My dissertation looks at the manipulation of identity by the capitalist system, exploiting anxiety to make a profit and the narratives that are used to do this. I explore, in one section, the infantalisation of society – how we act and aim to look younger, buying into the kidult market. The narrative that we are told is that to be young is to have value and mean something. For Paul Tillich we hold the inescapable anxiety of meaninglessness and one result of this is the anxiety of death. Our tastes, therefore, are manipulated into being more infantile, for instance the increasing average age of video games players or the 50% of visitors to Disney Land who are childless adults. We try our best to hold onto our youth and retain our value. Once we are unable to maintain the narrative of still being young purely trough the products that we buy we are then encouraged to buy age defying creams and cosmetic procedures to attempt to hide the outward signs of our ageing. To get old is to approach death, which causes us great anxiety and so we cling on to our youth for as long as possible.
The human race has invested much time and money into lengthening life through science, medicine, and better quality of life. The expected life span increases constantly, therefore each generation can expect to live longer than their parents. Slowly but surely we are learning to defy death for longer and longer periods of time. This morning on Radio 4’s Saturday Live Sian Williams interviewed 100 year old Violet Coleman as it’s now expected that girls born today can be expected to live to 100. Violet was a wonderful woman who still had much life in her. Afterwards they read a text from a viewer saying that he didn’t think that the generation being born would live longer due to the growing levels of obesity and that the trend of increasing life expectancy will be altered. Rev’d Richard Coles referred to these as “life shortening habits” that we seem to have taken on as a society. This got me thinking, through our anxiety of death we have been trying to lengthen our time on earth and delay it as long as possible, however, we are now confronted with the reality of achieving this aim and experiencing lengthened life; perhaps the thought of living to these great ages, now that is has become a reality, causes greater anxiety than the thought of death therefore we are taking on new habits that will shorten our life expectancy. If getting old causes meaningless then why would we want to lengthen the experience? The anxiety of death is wrapped up in the greater anxiety of meaninglessness and so, ironically, by extending our lives we are actually extending our experience of death as we wait longer and longer for it to take us. Eternal life (at least life experienced as eternal before death) is actually a scarier thought than dying itself. As Richard Coles pointed out on the show “death gives life meaning” and by destroying death we risk removing the meaning of life itself.
I had been planning to post about this for a few weeks and then heard that Two Friars and a Fool were finally unleashing their #95tweets project I figured that I would wait, post about that and then follow it up with this.
A while ago at a home group I was a part of we watched a video featuring Fransis Chan and whilst talking about it afterwards several of us agreed that he seemed to use Hell as a motivation for how we act. From what little I know about Chan* he does and says some good things and I have no wish to to take that away from him. But I do disagree with him on this. I think that Hell is completely the wrong motivation for Christians for how we live on Earth. If Hell is the reason that we do or do not do certain things then that is ultimately selfish and done out of love for the self, to save the self and not through love of God or love of our neighbour. But through exploring and reconsidering the doctrine of Hell we can reconsider our faith and our motivation. We can learn to be motivated by the beauty of God’s Kingdom, of the passion to see the world restored. We can be motivated by being part of God’s kingdom now “the Kingdom of God is within you” and bringing restoration to people’s lives and the awesomeness of that, not because we don’t want to go to Hell.
When I have told people that I like Mathew 25:31-end (the parable of the sheep and goats) the reply has been that they don’t. I think, perhaps, that the reason that they don’t like it is that it makes them question their own salvation. The reason that I do like it is that it makes me question my own salvation. I don’t want to be motivated to do these things to be sure of my salvation, but to do so because of love and beauty and the potential I see to help restore the world to how it should be.
A parent doesn’t want their child’s love out of fear, because of what may happen to them if they don’t profess love for the parent. Do we imagine that God wants us to love him out of fear? Is that even true love? Which motivation would you prefer from the people that love you? How much more must our heavenly father prefer for love to be given out of beauty rather than fear.
*Basically having watched this video a while ago and read a couple of quotes on line so I really don’t claim to understand where he is coming from or what he is like I am just using this to illustrate my point.