Monday, May 04, 2009

Is it True vs Does it Work?

As Americans, we are often accused of "materialism." I believe that is a false accusation. Our art and architecture is simply too ugly to be materialist. Most of our large buildings are glass boxes with variations on a utilitarian shape and function. Our consumer goods are generally not ornate. Functional utilitarianism is the norm in our designs.

No, we are not materialists. Americans are functionalists consumers. We are concerned with what something does for or to us. We are generally very self focused.

Our approach to religion and faith is the same as our approach to consumer goods. We are always looking for "the better deal." Just as we want maximum reward for minimum input when purchasing a car or computer, we also want the maximum spiritual reward for minimum input. It seems that too many people want to be "spiritual" but are looking for the shortest path to spirituality.

The result of this functionalism and consumerism is that those who want to find a spiritual home often move from congregation to congregation or denomination to denomination looking for a church family that suits them. They look for a good music program or nice preaching or beautiful or simple liturgy. The look for a vibrant and fun youth group with "cool" youth ministers.

And, just as we have no problem owing both a Toyota and a GM at the same time, we also don't have a real problem with mixing and matching our religious doctrines to suit ourselves. It sounds so nice to say that everyone goes to heaven. It sounds so good to say that God wants us to be happy and rich. As a consumer, I can pick this part of Christianity and that part of Buddhism and this other part from society to form a "unified" whole that fits me. The question that we ask is not "is it true?" The question we ask all too often is "Does it work for me?"

One of Satan's greatest victories is to get us to stop focusing on eternal truth. This occurred because of the Eternal Truth that we each understand the Truth a little differently. So, there is a certain element of "my truth" and "your truth." Earlier people also believed that each person understood the Truth a little differently. But they still agreed that there was objective Truth and that the measure of a good argument was how close it came or how much better it showed the Truth.

Today, too many people don't believe in Objective Truth. They are only concerned with "how's that working for you?" Instead of Bishop Fulton Sheen or the Rev. Billy Graham speaking to us about sin and redemption and eternal life, we now have Dr. Phil and Oprah asking us to see how this works.

So, we devise our own religions that "work" for us. We don't ask anyone else to follow our religion or our spirituality. We even have religious leaders willing to tell us that we can do this because to do otherwise would be "inauthentic" to our "true selves."

This is American Religion. We no longer are concerned with Truth because functionality is so much easier to measure. It doesn't require a lot of skull sweat to determine if something works for us (defined as makes us feel better about ourselves). It doesn't require changing a lot in our lives and it certainly doesn't require that we die to self. In fact, consumerists spirituality is the ultimate celebration of the self!

Jesus did not come to make us feel better about ourselves. He did not come to increase our self-esteem or to bring us to self-actualization. Jesus Christ came to help us die to ourselves so that we can be raised to new life.

Phil Snyder


The Underground Pewster said...

This should not be to say that there should not be different styles of worship.

For instance, I can tolerate small amounts of electric guitar and drums in a religious service, but for a lifetime of service, I would return to what is more comfortable to "me."

The substance is what you are getting at; am I correct?

To get at the substance will always require more effort than mere church going. That's when we switch from having the church work for us to us working for the church.

plsdeacon said...

There is (or should be) a certain leeway in style of worship. I love all worship (of the Holy Trinity). But the substance of the teaching is the big problem. Too many people equate the worship service with the substance.

Again, it goes back to the idea of trying to acheive maximum "spirituality" for minimum effort. So, emotional services are sought out to make us feel good about ourselves. Thus, we can feel "spiritual" rather than being a soma pneumaticom - a body animated by the Spirit.

Any time we choose something based on our preferences, we are in danger of being a consumer of that thing, rather than a steward of it.

Bryan Owen said...

I just came across an interesting article over at "Front Porch Republic" that may be relevant to some of these musings. It's entitled, "Gnosticism and the Accumulation of Scheiss."

The Underground Pewster said...

Thanks for the link Bryan.

Nice comments by Phil over there.

Robert said...

Good word about the American religion of consumerism brother Phil. :)

BJ said...

I didn't read this post because the teal background is too dark to provide much contrast for the black text.

I don't want to work my eyes to read stuff on the net. It's enough to work my brain for all this Anglican world falling apart.

plsdeacon said...

BJ - I hope you come back to read this. I've made some color changes to make it easier to read.

Phil Snyder