Breaking the Chains of Modernity

Some years back, my library-browsing habit led me to discover Adbusters magazine.

Typically irreligious, often irreverent, it covered matters of politics and economics with greater vigour than I’ve ever personally felt about either of them.  Provocatively creative, the publication intrigued me.

It still does.

A piece from the latest issue, titled, “Breaking the Chains of Modernity,” opens like this:

The philosophical and spiritual problems of our age are so great that what our time calls for are new manifestos of knowledge and being. We need a kind of spiritual change that exceeds the political. Unfortunately most of us in the Westernized world spend more time trying to escape from ourselves (sex, shopping, addiction, fashion, entertainment, success), than we ever spend reflecting on the state of our existence, our heart or our soul. We are people driven by our desires: desires which destroy our hearts and any ability to have a connection to the greater spiritual realities that are all around us. As the Qur’an says, “God does not change the condition of a people, until they change their own condition.”

I find an unusual power–let’s call it the power of truth proclaimed–in hearing a blatantly secular voice call out the warning that we of the Western world are senselessly seeking escape when the salvation of our souls and society most needs us to engage in deeper ways than we ever have before.

I’m not certain of the greater context of the quoted Qur’an passage, but it the point is along the same line as the Bible’s, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you,” then it would be easy for both Adbusters and myself to AMEN it.

If the passage above resonates with you in any regard, head HERE for the full article.

If these thoughts about our persistent quest for distraction has conceived a simple observation or a full-blown rant, birth that baby in the comments section below.

16 thoughts on “Breaking the Chains of Modernity

  1. This copy of Adbusters is sitting next to me on my bed, the same library issue that you yourself may have browsed before. It is the only magazine that I am aware of in the whole world that isn’t a total waste of the paper it is printed on. While most magazines are rags of gossip and commercial space slapped together with little thought, Adbusters is different and significant because it challenges norms and is actually extremely well put together.

    On that note, here is my rant: I am a part of the Western society as little as I’d like to admit it. My entire life, anything I have ever wanted (no hyperbole) has been readily available and within reach, with the exception of childish dreams such as Ferraris and waterslides in my mansion on the beach, etc. If I want a car, I can get a car. If I want a house, I can get a house. If I want a new blender because the button on my old one is broken, I can get a new blender. Most of the things I want I can get by the end of the day, some by the end of the year. But regardless of when they may arrive, I have the means for that to happen. Not that everyone in the West has the access to such immediate satisfactions, poverty still exists and some people can’t afford to get what they want when they want, the objects are still there, and at times, the means to get them are also.

    I hate to blame my parents’ generation, or even the generation of my grandparents, but somehow they have taken their hard work ethic, their wishes to give their family what they did not have, and their fortunate place in society, and created a world of people that, as it is said above, “are driven by our desires: desires which destroy our hearts and any ability to have a connection to the greater spiritual realities that are all around us.” They’ve done everything they can for us, but it only led to a generation driven by our desires. The simple fact that I can have what I want when I want it, whether it is remotely necessary or not, is not good for the soul and never will be. It is not good for the brain and never will be. It creates a distracted person that believes they have no need to consider their philosophical and spiritual sides, because if I’ve got everything I’ve ever needed, why bother? This materialism and over-access brings about other problems such as the constant need to be entertained, to have a screen in front of them, or to be constantly impressed.

    In my mind, a large part of being a spiritual person has to do with the ability to say no to physical desires, whether that be food, alcohol, watching television, buying crap. It is impossible to be spiritual if you always indulge. Ask Gandhi.

    Later in the article it states: “The vision of our hearts has become blinded by the poison of base materialism.” That, in a sentence, is what I was trying to say.

    That’s my blog-length comment. I may just use it as a post on my own blog.

  2. good thoughts Jay and Nic. this might be a partial answer to Jay’s earlier post about why CofC’s are declining too. what do you think? my question would be related to Nic’s idea that “..because if I’ve got everything I’ve ever needed, why bother?”

    that is probably true, but is the opposite (i.e. not having much at all) enough of a reason to believe in some sort of higher power?

    • to Jerms:
      I more so think that the culture of consumption would be a reason specifically. Similar to what you/I suggest with “..because if I’ve got everything I’ve ever needed, why bother?”, I don’t think it is a conscious thought like that, but rather consumption and extravagance (my definition of extravagance would differ greatly from most peoples’) which clouds the spiritual/philosophical part of a person, which is similar to what you’re saying. The less you have, the more open you are to spiritual/philosophical ideas, not because you are destitute, but because you have less to distract you, if that makes sense. And when I talk of spirituality I don’t exclusively consider that as belief in a higher power, however, when talking about CofC I guess I would be.

      On that note, maybe the Church of Christ membership is generally rich and materialistic and therefore are distracted to a point of forgetting or not being able to see what they once considered so vital. That is a bit out of left field.

      • i agree that “..because if I’ve got everything I’ve ever needed, why bother?” is not a conscious decision. it just sort of happens. and i also agree that a lack of ‘things’ may remove that distraction and may allow one to explore spirituality.

        i am still not sure it is a good enough reason to believe in something though, is it?

        this is only sort of related, but as things change and we have a better understanding of the natural phenomena in the world, we are finding less of a reason to have god(s) right? (for example, we now know where rain comes from and hence no longer need a rain god etc). could the same be said for things/money/opportunities?

        just asking.

        • Yeah, I suppose that’s one way of looking at it. Although we may discover that we don’t need a God or a religion or a firm set of beliefs, I still kind of think that spirituality is part of a person regardless of their beliefs, whether they are part of the declining CofC, whether they believe in energies or people, or whether they believe in nothing. If not spirituality then everyone has a philosophy, and an availability of everything gets in the way of being sure of what that is, or even experiencing it at all. It is more difficult to know your philosophy just as it is more difficult to know yourself when you live in excess and great availability and even great opportunity, if that makes sense.

          I don’t even know what we’re talking about anymore.

          Thanks Jay for letting us use your blog comment section as a forum for our discussion. Join in already.

  3. I’ll Amen that too. And I both Nic and Jeremy make really good points.

    I’m curious about your comment that the magazine is often irreligious. Can you clarify?

    If you mean it voices a negative opinion about previously held beliefs in Christianity, I would agree, and would then say that in some cases, irreligiosity (is that a word?) can be a good thing. A little explanation:

    I think what could be called redemptive provocation is a beautiful thing –
    as shocking and offensive as it sometimes is. I believe it is needed in
    every society and people group to keep us paying attention to who we are
    and what we are doing, and make corrections if necessary. We have a long
    history of this in the Christian tradition – prophecy often went hand in
    hand with provocation. Some of my favourite stories in the old testament
    are about the prophets who would do all kinds of things – dress up, be
    naked, act, scream, be silent, even burn poop – all to get people to stop
    and think about life and how they were moving through it.

    I confess I am also a fan of the magazine. Almost every time I pick it up,
    I am shocked, offended, and provoked, and am very okay with all of it. I read
    a sign in a picture not long ago. I think it was in relation to The US
    financial meltdown a few years back – but it could be any number of
    situations we face today – it said “If you’re not offended, you’re not
    paying attention.” I would guess that’s a motto they follow at Adbusters as well.

  4. And Nic, don’t despair of all magazines, there’s a few good ones out there.

    In today’s world of sound bites, corporate agendas and dumbed down news, where even my beloved CBC it seems is more and more guilty of these acts, I find that quality magazines, books and podcasts are becoming the new vestige of thoughtful, long-form journalism.

  5. Wow! I step away from the blog for 36 hours, and the comments section blows up. Thanks for grabbing it and running, gentlemen.

    Allow me enough time to wrap up some work today, and I’ll chime in on what’s been said already AND what might be added yet before my return.

  6. Where to begin?!?!

    Wonderful stream of dialog here, gentlemen. Let me try to hit a few of these bits in separate comment boxes, so that any upcoming replies are more easily aimed at the applicable strands.

    Let me start with Nic’s take on consumption:

    I heartily agree that unbridled access to all we desire undercuts the health of our spirits. Such an experience alters reality as we know it into a “new reality” that I would argue is no reality at all. This illusion, of course, bursts when faced with circumstances such as financial collapse, family crisis, or serious threats to the welfare of ourselves and those we love. Such experiences remind us that “true reality” (a complete oxymoron, I realize) is a state in which we neither receive our every wish, nor possess the means to change this fact.

    This unnerving realization is frequently–one might even argue “typically”, even “necessarily”–the landscape for significant personal development. Call it “spiritual” or “intellectual” or whatever you wish; the lingo is somewhat irrelevant. The point is that we are speaking of the deepest parts of a person, and if we are saying that loss, struggle, or “going without” frequently catalyzes our greatest growth, then certainly it could be argued that an environment of unchecked indulgence is destructive to the soul.

  7. On Jerms’ connection to the “Churches of Christ decline” article:

    I think the discussion on our CofC fellowship specifically would take me more naturally in different directions than this. That might be better unpacked somewhere else.

    But more generally, there is certainly a link to be observed between greater indulgence in lifestyle and lesser pursuit of the spiritual. It isn’t that wealth or success or comfort are intrinsically ungodly. It is more about the deceitful nature of the human heart and our subconscious skillfulness at turning potentially life-providing gifts into soul-sucking distractions.

    Much of this is wrapped into the word “self-centeredness”, a quality toward which humanity seems strongly, almost unalterably, bent. Within this mode, we wrestle to even imagine a worldview in which we are not the centerpiece. And because of this consumption-fueled perspective, the pursuit of a God or a Way or a Philosophy–particularly of one that will include concepts like restraint, sacrifice, and discipline–is not going to top most people’s lists of priorities.

    All of that to say: I don’t think anyone consciously decides, “I have all I need, so there’s no point to seeking anything else.” Rather, that attitude springs forth as a natural byproduct of the illusions of self-sufficiency and independence that most of us eagerly grab hold of.

    • i agree Jay. “self-centeredness” is huge. it is, i would argue, the reason we have basically destroyed the environment, taken over other countries, and like you say, leads us to avoid things which require restraint and sacrifice.

      but, is ‘self-centredness” not an evolutionary trait? to survive, our species, and other species had to/have to look out for ones self.

      if that is the case, how does one change something that is not only engrained culturally but maybe even biologically?

      (makes me sound like i am trying to find a way to explain why i am so selfish, but that is not the case. ha. just curious).

      • On explaining why Jeremy Olson is so selfish… I’m drafting an upcoming blog post.

        On how to combat/change this very pronounced quality within us (whether evolved, created, or hardwired into us), I think there must be a scale in there somehow. I mean, there is a level of proper self-care. Even Jesus puts forth the “greatest commands” (arguably among the most combative words ever spoken against self-centeredness) with the assumption that people love themselves.

        Then, of course, there’s the unchecked world-revolves-around-me attitude best observed in infants and toddlers… and full-blown adults. How we get from the “proper and healthy” end of the scale to the “out of control” end, I’m not entirely sure.

        And the battle to walk this path properly… well, that’s tied into the questions that began this conversation in the first place.

        Thanks for keeping the fires stoked here, Jerms.

        What’s next?

  8. Regarding Wade’s thoughts on provocation:

    I am totally with you, my friend.

    In the case of AdBusters, I don’t use the word “irreligious” in any negative kind of way. I don’t read the majority of that magazine as anti-religion. My meaning was more that the publication often leaves a unique impression upon me because of its ability to make what what I would consider very spiritually-rooted points from angles less familiar to me. The effect of this is often to drive me even deeper into convictions that I already hold, or SHOULD be holding.

    There is one matter concerning provocation which unsettles me though when I stop to ponder it. It can be seen in a statement like this one:

    “I confess I am also a fan of the magazine. Almost every time I pick it up, I am shocked, offended, and provoked, and am very okay with all of it.”

    I quote the sentence above not as any kind of critique of you, Wade, but simply as an example of what lives inside myself. I feel that I know what you mean by the sentence above, for I feel it too. There is some measure of intellectual stimulation or emotional pleasure in the provocative nature of “truth spoken boldly”. Part of me appreciates that the zinging nature of the statement or the unusually clear logic that it captures. THAT is what I would mean if I wrote, “Almost every time I pick it up, I am shocked, offended, and provoked, and am very okay with all of it.”

    Here is what I wonder though: Can my last sentence even be true? Can I be “very okay” with true provocation? If the most substantial fruit that grows from my being provoked is an appreciation of the mental astuteness behind the provocation, then it would be fair to question just how sharply I have really felt the edge of the message.

    And if the dull edge doesn’t cut me as was intended, it can make a man nervous about what type of blade might be coming next!

    • Good points. I confess too, that I like the intellectual stimulation of
      provocative statements – almost a “yeah, you get ‘em!” response. I’m not
      sure if that’s good or bad, but I agree that we need to be very, very
      careful that it doesn’t stop there, that we also carefully consider what is
      being said and how it may apply to our own lives.

      I think one can be okay with true provocation. For me, I recognize the
      parasitic, slothful, consumeristic, (and on and on), individual that lives
      inside me. I want to combat that man. Unfortunately, most of what I take
      in as I go through each day has the aim of nurturing that part of me,
      encouraging it to develop even more. I want to consciously try and move in
      a direction away from that. So when I come across something that speaks
      against the self that I don’t want to nurture, that provokes me in some
      way, hopefully for the better, I welcome the wake up call, to stop and
      think about what I’m doing. It’s actually scary to write that, but I do
      desire it.

      • That’s well put, Wade. I hear you on the battle with the “other man” inside me, and the desire to grab anything that speaks against that self. Seriously, you expressed this somewhat abstract reality very well.

  9. i like all of you guys. let’s be bff’s. i’ll buy the bracelets.

    i don’t have much to add at this point. just came across this good discussion this morning, so i’ll take some time to digest. thanks for starting the discussion, jason, and thanks to you other 3 for revving the engines and getting my brain working. much love. i’ll be back (in my best terminator impression voice).

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