I’ve just finished listening to Russell Brand’s new book, Recovery: Freedom From Our Addictions, and it’s got me thinking.
Russell is a very astute social commentator as well as a quite eccentric comedian, and his take on the influences on our society is quite profound.
What struck me as I listened to his book was the extent to which our culture is a breeding ground for addiction.
Russell Brand would know. He self-defines as a drug addict, alcoholic, sex addict and as having various other addictions that pretty much wrecked his life. Drugs were his main form of addictive behaviour and he is now 14 years clean.
In his book, Brand talks a lot about how we live in a society that bombards us daily with the message that we can be happy filling our lives with externals, whether they be the more obvious addictions like the ones Brand has struggled with, or the more subtle and acceptable ones like consumerism and the obsession of fitting as many experiences into our lives as possible.
In truth, we all have addictive patterns of thinking and behaviour. We all use externals to fill our lives with things designed to make us feel better. Franciscan priest, Richard Rohr calls these our programs for happiness.
The other night I had dinner with a group of friends after church.
I wasn’t too keen on going at first. The introvert in me wanted to go home and get on my laptop, scroll through Facebook for a bit and generally just be on my own. But after being with my friends for couple of hours, discussing all sorts of things from life to ethics to travel, I went home marvelling at how much I had enjoyed my time with them.
As I drove home thinking to myself about how much I had enjoyed the evening, I started thinking about how our society encourages isolation and individualism, and what that breeds. Australia has some of the worst sets of social statistics in the world. Our rates of depression, anxiety and loneliness are through the roof. One person takes their life every three hours in this country. It’s a staggering and sobering statistic.
At the same time, Australians have never been better off materially. We live in the richest time in history. According to financial institution, Credit Suisse, Australia was the second richest country in the world, per capita, last year. We have been in the top three for the last few years.
In a culture where we are told that happiness is just a lotto win away, where freedom is getting away from your loved ones and being out on the open road in your new car, and where life would be perfect if we just had that next promotion, the promises are not delivering.
I remember some years ago speaking to a work colleague who is from Kenya. She had recently come to Australia to live and she couldn’t believe how many people live alone in this country. In many African cultures, community is just a way of life.
I have long been fascinated by the African concept of Ubuntu. It is the idea that we gain our identity by being part of a group. In most Western cultures, we see our identity as individuals; we are very ‘I’ centred. Ubuntu, on the other hand, says, ‘because we are, I am’. I get my sense of who I am from being part of a group. It is about belonging to something bigger than ourselves.
There is a story of an anthropologist who conducted an experiment with some African children. He put a basket full of fruit near a tree and told them that whoever got there first won the fruits. When he told them to run they all took each other’s hands and ran together, then sat together enjoying their treats. When he asked them why they had run like that, as one could have had all the fruits for himself they said: “Ubuntu. How can one of us be happy if all the other ones are sad?”
There is something deeply biblical about this. We have been created for relationship, for community. However in our churches we talk about our faith in an individualised sense. We talk about our own personal relationship with God as if that is the only way we relate to God. The early church saw things differently. They saw life as lived in community. In Acts we are told that the believers had no private ownership of their possessions. They shared everything, and as a result, no one was in need. Apparently it was so important that it is mentioned twice, in Acts chapter two and chapter four.
The church needs to rediscover its prophetic counter-cultural stance. We are just as consumeristic as the rest of the culture. Meanwhile, Jesus whispers down through the ages, “’What will it profit you if you gain the whole world but lose your very self?’ and ‘Life does not consist in the abundance of possessions’”.
In Mark chapter 10, verse 30, Jesus says that no one who has left everything for him will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields. This verse can often be taken as a justification of some sort of prosperity thinking, but that just shows how our consumer culture has shaped us to think individually. What Jesus is referring to is just what the early church lived out: living together in kingdom reality, where people relate to each other in love. It is a taste of the kingdom coming on earth as in heaven, as Jesus taught us to pray.
We live in a culture that sows the seeds of its own destruction. And Christians largely go along for the ride. Let’s ask for the courage and love to be filled with the Spirit of Jesus so we can be part of God’s work of renewal and not add to the problem.
This article first appeared on Christian Today on 24 August, 2017
Life is more than experiences. The endless chase for the next one won’t fill the ache in your soul…
“Why are Australians so angry? We’re one of the richest nations on Earth, with one of the highest standards of living. We live in a free and democratic society where political views can be expressed without fear of being jailed or gagged.”
This article starts by comparing a trip to Bali with life in Australia. As I’m currently in Bali, this really resonates. Why aren’t our enormous riches making us happy? Why do we feel so entitled to everything being done our way? Aren’t our riches and freedom enough for us?
Living life for others is what makes us happy. The pursuit of happiness in itself is a pursuit without a destination. Happiness is a by-product of living a life of service for others. Loving our neighbour, even our enemy, gives us a joy that is not dependent on circumstances.
In a materialistic society we look to externals to give us our sense of wellbeing. Externals can and do give us a level of satisfaction (like being on holiday in Bali), but they will never give us what we really desire. There is always a level of dissatisfaction with life just under the surface. Acknowledging that is a sign of emotional health.
Emptiness, including boredom at times, is a gift. It is not healthy to always seek to fill the emptiness inside us. Until we realise that, we will remain angry and seek to act it out rather than choose the more healthy option of acknowledging it and seeing how we can choose to love our neighbours. Nothing less than the survival of the planet depends on it.
Australians are among the luckiest people on earth. What are we so angry about? | Brigid Delaney’s diary
I’m driving to Denpasar airport in Bali (or rather being driven, I am still learning to drive) and it’s a nightmare. I see three near-collisions. Yet no one is honking their horn. There are hundreds of cars and motorbikes jammed into a terrible road yet the streets are actually kind of quiet.
Scott J Higgins has posted a wonderful piece today shattering the myth that poor people are happier.
As with any myth, this notion contains a kernel of truth. It goes to the idea that they have more of a sense of community when compared to the rampant individualism of the affluent West. It also comes out of the idea that living simply leads to less anxiety. There are many people living in poverty who exhibit much joy in their lives.
Despite this though, it doesn’t take away from the fact that poverty is awful.
Poverty is about identity, a sense of being “less than” and trodden on. Not that riches make people happy; the social statistics for people in affluent countries are awful in different ways. Having some money though provides access to things like health and education, each of which enhance wellbeing.
Some points to take out of this are:
Here is Scott’s post:
Upon their return from countries with high levels of poverty I often hear people say “they might be poor, but they seem so much happier than us.” It’s a comforting thought for those of us who live with great wealth. But it’s not true.
Dutch philosopher, Evert-Jan Ouweneel says that these countries are generally happier as long as circumstances are going well. Resilience though is lessening.
Ouweneel also says that the world is becoming more religious, not less. 85% of the world’s population has a religious faith. If we want to promote human understanding, cooperation and relationships, we need to understand religion and how it underpins the lives of most people in the world.
Finally, Ouweneel faces the common criticism of faith-based organisations working to alleviate poverty, that they give food from one hand as long it’s with a Bible in the other. There are a lot of myths going around about this, and they are well dealt with in this fascinating interview on ABC Radio National.
Listen to the interview here.
“Wherever you are, be all there.” – Jim Elliott
Do you ever have the attitude that, no matter where you are, you want to be somewhere else? I do.
A friend and colleague of mine has been talking a bit lately about FOMO – Fear of Missing Out. It is the disease of the age. There are so many options in our lives these days, so many things to do, people to see and places to go, that we suffer from choice anxiety.
What this results in is an attitude of “keeping our options open” so we don’t miss out. But in the meantime, we end up not really experiencing anything properly because of our fear of committing. Continue reading