By Stephen W. Hiemstra
Common characteristics of many postmodern philosophies and secular religions are that they impose implicit costs on other members of society and impede normal character development. The idea that becoming an adult can be a verb—adulting—suggests that growth in maturity has been impeded deliberately presumably to extend youth, which is, of course, a form of denial with tremendous implications for faith, life, and society.
Problems with Individualistic Philosophies
For example, if a normal, relatively healthy young person goes to the doctor and is prescribed medication, no problem, but what if that same young person has more medications than your grandmother? Instead of regular exercise, she invests in expensive cosmetics and repeated plastic surgeries; instead of making time for friends, he invests in a lot of boy-toys and plays video games every waking hour; both require anxiety medication and background music to distract from dark thoughts. The pattern continues as it becomes obvious that the normal challenges of life are being deferred or medicated rather than dealt with so the individual in question can retain control of every aspect of life without learning from their mistakes or acting on the advice of others, such as family members or the community of faith.
Why is this pattern a critique of the Christian worldview? When carried to extreme, the focus on individual control causes problems even for the individual that pose less of a problem for those willing to live in and take advice from their families and the community of faith. The Ten Commandments, for example, can be viewed as provided healthy spiritual and relational boundaries necessary for a healthy life. The prohibition against adultery, if routinely violated, can isolate one from friends, break up families, and contribute to violence. Having suffered these outcomes, one might easily get prescribed anxiety medication even though the better (and potentially cheaper) solution would be to live within the boundary—do not commit adultery.
The Book of Genesis begins by outlining a number of binary separations—heaven and earth, light from dark, day from night, evening and morning, water from dry land, male and female (Gen 1). Later, God rested on the seventh day—a completely arbitrary decision. He also brought all the animals and birds to Adam to see what he would name them (Gen 2). These separations and names gave structure (basic nouns in language) to how we think about time and the physical world around us.
It is hard to image language developing in the absence of clear definitions yet today the simple definitions from nature, especially with respect to gender, are being challenged, once again, to allow greater freedom to choose for individuals and businesses chiding under the implicit restrictions they impose. For example, historian David Hart (2009, 223-226) sees that in postmodernism the nation state has finally removed all accountability to the church, an objective of governments for the past two thousand years. Once again, when carried to extreme, the focus on individual control causes problems even for the individual that pose less of a problem for those willing to live in and take advice from their families and the community of faith.
The Problem of Spillover Effects
If an industrial plant employed a coal-burning energy source and polluted the local environment cause disease and early to local residents, then these spillover effects would be charged back to the firm in the form of regulations requiring cleaner fuel sources, additional taxes, and other regulations. But what if personal choices resulted in spillover effects being imposed on the rest of society?
Fuzzing boundaries, even just conceptually, can not only lead to anxiety, engaging in risky behaviors can also lead to disease, suicide, and early death.1 All these outcomes affect society by raising the cost of providing health care and related social services. If these behaviors lower birth rates, the funding of social programs, like social security and medicare, are threatened because the programs currently tax the young to pay for the old. Lower birth rates may also encourage excessive immigration, raising social tensions. If these behaviors breakup families (or never even form them), then the costs of child raising and education may be transferred to others.
The point is that risky behaviors encouraged by individualistic philosophies frequently transfer the costs of this freedom to others in the form of spillover effects. Consenting adults who engage in risky sexual activity or use drugs or just behave badly impose burdens on society. While the courts frequently attempt to cope with these problems, even the problem of delegating such decisions to the courts entails undesirable social costs.
What is better—respecting obvious boundaries in a life under God or transgressing these boundaries and paying the consequences? The grace that we have in Christ is open to believers, but everyone else is subject to the law. One has to wonder whether the real beneficiaries of these individualistic, alternative lifestyles aren’t just the drug companies who sell the expensive pills and the corporations who love to sell products perpetuating an illusion of youth and hire employs who have lost all hope of a better life than working a low-wage job, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.The price of this indulgence and denial can be high—who wants to wake up after youth has passed you by and with it any hope of a real career and normal family life?2
Butterfield, Rosaria Champagne. 2012. The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith. Pittsburgh: Crown & Covenant Publications.
Gagnon, Robert A. J. 2001. The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics. Nashville: Abingdon Press.
Hart, David Bentley. 2009. Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies. New Haven: Yale University Press.
1 For example, Gagnon (471-473) compares the risks of homosexual behavior to alcoholism and find that the risks are much greater.
2 Rosario Butterfield (2012) realized her mistake in adopting a lesbian lifestyle after she had grown too old to have children of her own.
Classifications as Boundaries
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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.