What is our dominant worldview in the West? What (if you like) is our national religion? What are we encouraged to believe – about ourselves, and about the world around us? By what vision are we expected to live?
I think consumerism gets us pretty close: see previous posts on consumerism, the Western religion, the roots of consumerism, and consumerism as an explanation for the decline in voluntary organisations. But describing it as the New Gnosticism also seems to make sense. We could also speak about postmodernity, individualism, narcissism and materialism. Can we put these together in any way?
In The Transforming Vision (1984), Brian Walsh and Richard Middleton pose four basic questions as a way of analysing a worldview (p. 35). Let’s try to answer them, and see where that takes us…
(1) Who am I? Or, what is the nature, task and purpose of human beings?
‘I am me, an individual, the free and independent master of my own destiny’ (p. 36). I am good and I am beautiful. My task and purpose as a human being is to be true to myself through my actions and choices.
(2) Where am I? Or, what is the nature of the world and the universe I live in?
The world is inhabited by many individuals like me. We each live in a body, and the world (including our bodies) exists as a vehicle for our self-expression. I make use of my body, through the power I have as a consumer, and through technology, in order to exhibit my true self in all its beauty. As I encounter other free individuals being true to themselves, I can praise them for the beauty of their true selves, and my true self can receive the praise it deserves. When I die, I am released from my body, and can look back on all that I have achieved.
(3) What’s wrong? Or, what is the basic problem or obstacle that keeps me from attaining fulfillment? In other words, how do I understand evil?
The fundamental problem is that ‘The world we live in of space, time, and matter is basically a bad place,’ in that it prevents me from fully expressing my true, beautiful, inner self. There are many things about the world that hinder the expression of my true self, for example:
- The world I live in doesn’t give me enough gadgets.
- The world I live in doesn’t give me enough money.
- The world I live in hasn’t provided me with a suitable body.
- The world I live in makes me feel constrained to stay where I am (family, locality, career), rather than encouraging me to express my true self.
- The world I live in is a hurtful place. The wounds I receive lead me to repress my true, beautiful self, which leads me to treat others in hateful and oppressive ways, which in turn makes the world even more hurtful for others. And so we find ourselves in a vicious spiral of hatred and oppression. (I hate other people when I see their true selves being expressed, and fail to praise them for their beauty, and I oppress others when I prevent them from expressing their true selves.)
(4) What’s the remedy? Or, how is it possible to overcome this hindrance to my fulfillment? In other words, how do I find salvation?
Once we realise (through education) the nature of the problem, the solution is to fight against the constraints of the world we live in, by dealing with each of those hindrances to our authentic self-expression:
- We need more gadgets. We need to make better use of the world and all its resources in order to give us the technological means of expressing our true selves.
- We need more money to empower us as consumers, so that we can be true to ourselves. So we need the economy to grow (and grow and grow), and we need money to be distributed more equally.
- We need better healthcare, better diets, better fitness regimes, and better access to treatment that will make our bodies more suitable as expressions of our true identities.
- We need to set ourselves free from our roots and discover our true selves. (In other words, we need to become less provincial and more cosmopolitan. The standard way of undergoing this ‘conversion’ is through leaving home and going to university, and through global travel.)
- We need to consciously break the vicious spiral of hatred and oppression. First, we need to resolve always to affirm and empower others in their true self-expression. Then we need to protect ourselves from being wounded, whether through the hatred and oppression of others, or through injury, sickness and loss. And we also need healing from the wounds that we have endured. (This can happen as we bring our wounds out into the open, perhaps through therapy and counselling, in order to leave them behind and move on.)
Thoughts? Is this the story that we in the West are living in?
(If you have any recommendations for things to read on this topic, I’d be delighted to know.)