Over the next 3 days I will be reflecting on the 11th anniversary of 9/11. The events of that terrible day reveal some fascinating insights into our Western contradictions, hope, happiness and what really matters in life. Today’s post is called ‘The Last Days of Mohamed Atta’ (Atta was of course one of the hijackers).
In his latest book, The Road Trip that Changed the World, Mark Sayers talks about the contradictions we all live with. He uses the very revealing example of the 9/11 hijackers and their exploits in the days before they slammed planes into icons of what they saw as Western decadence. Here is what Sayers says:
[vimeo http://vimeo.com/40927169 ]
The extraordinary actions of the hijackers highlights for me, not just the contradictions of our lives, but the confusion and deception we all buy into, whether or not we are aware of them (and mostly I don’t think we are aware).
All humans want to be happy. To quote an unlikely source – current Collingwood AFL coach Nathan Buckley – we all want to feel good. And our culture drums the message into us that a certain type of lifestyle will bring us the happiness we all crave. As M. Scott Peck said, we are people of the lie. In this case it is the lie that possessions will fill the void within.
In The Road Trip that Changed the World, Sayers goes on to talk about the consumer Christianity which has become so dominant in The US and in Australia. Relevant Magazine recently had an article questioning whether or not we would still follow Jesus if your life didn’t get any better. Here is a penetrating quote from the article:
“If we’re not careful, we inadvertently imply that if one only focuses enough on Jesus, one’s circumstances will get better, and better, and oh-so infinitely better.” This is the subtle promise of much Christianity today. If it is not straight out prosperity teaching, where the idea is that God has a plan for you to be fabulously rich and beautiful, then it is something more subtle where the idea is that God will ‘bless’ you when you serve him. And ‘blessing’ implies that things will go well for you.”
Such a comment cuts very close to the bone for many churches in Australia today (and perhaps in your country too if you don’t live in Australia). But the type of blessing that comes out of many of our churches is not the type of blessing I read about in the Scriptures, especially in the Gospels. The only time Jesus spoke about blessing was in the Sermon on the Mount. Take the type of people who Jesus says are blessed: the poor, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,the merciful,the pure in heart,the peacemakers,and those who are persecuted because of righteousness.
There’s nothing there about things going well for you. On the contrary, Jesus seems to be saying that the ones who are blessed are those who are familiar with life not going well for them. Is this the type of Jesus we want to attach ourselves to? C.S. Lewis – as usual – answers it brilliantly when he says, “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”
Now please don’t misunderstand this. Jesus was not a masochist. He was a realist. When he says that whoever wants to follow him must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him, he is saying that because it is that which will give us the life we all want deep down. Jesus spoke of a narrow road being the road to life, and a wide road being the one that is destructive. How true is that today, in a time when we are the most obese, addicted, depressed and stressed generation in history? How relevant are Jesus’ words that life does not consist in the abundance of possessions, or that what does it profit you if you gain the whole world but lose your very self in the process?
I wrote an article recently on the culture of addiction which we are all slaves to in one way or another. It was after I saw an ad for a recent Powerball draw where the prize was $50million. As I watched the ad I was reminded again about how addicted our society is to a way of life that is slowly killing us.