September 2008


I remember clearly standing in the kitchen of Black Forest Academy in Kandern, Germany discussing that fine missionary school with the wife of one of my colleagues. Offhandedly, without any thought of contradiction, she referred to BFA as an American school. It was quite clear to her that the cause of Christ and the ideals of America were synonymous.

She is not alone. Many in North America think the same, and would go even further and say that capitalism and Christianity are, if not synonymous, at least compatible. But are they? The Bible doesn’t have a lot to say about economic systems, but the examples it does give do not support capitalism. Joseph organized the entire country under state ownership and then redistributed the land; the first disciples sold all they had and held everything in common. Warren Buffet is not lining up at that door!

Going back to Max Weber’s classic analysis in the early part of the 20th century, sociologists have often given credit – or blame! – to Luther’s and Calvin’s interpretations on the dignity of work as the genesis for capitalism. But is the narcissistic individuality of consumer culture compatible with a faith that puts the needs of others before self and the will of God above all? And is the greedy, rapacious plunder of God’s creation for personal or national gain pleasing to the God who preached “take no thought for tomorrow, for tomorrow will take care of itself…but rather seek the kingdom of God”?

If freedom to choose has been so debased that it now means the choice between Pepsi and Coke, or abortion and euthanasia, and all are equal because all choices are valid in consumerism, and I’m simply a consumer with “rights,” where is there a place for morals or ethics? Individual need has become individual greed, and there is no foreseeable future for such a wilfully self-destructive and nihilistic culture.

See: http://xroads.virginia.edu/~HYPER/WEBER/cover.html

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew%206&version=31

 

Dystopias are a literary staple with a distinguished lineage. Orwell’s 1984 is obviously the cornerstone of the franchise, but its roots go back to Greek theatre, and sci-fi literature from Brave New World to Blade Runner is heavily dependent on such distempered visions. So much so that I have grown a little jaded with the whole genre. Too much of it is just bad horror shtick with a limp passing wave at social relevance.

Hence my long resistance to watching Fight Club. Too trendy, too much star power, it was bound to be a poser movie with no cred. Wrong. It is in fact very cleverly, even artfully done with some authentic performances from Pitt, Norton and Bonham-Carter. However what nailed it for me is not the psychological craftiness, but the philosophic resonances. This is Nietzsche in all his barren ennui displayed without sentimentality or excuse.

The truly clever reach of this piece though is how the central characters so compactly express the Nietzschean dilemma: the ubermensch, the overman or superman culture has indeed reached its zenith in a narcissistic consumer culture where artistic, creative individuality with its emphasis on individual choice over every other moral value is flaunted to the detriment of all the rest of humanity and its crumbling social connectedness, being opposed by an equally formidable and likewise nihilistic view of carnage and mayhem. That this amounts to collective schizophrenia is not news, but its embodiment in Tyler Durden is insightful and revealing, and well worth watching.

It is hard to think of such things in Malaysia, where the school term has been underway for two months (and will be over in three) but back in Ontario it is time to go back to school. I wish all of my former colleagues well as they hit the books and the classrooms.

I used to love the summer holidays, the lengthy lazy days, especially when we had young kids in the house. The summers are great for the beach and the cottage and lots of time to get projects underway. I think now that I prefer the shorter and more frequent breaks. We just got back from Laos and now it is only three weeks to our next week off.

Pam has a conference in Singapore the first week in October, so we are planning on using my next week of holidays to make final preparations. A week in Singapore isn’t such a bad deal under any circumstances, and it gives me a chance to be more directly involved in Pam’s ministry. Pam’s off this week to Cambodia on a ministry trip, so please keep her in your prayers.

 

 

CNN and MSNBC are our friends, right? Are you sure? CNN and MSNBC have an agenda, but I don’t think it’s friendly to you and me.  Take what is happening in Georgia right now as an example. What do you know of that situation? Russia is being a bully, right? Throwing their weight around, trying to re-establish their empire, becoming the enemy, threatening world peace, right?

How do you know that? CNN and MSNBC told you. They tell you in practically every article they produce. It is all about this family being evicted or that reporter being threatened or this agreement being broken or that bridge being blown up. By now you’ve got the picture. But do you? Turn off the tv and do a little investigative research on the internet and another view will emerge.

Do you remember Gorbachov? Reagan got all the credit for getting the Berlin wall torn down, but it was Gorbachov who did it. Remember peristroika, remember the openness in Russia to the West? What happened to that, where did it go? Why is the Cold War still being fought on Russia’s borders 20 years later, whose purpose does that serve?

War might very well be over in Iraq shortly. Then what happens to that awesome war machine, and all those who profit from it? What happens if a Dove gets in the White House, and reins in that military budget? Why are questions being raised anew about Obama’s military credentials if things heat up in the Caucasus’ republics and to whose advantage is it to make sure things there do heat up?  Are you sure that it is Russia causing trouble on its borders, or are others causing trouble for Russia? Who gets elected if trouble continues, and who are his masters? But the world is how we see it back in North America, right? Do you want to bet your future on it?

 

We had a choice when we signed a lease on this apartment to subscribe to cable TV. We declined. There are times, as in the recent Beijing Olympics, when we regret that decision. What we saw of the opening and closing ceremonies was incredible, and cable TV for those two weeks would have been worth it. But for all the rest of the year? Not so much.

We do watch tv occasionally, but mostly it is knock off Hollywood movies, with English subtitles that are mangled in such a way that is so screamingly funny we have to watch the movie twice to see what was going on. The one or two commercials that we do see are all about making our faces whiter. We figure that in this culture they are white enough already, so we find them kind of funny too.

Being outside of all the North American pressure to buy stuff is really nice. Life without commercials is much more peaceful;  you really have no idea. There is a reason that Christ spent more of his earthly ministry talking about the dangers of losing your soul to mammon than He did talking about any other subject. The road to perdition is paved with the distraction of obtaining earthly things.

But more than spiritual salvation is at stake. Murray Jordan in The Making and Unmaking of Technological Society argues that consumerism is at root nihilistic and destructive of the society it purports to extol. Certainly there is enough evidence of the decline of Western civilization to wonder if there is something terribly wrong and perhaps sick at the heart of our culture. I could think about that and do some more reading on the subject, or I could just relax and watch some tv.


Malaysia has its problems, to be sure. A quick look through the most recent pages of Asia Sentinel, a Hong Kong based paper affliated with the International Herald Tribune will be enough to convince you of that. ( http://www.asiasentinel.com/ ) Some of those issues we have presented on this blog over the last year and a bit.

But we would be churlish not to appreciate the beauty of this country and the hospitality of its people. For the moment Malaysia provides us with a nice home and a decent standard of living. KL is a travel hub for Air Asia, the region’s most affordable and efficient airline, and transportation to Pam’s principal places of ministry, Cambodia and Singapore is much easier here than anywhere else in the region.

And unlike Burma and even Thailand at the moment, Malaysia – albeit reluctantly – seems to be moving towards a two party democracy without violence. So Happy Merdeka (Independence) Day to our adopted home, and may this be a peaceful and productive year for all.

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