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Dont Be Conformed to This World: Understanding the Western Story Michael Goheen Vancouver, B.C.

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Presentation on theme: "Dont Be Conformed to This World: Understanding the Western Story Michael Goheen Vancouver, B.C."— Presentation transcript:

1 Dont Be Conformed to This World: Understanding the Western Story Michael Goheen Vancouver, B.C.

2 Incomparably the most urgent missionary task for the next few decades is the mission to modernity... It calls for the use of sharp intellectual tools, to probe behind the unquestioned assumptions of modernity and uncover the hidden credo which supports them... - Lesslie Newbigin

3 Hidden Credo Humanism: Must we not become gods?

4 Humanist Credo: Must we not ourselves become gods? Friedrich Nietzsche ( ) The Madman We have killed Godyou and I! We are all his murderers!... How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderer of all murderers? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?

5 Nietzsches Parable We have killed God in Western culture We must become gods –Creator –Redeemer: Humanism assigns to us nothing less than the task of being our own savior and redeemer. (Corliss Lamont) –Ruler of history

6 Hidden Credo Humanism: Must we not become gods? Rationalistic humanism: Scientia potestas est [knowledge is power] –Control of non-human creation by technology –Organise society according to reason

7 Western Credo I believe we are capable of defining the nature of the world and the meaning of human life (Creator). I believe we can solve the problems of our world and bring about a new world of freedom, prosperity, justice, and truth with scientific reason (Saviour).

8 Hidden Credo Humanism: Must we not become gods? Rationalistic humanism: Scientia potestas est Living off Christian capital

9 Conversion of West (18 th century)

10 Light of the world 18 th century called Enlightenment Scientific reason is the light of the world Religious faith commitment

11 A New Faith... The West had lost its faith and found a new one, in science and in man. - Richard Tarnas

12 Enlightenment humanist faith Faith in progress Progress achieved by reason and science Scientific reason produced into technology Scientific reason produced rational societal organisation and structures Progress comes by the application of reason to both technical and social issues (J. H. Plumb).

13 The ideas and values of the modern age are not only intellectualized but they are embedded in powerful institutions, arguably the most powerful institutions that have ever existed.... the key ideas, values, and characteristics of modernity are carried by specific institutions... (John Davison Hunter).

14 The problem of leading a Christian life in a non- Christian society is now very present to us. It is not merely the problem of a minority in a society of individuals holding an alien belief. It is the problem constituted by our implication in a network of institutions from which we cannot dissociate ourselves; institutions the operation of which appears no longer neutral, but non- Christian; and as for the Christian who is not conscious of his dilemmaand he is in the majorityhe is becoming more and more de- Christianized by all sorts of unconscious pressures... - T. S. Eliot

15 Age of Revolution (19 th - early 20 th c.) A worldview can never remain only as a vision or set of beliefs: Will always begin to reshape world Bringing society into conformity with Enlightenment faith French Revolution, Industrial Revolution, Democratic revolutions, American Revolution, Marxist Revolution.

16 Establishment of Enlightenment faith meant a narrowing of gospel The early Christian belief that the Fall and Redemption pertained not just to man but to the entire cosmos, a doctrine already fading after the Reformation, now disappeared altogether; the process of salvation, if it had any meaning at all, pertained solely to the personal relation between God and man (Tarnas).

17 Economic form of modern humanism Adam Smith (Wealth of Nations 1776) – Goal: Material prosperity – Means: Rational organisation of production, technology, free market Industrial revolution 20 th century: Western culture shaped by economic idolatry

18 Romans and Our Cultural Story Worshiped and served created things: Western culture more and more focusses on economic sphere of life God gave them over: Creation of wealth, consumer society, accompanying joys and ills

19 Every style of culture is in turn related to the religious question of how people view the ultimate meaning of their life and society. - Bob Goudzwaard

20 Ultimate meaning of post- Enlightenment West End: Economic growth, material prosperity, consumption of goods and experiences Means: Market, economic processes, technology

21 Economic organisation of society Illustration of queen bee in beehive Queen bees task to produce eggs Whole hive functionalised and directed toward that task

22 20 th Century Development and Our Current Situation Postmodernity: Increasingly comprehensive and widespread challenge to Enlightenment faith (not working anymore!) Globalisation: Survival and global spread of an economic form of the Enlightenment faith (lets take it to the rest of the world!) Consumerism: Fruit of both developments

23 On the one hand... breakdown of modern humanism... Environmental destruction Growing poverty Nuclear threat Economic problems Psychological, social disorders... leads to postmodern challenge.

24 Postmodernitys Challenge Postmoderns are sceptical of certainty Postmoderns are sensitive to context Postmoderns tend toward humorous, being relaxed, sometimes apathetic, non-committal Postmoderns highly value subjective experience For postmoderns, togetherness and community is important

25 What is Postmodernism? Postmoderns dont believe big stories of progress anymore Postmoderns dont trust reason to get truth Postmoderns are suspicious of exclusive truth claims Postmoderns are suspicious of authority Postmoderns tend toward pluralismmany versions of the truth Postmoderns are sensitive to the injustices of humanist story Postmoderns are appreciative of community

26 On the other hand... the success of modern humanism... Growing wealth Degree of freedom, justice, and stability Scientific and technological development... leads to globalising of modern humanism.

27 Globalisation Spread of Enlightenment humanism around world Taken a strongly economic shape Economics shaping all aspects of life Global market to produce wealth for all Unjust market that benefits West and wealthy

28 Consumer Society Combination of loss of meaning (postmodernity) and growing wealth and idolatry of economic processes (economic globalisation) produces consumer society Most powerful idolatrous force in West today?

29 Most powerful idolatrous force? Consumer capitalism, both for good and for ill, is a pervasive and foundational reality of our day (R. Clapp). Consumerism appears to have become part and parcel of the very fabric of modern life.... And the parallel with religion is not an accidental one. Consumerism is... arguably the religion of the late twentieth century (S. Miles).

30 How Did This Happen? The Making of a Consumer Society There was a huge gap... between production and consumption. How to close it? Industrial productions momentum had already built up, so cutting production was not feasible. Manufacturers decided instead to pump up consumption, to increase demand to meet supply. But they realized consumption was a way of life that had to be taught and learned. - Rodney Clapp

31 Consumption as Way of Life Our enormously productive economy... demands that we make consumption a way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods in rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption.... We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced, and discarded at an ever increasing rate. We need to have people eat, drink, dress, ride, live, with ever more complicated and, therefore, constantly more expensive consumption. (Victor Lebow, economist, 1955)

32 Making Consumption a Way of Life Planned obsolescence: Designing stuff to break down or be unusable quickly Perceived obsolescence: Instilling in the buyer the desire to own something a little newer, a little better, a little sooner than is necessary.

33 Advertising Average North American exposed to 3000 ads per day Creating new desires Creating dissatisfaction Selling the good life Advertising and related media have served and still serve as important shapers of an ethos that the good life is attained through acquisition and consumption, and that would have its inhabitants constantly yearning for new products and new experiences (Rodney Clapp).

34 Critique of consumerism There is excessive consumption by some while others suffer want Excessive consumption threatens the environment Creates ungodly character E.g., Early indoctrination into consumerism through deluge of advertising tends to breed narcissism, entitlement, and dissatisfaction in children. (Mary Pipher) For many consumption has become the primary goal to the detriment of their own well-being

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