2011 – the year of societal disillusionment?

I’ve been reading ‘Counterfeit Gods’ by Tim Keller recently. It’s a brilliant book, on which I might write more in the future (or at least when I finish it) but I got to page 106 and realised I had to blog about it. I’d been thinking of writing a post about trends I see happening in 2011 anyway, but this focused it and made it easy for me to decide what to pick out:

It is too early to be sure, but it may be that in light of the massive financial crisis of 2008-2009, the same disaffection with capitalism may occur that happened to socialism a generation before.

I firmly believe that this is already the case, and will be even more so in 2011.

I think we have already seen the disaffection, even anger, at the ‘capitalism at large’ that is the most visible outcome of the financial crisis. Specifically in the UK; for example the physical attacks on Fred Goodwin’s house in 2009, and the UK Uncut movement targeting Vodafone and Philip Green in 2010. Where do we go from here?

It is said that true change starts with yourself – “be the change you want to see in the world” as Gandhi said. If 2009 and 2010 were years of corporate change, perhaps 2011 will be the year of individual change. In some senses it is reactionary – many people are fearful of losing their jobs, owe more money on their house than it is worth, and as a result are seeing greed and consumerism for what they are.

So I do think we will see ‘societal disillusionment’, with people turning to any number of things. Hopefully not depression. But things like the activism we have seen in the UK recently, the minimalist and location-independent lifestyles, and perhaps even the Tea party movement in the US.

There are two problems with this that I can see.

1. The lingering individualism

Keller references a book by a Harvard professor of economics, Stephen Marglin:

Marglin’s point is that modern economics have become ideological, conceiving human beings as interest-maximising individuals who don’t need human community, who define themselves in terms of how much they can afford to consume, not their roles in a complex of human relationships. Over the last four centuries, this economic ideology has become the dominant ideology in much of the world.

Sounds like a great book! If you’ve got a copy of it, let me know? As I touched on when discussing minimalism in an earlier post, individualism and selfishness can be prevalent even when behaviours change. You can be a selfish consumer, you can be a selfish minimalist. Changing behaviours alone won’t solve problems. This is a critical theme of Keller’s book, and he articulates both the why and how far better than I can:

The way forward, out of despair, is to discern the idols of our hearts and our culture. But that will not be enough. The only way to free ourselves from the destructive influence of counterfeit gods is to turn back to the true one.

2. Where is God, and where is the church?

Here’s the truth – God is always there. God is right in the midst of whatever we’re going through individually or as a society. If there is societal disillusionment, the church should be prepared to be the first place people look for an answer. But we think we won’t be, and the truth is we’re probably right. How genuinely saddening is that?

Mark 16:15 – He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation”.

The gospel is the answer! We as a church need to check ourselves. I would bet that consumerism is as prevalent in the church as in secular society, if not more so. So what is going on?! People are going to come to church looking for an answer, only to find the one thing they know to be wrong is staring them in the face!

How do we change? Well here’s the answer-

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:2

I think there are two distinct challenges- firstly for the individual and for community. If the dominant societal ideology has perpetuated the neglect of community, surely now is the time to figure out what true community looks like. But it has to start with the individual. Jay Pathak says “If we’re not growing in our own life with Jesus, a lot of what we do as the gathered people of God is lost. It doesn’t translate – we don’t connect.”

Be the change you want to see in the world. What does that look like for you in 2011?

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~ by jgebrown on 30 December 2010.

One Response to “2011 – the year of societal disillusionment?”

  1. The world is changing faster than ever before. Often change is scary because of the instability and uncertainty that it presents. That’s why it’s often resisted. Some times change—specifically the resistant change—leads to discomfort in the short term. But there’s not a single example in the whole of human history were revolution has not left the world better for it… eventually.

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