15 October 2014

Middle Class Aspirations, Globalisation, Huntington's Clash and the Acculturated Church

These types of videos always remind me of Huntington's Clash of Civilizations thesis. Huntington wants to argue that religious and cultural identities will always take precedent. This is to counter the notion that either the world is becoming Westernized or that Globalisation itself is creating a wholly new world culture.
While I will indeed argue that history defines the present and the future, the Huntington thesis cannot properly take into account the way Globalisation has and is changing the world.
Unlike some I do not believe that Globalisation will change the world to the extent that old issues will simply evaporate and we can all move on to or progress toward Free Market Democratic societies. 
Obviously this hasn't proven the case and I don't believe it ever will. This kind of Hegelian optimism was rampant in the early 1990's. Many falsely believed that the supposed American victory in the Cold War would bring about a wholly new paradigm that would render previous historical tensions and concerns more or less irrelevant.
This was a deeply flawed interpretation of the events and also pointed in general terms to a flawed historiography. These errors while perhaps modified by a healthy dose of realism are unfortunately still with us.
And as resources become a more pressing issue we are indeed seeing historical multi-polarity and tensions return to the world stage.
All that said, globalisation the child of the Industrial Revolution is indeed changing the world and changing cultures. If you don't think so, then watch this short video. There are many like it. This just happens to be a recent one that I watched that drove me to revisit these issues.
The new economics are changing lifestyles, culture and the family.
Though James Dobson and many like him view immigrants as subversive to American culture and the American family, the truth is most of these cultures are actually far more traditional and conservative than the family Dobson envisions. Despite his self perceptions, he's really not that old fashioned. He represents little more than the Post-War/American Empire model of the family and cultural norms which really only fit into a particular context. Earlier generations would have considered him a liberal if not a secularist libertine in his views regarding marriage, gender roles and the raising of children. He seems conservative compared to our post-1960's culture, but when viewed from a wider vantage point his views are contextually unique and myopic.
Social Conservatives seem almost unable to grasp the fact that the Free Market economic system they promote has itself changed the nature of the family. In fact I would have to list it as one of the primary factors. They can't see it in the Western context, but I would think anyone can see it when viewed in the hyper-charged rapidly changing context of India and China.
These economic changes are literally turning the developing world on its head.
As a Christian I am deeply troubled by the implications of this. The pace of change in the developing world has fostered a more extreme and socially disruptive model. It is outstripping the Western norm but also may be a harbinger of what we're facing in the future as we enter a new phase of the ongoing cycle. The ethical implications and costs are deplorable.
This paradigm of farming out your children and distance-working yourself to death is quite literally immoral. I'm thinking of the couple in the film.  
What a distortion of love... to recast it in terms of economic viability! Your child might value your sacrifice as they attend a premier school but they will resent you because you never gave them what they needed most... your time and attention. They work endlessly in order to be good parents (defined in terms of economics) but in order to accomplish this, they quite literally abandon their role as parents (defined in terms of ethics).
We have to provide for our children but because of the assumed values we are faced with a social paradox. Something has to give and I argue they've given in to the wrong side. It's better to be poor and be a parent then to be secure and respectable and yet abandon your children. This is a dilemma families are facing in both the developing world... and increasingly in the unstable American social paradigm. It's the same here, just with a bit less intensity.
This is not familial love. The family in the film as well as the single young woman are aspiring to middle class values and sacrificing everything to attain this fictionalized and empty dream. They can't see it because of their own cultural history... being an oppressed underclass conquered by the Western powers.
Asia's particular cultural contexts, massive populations and intensity fuel this drive in a different way. I think it can be particularly terrifying in the Chinese context as we see people driven quite literally to the brink... turning the jobs and the pursuit of money into what can only be called a religion.
Many years ago my wife and I were disgusted one night as we were out of town and attended a PCA congregation. We listened to the speaker praising the Asian Economic Miracle. He insisted it was American and thus Christian economic values that were transforming that part of the world. Basically Asia was rising because whether they realized it or not they were embracing a Christian worldview and learning the transcendent value of work.
Watching this video from South India I contemplated the way they keep making these people sit in these classes where they are just pounding these business values and lingo into their heads... the 'values' the pastor was lauding.
Growing up in a middle class home with a father who was a businessman/sales zealot, I am more than familiar with these concepts revolving around organisation, goals, time management, loyalty and prioritization.
I don't buy it and in fact as a Christian I reject the values of the business community... both their idealistic version and certainly their application in the real world. The two are not the same but whether idealized or in practice I think they should be rejected.
In application the work and the company become your life and essentially your religion. It is your authority and demands all waking energy, universal access to your life and establishes your ethics.
That's how far we've come. Because of competition both between businesses and within the workplace, the employer, the corporation has been empowered and to its workers sits on a divine throne.
In other words, were I to sit in on the classes I would be rolling my eyes and very frustrated.
But for people who come from the village, from a different cultural context these ideas are transformative and they respond. If I may generalise, the Asian cultural context often produces an almost devotional literalism and energy. If these people embrace the ideas they will follow through with a drive that far exceeds what we might expect in our own culture. They will self-sacrifice to maintain the true vision and work toward the goal.
People who live in New York City and other metropolitan areas have to put forth a level of energy that exceeds what you might find in the small town. It is equally problematic though less extreme in our culture. At least for the present.
At this point, I'm thinking of Tim Keller and how he ministers to Wall Street and Madison Avenue types. He's trying to tell them to live in the city but not to put their jobs first or find their primary identity in their work. That's a laudable principle, and yet I think it's also laughable. Anyone who doesn't give it 125%, seven days a week, 365 days a year will be replaced. There are a thousand others ready and willing to step in.
Shortly before we were married, my wife used to work as a nanny for a Washington DC couple. The mother was an accountant for a prestigious firm. She worked tremendously long hours especially during tax season. Often it was 50 hour work week that extended upwards of 70-80 hours during the busy season. She lamented this reality but admitted that if she didn't do it, they would replace her. There were thousands of others who would happily take the prestigious job. So she slaved away and ironically the company collapsed in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. We've always wondered what happened to her.
Apart from the working mother issue, maybe we should ask the simple question... Is this a job a Christian should bother with? Should a Christian man take on this kind of work considering what will be required?
For many contemporary theological paradigms such a question is illegitimate. Cultural spheres cannot be abandoned especially if they represent the foundation stones of the society. If we're using the accounting job as an example and the business world in general, we have to question life in the modern city... or at least ponder the question.
Keller has substituted or perhaps equated the city for civilization in general and believes as Christians we must (or at least ought to) live in the city. In order to transform culture we must interact with its beating heart as it were.
Disengaging isn't an option in his Dominionist Postmillennial paradigm.
I would suggest that as Christians we cannot ethically live that way. In order to even function in the context of Manhattan or Bangalore we have to give up too much. It's possible to live in these contexts but not in the type of labour culture we see in this video. These types of sacrifices exceed what is moral. If we're going to live in these places, we're not going to 'make it', instead we're going to be at the bottom.
Keller would say disengagement means a loss of political and cultural influence. The Church won't be doing its job.
I would agree that we'll lose political influence. It is only Keller's false theology that his driven him to seek it in the first place. In terms of the cultural, I don't agree at all. That's not our calling. We are in the world but not of it. We're not here to transform but to witness.
Many assume that our culture is somehow Christian and that we're working toward reform and refinement. They believe our society is ultimately built on Christian foundations.
This view must be rejected both ideologically and in terms of present and historical reality. In terms of the ideology, the Bible knows nothing of these categories. They are the product of speculative theology and philosophy resulting from the Constantinian Shift. In terms of practice, only a white-wash of history and a Naive or Pollyanna-like view of people's motivations, (and I might add a very low view of sin) would allow for such an assessment.
If our culture was really vastly Christian as many seem to argue then it would not be in its present state. It would be unnecessary to boycott an abomination like 'Modern Family' or for that matter provide an alternative. If the culture was really moral then such shows would fail due to lack of interest.
This is just one of a myriad of examples that could be given, but is simply meant to demonstrate that even sitting in our homes, what type of homes we have, what's sitting in the driveway, what amounts of free time we have and how we use it... all of these things influence the culture.
We are witnesses offering and proclaiming the promise of life and the fear of death. We will live in their civilization (their city) but we won't help them build it.
And yes, they will hate us. That's exactly what we're told to expect. People don't like it when you live among them, reject their values and proclaim loyalty to another Kingdom. But we will shame them. Because in the end, though we're not good citizen-patriots we do nothing that deserves their condemnation, violence and hatred.
The Amish have much wrong but on this particular point, they have it right. I'm not speaking about the technology issue but instead how they are perceived. We can do that too without having to enshrine the 18th century. For that matter anyone who lives around the Amish knows that they don't either. Their lifestyle and attempted separation is far more complicated than many people realize. The saddest part with regard to the Amish is the fact that they have little to no concept of the gospel of grace. They've made their cultural distinction rest upon a combination of principle and legalistic code and the latter has become for them the gospel.
To continue, I'm afraid Keller and so many like him seem oblivious to the ethical implications of our attitudes about money and success. This feeds the popular culture and has led to all the decadence and debauchery. The children of the 60's were decadent because their parents were. The so-called Greatest Generation is itself a parable and a testimony to human nature. They endured the Depression and the war and yet didn't really learn the lessons they provided. Their children reacted to the implications of the hypocrisy. The conservative ideology of the 1950's contrasted with its application. The new Middle Class suburban lifestyle promoted an ethic that sharply contrasted with the traditional morality and austerity their parents professed. It made the children ask questions and they began to see the Establishment social narrative was in fact a fabrication.
If Keller and those like him think they can function in the mainstream of the culture, and be part of its Establishment, and that they can swim in the cesspool and come out smelling like roses they're simply dreaming.
They've misread Scripture and in fact their misreading has in effect blinded them as well to the historical and present realities of the world that surrounds them. When face to face with one of their adherents in some ways it's hard to know where to even begin. There's almost no common ground.
Contrary to most Christian sociology I believe the leaders, movers and shakers of our culture aren't really motivated by ideas. Their motivated by lust for power and to put it simply in an industrial society, power rests on money. People can be captivated (temporarily) by an idea and ideas can manipulate the masses but for the people on top it all boils down to power. Power has no ethic but self-preservation and the acquisition of more influence and control.
We saw this with 19th century Imperialism. There were endless attempts to idealize what they were doing and to come up with rationalizations for their behaviour but in the end it wasn't the idea... it was just simply power.
"But," the Dominionist insists, "We have to counter their messages. We have to provide an alternate culture, a positive art-form, a different narrative."
Art can indeed be a form of political protest as well as a means to enforce values and uniformity. Realism can represent untarnished life or it can be used to restrict expression. The subjective nature of interpretation has always provided the arts with a certain ambiguity and whether meaning to or not can be politicized.
 But at the end of the day the people that made Basic Instinct wanted to create something that would gain an audience and fill their coffers.
We all agree that we should say 'no' and refuse to watch it.
At this point people like Keller would insist we have to provide a Christian alternative, we have to produce something that fills that cultural need.
This is only true if you're trying to be a cultural player, if you have political aspirations in terms of the wider culture.
New Testament Christianity does not have this impulse. Our message is the gospel, the word preached and the fruit borne out in our lives. Christians can write books, create songs and make movies. These productions can be something reflective of our common humanity... they don't have to be explicitly Christian or something pigeonholed into the 'Christian' niche.
That said, there's a place for that too.
But these endeavours, while worthwhile should not be generated in order to 'win' the culture war and gain votes and influence. In fact if they are truly Christian the messages will be largely incomprehensible and perhaps even foolish to those on the outside.
I would cite The Chronicles of Narnia as an example. Patently Christian the books are largely misunderstood by those outside the faith. The messages resonate to some degree but I find they're not really understood. Only when someone becomes a Christian can they really appreciate the depth and beauty of Lewis' work.
We can testify to aspects of the Christian faith and life, but these cultural endeavours must not, and in fact cannot replace the gospel message... the Word of Truth and the testimony of the Spirit in our lives.
We must not make Culture Building (Dominionism) into a sanctified task, the gospel itself. For that is another gospel. Chuck Colson admitted as much but didn't seem to catch the irony of what he was saying.
Getting back to the implications of globalization... are we prepared to live as strangers and exiles?
Are we prepared to be on the poor end of the scale?
The lifestyle demanded by the modern workplace, economic models and social expectations conflicts with the Christian lifestyle.
What if living the Middle Class lifestyle is virtually sinful in and of itself?
The culture is changing ethics. Perhaps in the context of India it's a little easier to see the contrast. They are where our culture was a hundred years ago. At the height of American power in the years after the war the lifestyle eased... the Middle Class didn't have to work so hard. And yet as the unique period of economic dominance came to an end, the 1970s brought change.
The rise of Feminism only made this worse because just as women wanted to go to work the economics began to demand it. In order to keep the lifestyle more money was needed and in many cases desired.
Today we're getting back to where we were... a middle class dividing. Those on the top are getting wealthier. They don't have the security of the established rich, but they can live a lifestyle that in previous generations belonged to the uber-wealthy.
Those at the bottom of the middle class scale are being pushed to the breaking point.
Give it up. Reject it. Reject the message of Tim Keller and the Dominionists. Re-think your life and your time.
Be poor and be content. If the members of the Church were willing to be poor together, then it wouldn't be so bad.
But that's not what happens. Most of the Church thinks like the world and those that try to think differently are hated and driven out. In fact because they're viewed as a greater threat there are times it seems like the Christians who question the status quo are viewed with greater derision than the world in general. We represent an ideological threat to their vision.

I suppose we can reciprocate and say we're far less upset by lost people acting like they're lost than when we see people professing Christ but acting just like the world. The greatest threats are always from within.