It's become a truism that the world is more complex than it used to be and things are changing faster than ever before. To some it seems that the world cannot continue as it is, and many people are finding it harder to cope. How do we respond to this?
Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, social researcher Richard Eckersley suggests there are three common responses:
- Nihilism - Some people have abandoned any belief in a social or moral order, and believe that in such a chaotic world, "nothing much matters any more". Some see violence as a "purifying attempt to intervene against the nothingness" - whether the violence is real (suicide or random killing) or imaginary (violent movies). Others respond with determined efforts to be "a winner at all costs" or to "lose themselves in the quest for pleasure and excitement", or to simply "focus on home and hearth".
- Fundamentalism - Another response is to hold ever more tightly to some simple, and simplifying, beliefs. The certainties of religious faith (whether Christian or Islam, or some other) are seen to fit in here (in the extreme form, some fundamentalists may be happy to bring on apocalypse and the end of the world now, as a prelude to God's new order). However secular fundamentalism is also common, in the form of embracing political or economic certainties.
- Activism - A third response is to challenge the status quo, attempt to create new values that "will make a sustainable future possible", and hope this will change the world, or at least the individual's world. This may mean taking up a cause such as global poverty or environmental sustainability, but for others, it may simply mean "down-shifting" - putting less emphasis on earning a high income, and more emphasis on family and friends, spirituality, lifestyle and self-fulfilment.
Eckersley sees hope in the latter response. He says social research suggests that the numbers of people responding with positive activism is increasing, and is becoming an unstructured movement, made up of people in social justice. indigenous rights and environmental groups, citizen and community networks, faith-based groups and other institutions.
Fellow researcher Hugh Mackay has written: "the gap between 'what I believe in' and 'how I live' is uncomfortably wide for many of us, and we are looking for ways to narrow it".
I wonder what your response is? (Will you tell us?)
As a follower of the way of Jesus, I believe there is hope, and strangely, I think it lies in a combination of all three responses.
- I think we need to go part way with the nihilists, and understand that the material world of reductionist science (where only the material and the demonstrable exists) is indeed not worth living for.
- Jesus was opposed to religious fundamentalism (which he saw expressed in the restrictive rules of the religious authorities of his day), but he nevertheless offered some ennobling certainties which we should embrace.
- But I agree with Eckersley that we need a creative and active response to the world and the injustices in it. I see some signs of this in new forms of christianity, and in those of the younger generations who refuse to embrace the selfish certainties of the rat race.
I don't have a web reference for Eckersley's essay, but this review of his book covers similar territory.