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What Time Is It? Understanding the Religious Spirits of Our Age Postmodernity, Economic Globalisation, and Consumerism Michael Goheen Vancouver, B.C. Canada.

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Presentation on theme: "What Time Is It? Understanding the Religious Spirits of Our Age Postmodernity, Economic Globalisation, and Consumerism Michael Goheen Vancouver, B.C. Canada."— Presentation transcript:

1 What Time Is It? Understanding the Religious Spirits of Our Age Postmodernity, Economic Globalisation, and Consumerism Michael Goheen Vancouver, B.C. Canada

2 Foundational Worldview Questions Who are we? Where are we? What’s wrong? What’s the solution? What time is it?

3 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

4 Hidden Credo Humanism: “Must we not become gods?”

5 Humanist Credo: “Must we not ourselves become gods?” Friedrich Nietzsche ( ) ‘The Madman’ “We have killed God—you 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?”

6 Nietzsche’s 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

7 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

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

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

10 Conversion of West (18 th c.)

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

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

13 Enlightenment humanist faith Faith in progress Progress achieved by reason and science Scientific reason produced 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).

14 ‘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....’ (John Davison Hunter).

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. If the Enlightenment vision is true then “the establishment of new social institutions is not a tedious incidental task, but a dire necessity and a highly ethical imperative. In that case, the narrow way to the lost paradise can only be the way of social revolution” (Goudzwaard).

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 Capitalism “has reorganized the social structure for the purposes of manufacturing, production, and consumption... It has changed the shape of our world.... [And] technology facilitates the processes of capitalism, and rationalizes all of life.” (David Wells)

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 bee’s 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 (let’s take it to the rest of the world!) Consumerism: Fruit of both developments

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

24 The twentieth century—with its death camps and death squads, its militarism and two world wars, its threat of nuclear annihilation and its experience of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—has certainly shattered [the earlier] optimism [in progress]. Worse still, suspicion lurks that the Enlightenment project was doomed to turn against itself and transform the quest for human emancipation into a system of universal oppression in the name of human liberation.... There are those—and this is the core of postmodernist philosophical thought—who insist that we should in the name of human emancipation, abandon the Enlightenment project entirely. - David Harvey

25 What is Postmodernism? Postmoderns don’t believe big stories of progress anymore Postmoderns don’t trust reason to get truth Postmoderns are suspicious of exclusive truth claims Postmoderns are suspicious of authority Postmoderns tend toward pluralism—many 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 “... it is to Adam Smith and his immediate predecessors... that we should look for the inner meaning of progressive ideology [today].” (Christopher Lasch)

28 The concept of progress can be defended against intelligent criticism only by postulating an indefinite expansion of desires, a steady rise in the general standard of comfort, and the incorporation of the masses into the culture of abundance. It is only this form that the idea of progress has survived the rigors of the twentieth century. More extravagant versions of the progressive faith... collapsed a long time ago; but the liberal version has proven surprisingly resistant to the shocks to easy optimism administered in rapid succession by twentieth-century events (Lasch).

29 Economic Globalization Economic modern worldview is primary unifying power in global world Global economic system and market ‘Asymmetric globalisation’: Inequity and injustice Increasing gap between rich and poor Created wealth to support consumer society in West Unequal share in fruits: 1 / 5 population accounts for ½ of consumption

30 Dominance of economic globalization? The reality of our world is not the end of grand narratives, but the increasing dominance of the narrative of economic globalization.... This is the new imperialism... (Richard Bauckham)

31 Globalization as an ideology has grown out of the older idea of progress but differes in that it reduces progress to economic growth... Does it benefit the poorest people? Does it destroy the environment? Does it destroy other (traditional) values which are at least as important as economic prosperity? Not only on the first but also on the other two counts economic globalization... is surely blatantly guilty of impoverishing and vandalizing God’s world. (Bauckham)

32 Consumer Society Combination of loss of meaning (postmodernity): So we fill our lives with experiences and goods Growing wealth and idolatry of economic processes (economic globalisation): So we have the resources The most powerful idolatrous force in West today?

33 Most powerful idolatrous force? 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).

34 Making of consumer society “... manufacturing, production, and consumption...” (Wells) “So, how did this happen? Well, it didn’t just happen. It was designed.” (The Story of Stuff) Growing gap between production and consumption

35 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... constantly more expensive consumption. (Victor Lebow, economist, 1955)

36 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.

37 Advertising Average North American exposed to 3000 ads per day Creating new desires Creating dissatisfaction Selling the good life

38 Some Reflections on Consumer Society in Light of Gospel It is a communal religious vision and way of life that is idolatrous Precisely because the culture of economism is a quasi-religion, with a pretence of encompassing the totality of life and of bringing happiness and fulfilment, we find ourselves obliged from a Christian point of view to denounce it as a dehumanizing idolatry... (Jane Collier)

39 Some Reflections on Consumer Society in Light of Gospel Religious vision and way of life that is idolatrous Communal idolatry is destructive –To the poor –To the environment –To the wealthy (e.g., chronic lack of time, increasing cost for service sector, debt, anxiety, psychological problems, distortion of education, family, sex, sports, etc., toxic buildup in bodies/foods, etc.) –To godly character (e.g., greedy, envious, selfish, trivial and superficial, dissatisfied, ungrateful, entitled, narcissistic, apathetic, addicted to mindless distraction, concerned for image over character, wasteful, self-indulgent, etc.)

40 Some Reflections on a Consumer Society in Light of the Gospel Communal religious vision that is idolatrous Communal idolatry is destructive Formation system so powerful that it even domesticates the church The Consumer Society is a formation system: it forms us and our behaviour.... Christians are more committed in lived faith to the gospels of nation and culture than to the gospel of Jesus.... The impoverishment and domestication of the Christian faith.. is the central problem... (John Kavanaugh).

41 How should we then live? Good news for a generation that “can’t get no satisfaction” Need an equally comprehensive and compelling story of meaning of human life rooted in gospel Community that embodies that story! –Know biblical story and power of gospel –Know our cultural story –Develop ‘redemptive tension’ –Willingness to suffer –Train the next generation –Communal life (nourish, support, equip) –Deep spirituality


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