of Nationalism, in itself a form of collectivism and often a dangerous one at that. In fact many of their so-called heroes are little more than agents of the collective. They seemed to have missed the significance of a uniform and what it symbolizes, let alone the endless parade of flags flying in their front yards.

Everyone operating out of purely selfish motives, the market model of society espoused by Libertarianism and indirectly by many within the Christian Right produces exactly what we have right now... hedonistic chaos and social degradation.

In the wake of this breakdown there will be a new desire, a call for order and security. This indeed will lead to a loss of freedom and we're already seeing it.

Is this the result of some kind of abandonment of social Christianization? No, because the process has occurred before in non-Christian frameworks. Besides, Christianization is not a Biblical concept. There's no such thing as a Christian society. This is a misuse of the term Christian. You cannot baptize (which interestingly has an aspect of collectivism) a whole society. Doing so means antithesis and discipline and consequently all ethics end up being compromised. As Christians we are collectivised into another society one ruled by a King and one that demands we die to self.

The Christian life and ethic which flows from the work of the Spirit is not something that can be implemented by coercive legislation. It will at best create a veneer which inwardly is railed at and ultimately will blow up.

Our society's collapse is largely due to individualism and the economic system that it produces. The Church has championed this and is effectively blind to it. They seem to think the solution is more of the disease.

The loss of antithesis means the world and its values enter the Church and become confused with Christian piety and can even be theologized and made into orthodoxy. I contend that's where we are at.

It renders the Church impotent in terms of assessing the real cultural disease. The Church becomes part of the system and part of the problem.

And yet for Babylon to be at peace there has to be some form of society, some kind of collective consciousness where everyone realizes they're not the sole actor. Government plays a role in this. It will always get it wrong, but some form applied to society is better than chaos and the Wild West.

As Christians we have to live in Babylon but we don't want Babylon to either grow too strong or to lose its peace and fall into chaos. We're against hyper-collectivism, which again is promoted by many Christians in the form of Nationalism. But we're also against hyper-individualism which leads to social breakdown and decadence.

But you can't stand back and assess the situation when you've signed on with one of the factions, put all your chips into their basket and are now engaged in trench warfare. You're not going to have a very good vantage point.

State enforced Christian ethics wedded to a individualistic capitalist system will not produce the kind of society James Dobson dreams of. It will engender chaos, decadence and backlash, and ironically the destruction of the family. He sees the problems of individualism or at least plays lip-service to the notion but then promotes economic policies, not to mention psychology which promotes the opposite. I'm also reminded of all the little emails that circulate. A recent one calls old Paul Harvey a prophet and yet it's the same thing. It reflects a jumble of Christian and non-Christian values and judgments, misunderstandings of the issues and how society works and ultimately is another example of platitudes in the echo chamber. It does nothing to help Christians assess the problem or understand how to react. But it sure tickles ears. I used to love Harvey when I was lost person. As a Christian I found him to be something of a buffoon.

This society has always been individualistic but people used to be a bit more pragmatic in their outlook. Life was hard and humbling and for many people, a life of struggle and suffering... and ironically it produced social values that looked a bit more like what Christian values are supposed to look like. Service and hard work were virtues, not for self-aggrandizement and ostentatious display but because it spoke to what kind of person you were. You were defined by your deeds, principles and ideas not what you possessed.

Individualism became hedonistic and a person's worth was determined by how successful they were which in turn was determined not by their virtue and adherence to an idea or ethic, but instead by how much stuff (implied pleasure) they possessed.

I contend the Church has largely embraced and endorsed the individualism which has contributed to this mess and it has also been heavily imported within the Church and as I said earlier, it has been theologized accordingly. I contend even those who are critiquing the consumerism of the culture have largely embraced it. They don't seem to understand their economic model and theology of work, their vision of the Kingdom and their ideas about the Christian life produce the very result they are critical of. People making six-figures, living in $400k houses, driving $40k cars with stocks and investments, houses overflowing with stuff, kids plugged into the system etc... are not in a position to understand the nature of the problem. They are blind to the system they serve and what it's doing to them and the hurt it's causing other people. Their self-focus blinds them to the evil they are and have embraced.

So many of them have so fallen under the spell of America, they've become absolute blind guides when it comes to dissecting it. Even their critiques are rooted in a power paradigm. Their criticisms are aimed at the secularists and the Left. Everyone faction has played its part in the social breakdown but the Christian Conservatives need to look in the mirror. They're drunk on middle class values, security and respectability. That's what this is all about. If you take those values, think through what they really mean and then amplify them with everyone thinking in selfish terms... you'll end up with our present dilemma. It blinds them to the evils of the American system and how exploits people within this nation and especially around the world. Americans like their cheap junk and their toys but it doesn't occur to them that in order to get these things they are harming others and themselves. They're rotting their souls while the corporations they serve steal and kill in order to make it work.

Is there a moral breakdown and backlash? Of course. But all of this, both the Leftist drive to purge the old, and the Rightist drive to maintain it are rooted in self-interest and to use that disgusting word... empowerment.

Wealth, consumerism and security are all about status and power. The United States was on top of the world after World War II. Europe has caught up and is being forced to reckon with some of these questions as well, but in a different way and to a lesser degree.

Our country praised and promoted the system which equated social progress with selfish advancement. That selfishness might extend to your larger family unit, but ultimately many find their familial success to be little more than a larger expression of your own self-worth and hubris.

How many Christian parents have embraced over-achiever-ism?  How many are baffled when you say I don't care if my kids are lawyers or professionals. I'd be happy with my sons being garbage men. I just want them to be Christians. Our home is in heaven and our treasures are there. Those that have abandoned if not abhor the pilgrim and exile mindset recoil in horror at such a sentiment. They wonder, how could I be proud of that? Even the question itself demonstrates a deeply flawed worldview and one that is far from Biblical.

All the while they engage in self-deception trying but failing to believe that all 'vocations' are valid and contributing to the Kingdom. Those at the bottom are just as important as those at the top. Their cultural snobbery belies this sentiment.

Why are they proud to begin with? Where's the poverty in spirit, the mourning over sin, the meekness in character? Where's the attitude of suffering and antithesis?

I suppose it's easy for regular Christians when you have the Joel Osteen types running about. It's easier to feel okay about how we live and think as long as we have some extreme and obscene example like Osteen or the TBN crew to point to. It lets us off the hook. We can maintain middle class values and feel okay about it because there's always those 'over-the-top' people.

Actually these folks, these frauds have just taken the cultural values, the very ones celebrated by so many Christians and taken them to their logical end. They've simply turned them up a couple of notches. It's just Dominionism applied in different ways and to different facets of life.

We've become a society of self-absorbed hedonistic gluttons. You see it everywhere. Like beasts everyone clamours to buy, purchase, expand and make a name for themselves. I guess when I sit on a mall bench, walk down the street, or listen to conversation in an office, I'm seeing and hearing something different than what others see and hear. Everyone is desperate for status and attention. In all actuality most people are absolutely miserable because no matter what they get it's never enough and there's no peace or contentment that comes with any of it.

Some are so self-absorbed that they cannot fathom that anything they do could be wrong or immoral and they are outraged that anyone would even dare to question what they do. They feel attacked and now in their selfish bestiality they insist everyone must embrace and celebrate their cult of self pleasure.

Others are so self-absorbed they cannot fathom that they would ever need to think about anyone else, that they would ever need to curb their consumption of resources. They feel threatened when people accuse of them of being hogs and so instead they flaunt their consumption and race for their guns to defend their fat waistlines.

Our society is gluttonous and it shows. The latest explosion of this social gluttony took place in the 1990's and quite literally manifested itself in the physical appearance of most Americans. Although fatness and gluttony often are manifested physically it's not always the case. Some are gluttons with small waistlines. But they're still gluttons in how they live and think.

Our culture is reduced to clans and tribes of gluttonous monsters and hedonists fighting over who gets the power. Everyone is engaged is a great orgy of ego-feeding. No one ever has enough. No one can be content. I want it all and you have to like me.

It will not last. It's just a question of how long and more importantly 'how' will it break apart? I think it will be very ugly indeed especially as we have a generation that is perhaps the most self-absorbed and pampered in all of history. When they can't get what they want, then look out. It's disgusting enough to watch a two year old having a temper tantrum but when they're twenty-two, in America... it will probably involve some form of semi-automatic firearm.

What we as Christians need to do is figure out how to live as Christians in the midst of all this.

How can we stay true to our ethics when it will increasingly be a vexation to do so? Surrounded by Sodomites and Narcissists, brat children in adult bodies, a society that seems to handed over to a bestial conscience, how do we still exhibit compassion and raise our children?

How can we stand for the truth when we're surrounded by obese, all consuming, boastful and violent gun toting, selfish resource hoggers who profess to be Christians? And not just that they've made this obscenity into a theological paradigm? They'll even take their television heroes who exhibit these traits and elevate them as some kind of models for us emulate. They praise them for providing a paradigm, a lifestyle they can turn into some kind of Sunday School lesson. It is a theology of decadence.

How do we live? It's getting increasingly difficult to remain sane as it seems like no matter who I listen to whether it be figures in the pop culture or in the Church, they are just dead wrong, all of them.

Maybe I'm the one who has lost my mind!

I'm afraid of my love growing cold. This culture is such a vexation I don't even want to go out of my house but even there I can't find peace because of the spoiled brats whose foolish parents have spent thousands to buy them 4-wheelers and other toys to ride up and down the road tormenting everyone, never for a moment considering anyone but themselves. Their parents slave to please their little darling's, now perverse and monstrous expressions of adulthood.

Unlike so many Christian leaders I don't think voting for the right person, getting some laws changed or modifying the business culture is going to fix this disease we call American Society. I do not want to live in a "fixed" version of Babylon, nay Sodom. I long for Zion.

3 comments:

  1. Here's a reminder that I, lowly, have appreciated your wisdom, your careful working out, and yes, even your invectives and palpable frustration. As we've both said multiple times, we have differences, but I have appreciated your intellect in our interactions.




    In regards to your article on the individuaism of our age:




    Wow, thanks for putting strong words to this climate. I value you calling a spade a space. We (Americans) are a bestial and monstrous people. I understand it hard to keep your love from going cold. In regards to myself, I realize how much I (as a millenial) have this virus in my bloodstream. I can't step outside of it. My brain has been pornified, my emotions are undisciplined, my fear is magnified, my nerve is diminished. In an age where "authetic" is the test, any attempt at detoxing from the zeitgeist is inhuman.




    The mood we live in, wow, it's amazing how many currents of thought cross over. We are both gross materialists and gnostics, at the same time!! For myself, I find it hard to stand in the Biblical doctrine of creation instead of fluxing between despising matter and the creation and overvaluing it. Augustine's language of "disorder" has been helpful. And despite flaws, Tim Keller has been a blessing in the language of idolatries. But I digress.




    I am a sinner who needs the gospel! I hope that keeps my love for others fiery. But, like Rome, something traumatic will happen if the American Empire will remain; otherwise a collapse is certainly a horizon of possibility. Yet the partisanship and factionalism will keep any sweeping change from being a quiet one. Or maybe the vitriol is just hot air, and as the fat hearted peoples Americans are, nothing will be done.




    Conceiving of the Church as an alternative society, it's hard to create a culture that is divested from Americanisms of self-focus, clenched-fists, and life in the Spirit! Living in community with one another is hard. My church community is like Corinth. A real church, but dysfunctional.




    And the worst part about the above is the inverse: despair. I meet quite a few who struggle with the agony of the system failing them, or falling through the cracks, or being considered a 'loser' by the world. For myself, it was this consistent failure that woke me up to the horror of the American system. But for others, it can be devastating.




    Depression is a hard thing to pastor in and live through. It doesn't help where we are drowned in a culture that tells us unless we are climbing the corporate ladder, or have a magazine-cover family, or, more generally, having our every need met, then we are shattered. It requires a rich gospel, but one that needs to be daily applied. I don't deal among the arrogant, but I certainly live amongst the despaired.




    Damning them for their deified appetites doesn't help. I wish it did, otherwise maybe I'd be more sane. God is good and patient with us.




    Anyway, those are some thoughts. Keep writing,



    cal

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  2. Interesting. This article which I wrote a couple of weeks ago and kind of in passing has elicited quite a bit of response.

    I hope it doesn't sound like I'm despairing. I'm not, nor am I depressed, but I am starting to think that if you're not feeling like you're crazy... then you probably are. (smile)

    No, there's no point in damning them, but it's sick to watch. Now, when they bring it into the Church, that's a different story. We all need a good thrashing from time to time.

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  3. Watching people panic after the latest supreme court verdict is interesting. I am reading comments on blogs, one after the other riddled with fear but I can't help thinking it's just a fear that the other political team won. I made a few comments on a page where a woman wrote a lament using "America" in place of "he" in a W. H Auden poem. I couldn't believe how stupid it was and was quickly taken to task for being dismissive of her grief. My only question was what are you guys grieving exactly? I think I must pray that my love not grow cold daily. It was interesting reading you saying that. These are tough days, but not because of the reasons these christo/american folks think. I pray we don't hang round in the slough of despond too long but that's my real fear. Guys just how do we do this every day?

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