I like to read and I like to think. I try to understand what is going around me; why certain things are happening in the public sphere and why other things are not happening; why some messages get traction while others don’t. I like a lot of things I see happening and I do not like others. I ask myself why. What are the influential forces that shape our culture and where do they come from?
I am presently reading a book by Paul Vitz called “Psychology as Religion: The cult of self worship”. A powerful and insightful book that I would recommend anyone for his critique of contemporary consciousness and values. (It is available on Amazon Kindle for those who don’t like to wait for postal delivery).
I find myself nodding to a lot of what he writes. He identifies and, to my mind, skewers the values and mind set underpinning modern life for many in the western world. At the same time I find myself recoiling from the pessimism and defeatism that can easily well up in me as I read him. Yes, I agree that contemporary western culture with its underpinning secular materialism with its adoration of the individual (the self) is pretty much bankrupt morally. It is on a downward spiral and the pace of degeneration does not seem to be slowing. I could get started here on some particularly discouraging (for me) examples such as the growing popular support for euthanasia, abortion, transgender, intergender and interspecies rights, and the drift of the mainstream away from traditional Christian values to whatever is favoured by the sentimentality of the moment. We get all sentimental about Polar Bears or Orang Utans or old growth forests and a host of other feel good issues but we stonily ignore the plight of our fellows as we turn our faces away from our Creator.
We acquiesce to messages that we need to save the planet but pursue lifestyles that are toxic to that same planet. We turn our faces away from our fellow human beings who struggle with subsistence lifestyles and insist that they reduce their reproduction rates and their carbon dioxide emission rates. How incredibly patronising of us in the developed world. How our brothers and sisters in the developing world must look at our posturing at Copenhagen or Dohar conferences and feel disgust if not anger.
I will, however, try not to dwell on these things. It would not be productive. People would not read further I suspect, dismissing me (once again) as a grumpy old man – and I think I would deserve it.
You see, I read and understand and agree with what Vitz says. I think he is right on the money. It’s just that this leads me nowhere. Nowhere, that is, apart from disillusionment and bitterness and that is where I just don’t want to dwell for very long.
There is a lot I see in modern culture that reassures me and brings feelings of well-being. I see confident struggle and I see decency more than occasionally. I see persons who know what is right even if that knowledge is a bit hazy and they get sidetracked sometimes and downright perverse and unpleasant at other times. A smile and a pat on the back can come from the most unlikely people. A gesture of sympathy can blow me away far more readily than a well argued intellectual treatise. All around me I can see people struggling with burdens of many types and weights. I can see people trapped and destroyed by evil, but I also see people who know they are in the grip of this evil and who desperately want to be free of it.
Which brings me to my main theme. I am convinced that the Christian view of human beings is spot on. It recognises people for who and what they are. It does not allow itself to be seduced by the whimsical notion that the human self is the reference point for good and evil; that all people are basically good and would do good if only they did not have to suffer injustice or co-dependence or inadequate parenting or . . . (insert your preference).
The Christian world view is a realistic and accurate one. It sees through the spin and deception that is at the core of our contemporary western culture. It acknowledges that we are, each and all of us, basically broken and incapable of saving ourselves. The Christian Gospel is the message that although this brokenness is endemic, there is an answer – a solution. It brings good news to anyone who wants to open their eyes to see it. Lots of us don’t want to recognise this good news because we have been seduced by a world view that tells us we are masters of our destiny. I believe absolutely that such a view misleads us and ensures misery, both personal and communal.
You see, although it is easy for me to be discouraged by what I see and often by what I read about the state of our culture and about our self centredness as human beings, there is always for me the wonderful and liberating assurance that it does not all depend on Me. I have a Saviour and a Champion in Jesus Christ. Good news always follows bad, and it always has the last word on a cosmic scale.
That is why you and I don’t need to be discouraged by the confusion and the decadence and the cruelty and the narcissistic obsession we see around us in contemporary culture. We know that it does not and it will not have the last word. That keeps us going and it puts a spring in the step of the weariest and the most discouraged among us. People around us are worth our time and effort even though they may be misled and deluded by the dominant messages of our age.
We can see evidence of goodness and the regeneration bought about by God’s action in the world already all around us. So yes, a lot of stuff happens in our world due to humans behaving as if they are the centre of everything; as if they are masters; as if God has no place in their lives. We (and I) would do well to remember such a world view is not sustainable; it deludes and causes much misery.
We know better. The good news of Christianity frees us and takes us out of ourselves. It points us away from ourselves. It contains the seeds of redemption for all people and for our world.
On that I stake my life.

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