Sunday, July 04, 2010

Our culture is not materialist enough

"It's been said often enough but it bears repeating, that in some ways – so far from being a materialist culture, we are a culture that is resentful about material reality, hungry for anything and everything that distances us from the constraints of being a physical animal subject to temporal processes, to uncontrollable changes and to sheer accident."

- Rowan Williams, Ethics, Economics and Global Justice.

Matter matters to God. Christians are not anti-materialist (though we may be anti-consumerist). Williams identifies here an important dynamic in our attitude towards the good things in life. We do not actually enjoy them. We generally do not stop and give thanks, nurture contentment and joy with the good gifts we already have, but rush on to acquire more, consume more, experience more, as though if only by accumulating enough we can somehow transcend the fact that we have limits. It is not possible to have every experience, to hoard every treasure, to play with every toy. Let us enjoy what we have and be content.

For Williams, so much comes down to whether we will admit our creaturely status or whether we will continue to try to be gods. To put it another way: will we face reality and embrace the good gift of mere humanity? If we will, then we are free to drop the pretense of invulnerability and our delusions of control and finality and embrace responsibility on a human scale.


The Soph said...

As soon as I saw the title of this blog entry...I agreed, but I was thinking in terms of the poor. If Christians were more materialistic, we would do more about feeding and clothing the poor (James 2:15-16)

byron smith said...

Soph, you're right. That could well have been another angle with that title.

byron smith said...

Nice picture, by the way. :-)

The Soph said...

The principle you describe above implies the aspect I highlight, I think. Thanks for sharing this. It made me think. Oh yeah, and thanks for the compliment. I dig your too.

Anonymous said...

Andrew Cameron's piece on the peak oil society also had some interesting thoughts about how oil may have contributed to this sense of urgently escaping our creature-liness.

I know I'm concerned about mitigating the worst case scenarios, but many would also be out to save their escape from creatureliness. Skipping around the world in the blink of an eye is their right, and if the service on this miraculous flight around the planet isn't first class and treating them as Kings and Queens, then that's a crime! The human heart turns a good gift into grounds for grumbling.

see travelling around the

Anonymous said...

Oh, and see the Andrew Cameron quote I'm thinking of below:


For there is a sense in which the absence of oil only has one real effect. It will give back to us a proper sense of our creaturely limitation, as little embodied animals who can only walk a few kilometres a day. Our spatial limitations have always been what give us a sense of a ‘place’, or neighbourhood, in which we live. Oil has temporarily tricked us, making these constraints hidden in plain sight, deluding us into thinking that we can soar unencumbered like the angels just because someone can fly us to Phuket or because we can drive interstate. The absence of oil will only throw us back onto what was always the case, and what still remains the case for the majority of the world’s population: we are a people who dwell in neighbourhoods, villages and towns, making the best of interdependency with others in the same place. We cannot abstract away our createdness forever.

byron smith said...

Thanks Dave. That is indeed a great quote from a good piece. I might steal it as the basis of a post!

Were you going somewhere further with your "see travelling around the"? Or was that a left over from an earlier sentence that was not needed?