I'm thinking about this today as a result of some thought-provoking reading I've been doing in preparation for our upcoming Doctoral cohort in Ministry to Emerging Generations that's meeting next week at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. One of the texts we assigned to students is Paul Hiebert's Transforming Worldviews: An Anthropological Understanding of How People Change. Don't let the title scare you. This book offers one of the best descriptors and analysis of the modern to postmodern to post-post-postmodern that I've ever read. In essence, this book offers a bird's-eye view of the earthquake that is shifting the cultural landscape and changing all of us in the process. Transforming Worldviews describes our culture, our kids, our institutions, and our selves.
About that earthquake. . . Hiebert quotes Peter Drucker's description of history and the times: "Every few hundred years in Western history there occurs a sharp transformation. We cross what. . . have been called a 'divide.' Within a few short decades, society rearranges itself - its worldview; its basic values; its social and political structure; its arts; its key institutions. Fifty years later, there is a new world. And the people born then cannot even imagine the world in which their grandparents lived and into which their own parents were born. . . . We are currently living through just such a transformation." Read that again. It's significant. Our role is to figure out which changes to embrace, and which to resist. That's what discernment is all about. If we aren't discerning, we tend to nonchalantly accept "what is" as the status quo, or the "way things should be."
One of the main changes that we have to understand and confront is "consumerism." Hiebert offers a compelling analysis of how the postmodern turn has fostered a consumerism that is driving our lives and perhaps even more so, the lives of the kids we know and love. Consider these little snippets from Hiebert:
- The pursuit of pleasure through consumption of commodities and services has become the dominant cultural value of postmodernity, replacing the deferral of gratification and self-denial.
- Consumerism offers people meaning through buying and living the good life in a world in which they feel increasingly meaningless, insignificant, and unreal.
- Consumerism is nourished by human dissatisfaction and craving. Once existing needs are adequately met, new needs must be created to keep the market going.
- People who are relatively happy with their lives, enjoy spending time with their children, enjoy walks and times of prayer, meditation, and silence, and have a peaceful sense of who they are, are not good for the market. But those who are unhappy and dissatisfied with their lives, live in anxiety, and are unsure of their identity and their relationships to others, want more, and the market promises to fulfill these ever-expanding needs and wants.
In the end, we have been lulled into a new religion where the mall (or the internet shopping site. . . or TV's QVC) becomes the church. Liturgies are written by marketers. We engage in "retail therapy" to make ourselves feel better. . . for a little while at least. And rather than living for eternity, we live for the here and now. Overall, it's an ugly landscape.
In the end, it's idolatry. Isn't that what we need to avoid?