The Hidden Worldviews that Shape our Lives #2 (Consumerism, Nationalism, & Relativism)

For the next few days I am going to introduce you to a book that I’ve found to be a great resource.  It’s called Hidden Worldviews: Eight Cultural Stories that Shape our Lives, by Wilkens and Sanford.  The rest of the series can be read here.

In the third chapter the authors discuss the hidden worldview of consumerism.  From the beginning they shed light on the fact that all people are consumers at one level.  We were made by God to consume, to eat, to enjoy, to live.  Healthy consumption should take one’s responsibility to others into account.  This is not the case when consumption becomes an “-ism.”  They state: “Consumerism absolutizes consumption by believe that we can find fulfillment by accumulating wealth and everything that comes with it” (45).

This tendency is true in all facets of American culture.  We desire “just a little bit more” of anything that we think will yield satisfaction.  This reductionist impulse creates an alienating force that depersonalizes people as means to goals, displaces God, and shapes our values.  That which we fear losing the most can give us a good idea of what we value, which is why advertisers “are keenly aware of our insecurities…” (56).  The movement away from consumerism begins by taking up our mantle as stewards of God’s good creation, consuming as needed and cultivating for the good of all humanity.

The fourth chapter discusses nationalism. The authors give four ways to answer the comedic statement: You might be a Christian nationalist if…  1) You believe that God’s plan for history would be severely hampered if the United States did not exist in a hundred years, twenty-five years, or even next year (66).  2) You find it unthinkable that a citizen would not be able to pledge allegiance to the flag or sing the national anthem for religious reasons (67).  3) You think that our Declaration of Independence embodies eternal principles or that the Constitution should never be changed (68).  4) You believe that our nation would finally be OK if it would just get back to “how it was” at some earlier stage of our history (70).

These are great indications that one might be a nationalist, allowing an unbiblical view of country to cloud the ethics of the kingdom.  The overall chapter contains helpful materials, but I felt that when the made the distinction between nationalism and patriotism that they may have been a bit too “soft.”  One need not even be patriotic as a kingdom person from my perspective.  They only need to possess love toward all people.

The fifth chapter looks at the hidden worldview of moral relativism.  The authors rightly make a distinction between the philosophical moral relativism of postmodern thinkers and the “moral relativism” of popular culture.  “‘Moral relativism’ finds legalistic truth claims distasteful” according to the authors.  As a result, those who would be legalist Christians are a “major cause” of this approach to life, “which is ironic because such folks tend to think they are the solution to relativism” (85).

The chapter goes on to indicate that relativism does well to undercut the myth of absolute objectivity in moral and ethical discourse, but often fails to make a coherent case for its own validity.  The chapter invites readers to a posture of humility and clarity when engaging people who have this tendency.  My opinion is that if the evangelical church was better at this that many of the culture wars (such as science vs. the Bible) would be virtually eliminated.

How have these worldviews shaped the church in various ways?

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  • Mike Ward

    Intesting thoughts Kurt.

    I wonder to what extent Christian consumerism in the US is connected to the general Protestant rejection of asceticism.

    I suppose that I could be a moral relativist. I don’t reject the idea of absolute truth, but I do question whether or not it is practically knowable.

    I also think any list of moral absolutes needs to be very short. Otherwise the absolutes tend to come into conflict with each other. I tend to see questions of truth and morality in degrees. Some things we can have very high levels of confidence in. These things are perhaps absolute truths for practical purposes. But most things are subject to a degree of uncertainty in my opinion.

  • Evelyn

    How have these world views shaped the church in various way?

    1. Consumerism: I think this is all-pervading and not very ‘hidden’. We tend to ‘shop around’ for a church, till we find one with a good nursery / great VBS / a counseling service / a good-looking pastor / whatever. When it no longer provides satisfaction we move on. There is a culture of entitlement, rather than one of commitment to community. The fact that the really big churches have shops, restaurants, sports facilities etc just adds to that feeling of being there to consume. OTW church budgets reflect a theology of consumerism rather than of generosity. See Ray Mayhew’s fascinating study ‘Embezzlement: the corporate sin of the American Church’ I think it’s called; you can find it at relationaltithe.com

    2. Nationalism: there’s a flag on most altars in the States, right? That’s just weird to me as a European, but it doesn’t seem there’s much more to say. Or I could add that Anglican Churches (I don’t know about Episcopalian ones) have a Union Jack in them somewhere usually, but that’s because the head of the church is also the head of the state. that may be wrong – whole other debate there – but it does at least reflect a factual reality.

    3. Moral relativism: I’m not sure this has manifested particularly in the church; in fact, I see the church (at least the vociferous part of it) as being in a self-defined rear-guard action against what they perceive as dangerous moral relativism. So yeah, when the church gets defined by outsiders as being known for being homophobic and judgmental, then one might almost say their LACK of moral relativism is causing the problems. But I am not explaining this point well, so I think I’ll stop.

    ~ Shalom~

    • Mike Ward

      Of the four churches I’ve been a member, two had US flags and two did not. Most of the ones I’ve visited have not. Ironically, one of the ones that did was Mainline and they are generally regarded as less nationionaistic then Evengelic churches. It’s hard to say whether most do or do not. It certainly is not rare, I can stipulate to that.

      But the idea that nationalism is a particularly American phenomenon is bizarre to me.

      • Evelyn

        It’s just not something I’ve ever seen in the churches I’ve attended in the UK, Belgium or Luxembourg and I read a lot about it in US churches, is all. But it could well happen elsewhere too, and maybe less in the US than it often comes across.

        • Mike Ward

          If your talking about US flags then that IS common in the US. I was just pondering whether or not it really is in MOST churches. It could be, but I’m not sure. In any event, there’s no doubt that plenty of US churches have US flags.

          I’m not sure what it means. I never liked the practice myself. In my less tolerant days I was postively antagonistic toward it, but in a lot of places I think it is just done out of habit.

          Actually, I think we do have a flag in our church, in the class rooms. If you count office space, adjacent schools, etc. you can probably dig a flag up in most churches. Of course, you could dig up lots of other stuff too.

          But I was thinking of flags in the auditiorium before. Maybe you count anywhere on church property.

          But the issue of “nationalism” in churches is a lot broader than whether or not the church has a flag. And the issue of nationalism throughout a culture is even borader than that. It is not at all obvious to me whether

          Americans or Europeans are in general more nationalistic. Americans are probably more militaristic, but that’s not the whole story.

          In any event, nationalism exists on both sides of the pond regardless of where it is most prevalent. But sometimes people act like nationalism is primarily an American phenomenon. I don’t agree with that at all, and I thought that was want you were suggesting.

          So anyway, it is an interesting subject. It certainly is a lot to ponder. Thanks for the reply.

        • Mike Ward

          If your talking about US flags then that IS common in the US. I was just pondering whether or not it really is in MOST churches. It could be, but I’m not sure. In any event, there’s no doubt that plenty of US churches have US flags.

          I’m not sure what it means. I never liked the practice myself. In my less tolerant days I was postively antagonistic toward it, but in a lot of places I think it is just done out of habit.

          Actually, I think we do have a flag in our church, in the class rooms. If you count office space, adjacent schools, etc. you can probably dig a flag up in most churches. Of course, you could dig up lots of other stuff too.

          But I was thinking of flags in the auditiorium before. Maybe you count anywhere on church property.

          But the issue of “nationalism” in churches is a lot broader than whether or not the church has a flag. And the issue of nationalism throughout a culture is even borader than that. It is not at all obvious to me whether

          Americans or Europeans are in general more nationalistic. Americans are probably more militaristic, but that’s not the whole story.

          In any event, nationalism exists on both sides of the pond regardless of where it is most prevalent. But sometimes people act like nationalism is primarily an American phenomenon. I don’t agree with that at all, and I thought that was want you were suggesting.

          So anyway, it is an interesting subject. It certainly is a lot to ponder. Thanks for the reply.

        • Michael Ward

          If your talking about US flags then that IS common in the US. I was just pondering whether or not it really is in MOST churches. It could be, but I’m not sure. In any event, there’s no doubt that plenty of US churches have US flags.

          I’m not sure what it means. I never liked the practice myself. In my less tolerant days I was postively antagonistic toward it, but in a lot of places I think it is just done out of habit.

          Actually, I think we do have a flag in our church, in the class rooms. If you count office space, adjacent schools, etc. you can probably dig a flag up in most churches. Of course, you could dig up lots of other stuff too.

          But I was thinking of flags in the auditiorium before. Maybe you count anywhere on church property.

          But the issue of “nationalism” in churches is a lot broader than whether or not the church has a flag. And the issue of nationalism throughout a culture is even borader than that. It is not at all obvious to me whether

          Americans or Europeans are in general more nationalistic. Americans are probably more militaristic, but that’s not the whole story.

          In any event, nationalism exists on both sides of the pond regardless of where it is most prevalent. But sometimes people act like nationalism is primarily an American phenomenon. I don’t agree with that at all, and I thought that was want you were suggesting.

          So anyway, it is an interesting subject. It certainly is a lot to ponder. Thanks for the reply.

        • Mike Ward

          If your talking about US flags then that IS common in the US. I was just pondering whether or not it really is in MOST churches. It could be, but I’m not sure. In any event, there’s no doubt that plenty of US churches have US flags.

          I’m not sure what it means. I never liked the practice myself. In my less tolerant days I was postively antagonistic toward it, but in a lot of places I think it is just done out of habit.

          Actually, I think we do have a flag in our church, in the class rooms. If you count office space, adjacent schools, etc. you can probably dig a flag up in most churches. Of course, you could dig up lots of other stuff too.

          But I was thinking of flags in the auditiorium before. Maybe you count anywhere on church property.

          But the issue of “nationalism” in churches is a lot broader than whether or not the church has a flag. And the issue of nationalism throughout a culture is even borader than that. It is not at all obvious to me whether

          Americans or Europeans are in general more nationalistic. Americans are probably more militaristic, but that’s not the whole story.

          In any event, nationalism exists on both sides of the pond regardless of where it is most prevalent. But sometimes people act like nationalism is primarily an American phenomenon. I don’t agree with that at all, and I thought that was want you were suggesting.

          So anyway, it is an interesting subject. It certainly is a lot to ponder. Thanks for the reply.

          • Mike Ward

            Sorry that appeared 4 times!!!!

            If there’s anyway to delete the extra one please do.

          • Evelyn

            No time for details, but I do think that since WWI and WWII Europeans have been somewhat more leery of nationalism than before. The late C19th was a time of rabid jingoism. In my perception regionalism is on the rise now . . . And of course there are still sections of the population who are nationalistic.

            ITA with what you say here:
            But the issue of “nationalism” in churches is a lot broader than whether or not the church has a flag. And the issue of nationalism throughout a culture is even borader than that.

            Thanks for your reply :-)

  • Mike Ward

    Speaking of consummerism. How many ads are on this blog?

    Of course that’s what allows it to exist, but that just goes to show how dependent we’ve become on our consumer culture. It even finances the spreading of the gospel!

    “Jesus…brought to you by [your ad here]”
    :)

    or should that be
    :(


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