Reflections on Society

This is something I wrote over 10 years ago – has much changed?

There are many problems – many strong forces – no absolutes (who decides right from wrong?) – materialism – false religion – stress and the pace of change – globalisation – 80% of people living in cities (poverty, slums, disease, crime, prostitution) – the shrivelling of traditional political movements – freedom fighters – single issue politics – the ethics of abortion, euthanasia, international debt, slave labour – tribal and national instincts flourish – pollution – population explosions – control of the wealth of the world – politics v institutional Christianity?
Even in Britain democracy is all but dead (consider devolution)
Persecution to become more widespread?
Riches provide ultimate power and therefore corrupt absolutely (the world’s wealth is in fewer and fewer hands). Money rules! The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.
Crime and money are linked – so many conspiracies.
The need for the Messiahbecomes ever more evident!

It is very difficult for older people (whether or not they are Christians) to understand what is going on in society. We may not like the way that society is going – the young leading the way – but if we don’t make the effort to listen, we will not be able to have any influence on their thinking

In the middle of the 17th century the idea of royal authority straight from above was shattered – sovereignty then resided in Parliament. Then there was the breakdown of empires in Europe and the development of nation states – but for how much longer? What will the effects be of the global economy? Things like guaranteed employment levels are disappearing – people’s expectations have risen – but levels of welfare are becoming unmanageable. Consider the implications of mass communications and terrorism by those who feel oppressed! A lot of fragmentation with very few common goals. What about health, education and transport? These are all becoming consumerist – expecting prompt reactions (e.g. the fuel crisis in the autumn of 2000 – significant civil disobedience – very little long-term thinking).

Social bonds and local volunteer bases are being seriously eroded – people are determining their own lifestyle – with apathy to anything that doesn’t directly concern them! Policies that restrict lifestyle choices would be electoral suicide! Politics is just another game! Ideas for education seem to change annually – no sense of morality! What about shared world values and the proper use of traditions. After the great revolt against traditional authority in the 17th and 18th centuries there is a feeling that the past is no longer important.

We are now part of much wider networks. There is an emphasis on developing partnerships. But where are the facilitators who don’t have their own agendas? Where are the Christian leaders who really understand what is going on?

***

There is little doubt that Western society is fragmenting.  I found “Changing World: Changing Church” by Michael Moynagh very interesting.  What follows is my own summary (but  I’m not sure how understandable the notes will be to other people).

We live in a rapidly changing world. Over the last 200 years the ‘Western’ world has evolved – agricultural to manufacturing to services – but now ‘experiences’! More and more people are looking for life-transforming experiencesthat make them feel better or look better. People are getting bored and businesses are selling ‘experiences’ – shopping is being changed into an ‘experience’ – so many opportunities for people to be totally immersed in more and more sophisticated ‘experiences’.

The book suggests that daily life is changing as we move from a standardised society to an ‘it-must-fit-me’ world – all about managing choice – about jumping between consumer and workplace modes of thought.

Organisations are relating to people in a more personalised way, and the same trend is starting at work. The benefits of being together at work are great – involved – friends – building trust – managing stress – developing stronger ‘family’ units – more choice of when and where to work. More payment by results! Networked organisations – leaner, meaner and faster! Smaller components with greater independence! We are seeing the beginnings of customised government with on-line services. Government will continue to decentralise – the challenge of how local is local! Everywhere society is moving from an off-the-peg to a tailor-made society! But there is a long, long way to go!

One of the key features of post-modernity is the view that we must not universalise truth, we must not describe the world with one big story, because in doing so we may fail to hear – and even stifle – dissenting views. Paradoxically there is a big story, but it is saying there are no big stories – it compels us to pay attention to different stories and not to smother them with claims of universal truth. It validates the approach of ‘you decide’ – freedom for people to have their own views of the world and for these views to be heard!

The importance of knowledge – ideas, knowledge, skills, talents and creativity! New networks are seen as central. Fragmentation will provide meaning, belonging and security in a complex, alien and risky world. A more personalised relationship between organisations and people.

The forces of change in the advanced world:
Globalisation
– interlocking nations
Post-modern values
– rejection of hierarchy, suspicion of institutions and strong emphasis on personal choice
Demographics
– older people will be more numerous and more affluent and their expectations will increase. Younger people will be better educated and free from the traditions of home – but the poor will be left behind!
Technology
– will continue to make personalised scale possible.

New age, new mindset – “it must fit me exactly” – a recipe for selfishness? But then consider that God who is infinitely great wants to connect with us in a personalised way. He wants his love to be made-to-measure – to draw out the best in us and help us achieve our potential. But the church itself is still generally stuck in the ‘standardised world’ – i.e. ‘come and join us’! Many know that church is not connecting with people – but cannot imagine anything different!

The three monthly ‘seeker service’ for older people – three specific needs – a place to belong – a sense of family – a place linked with hope for the future! Church was built around them with a fortnightly focus group – but was it really what was wanted?

All this choice! How on earth will we cope?
Which school? Should holidays have an educational focus? Physiotherapy or an osteopath? Where shall we eat tonight? Choice is the new style of ‘democratic’ parenting – children are growing up showered with alternatives. How do we manage the choices (provided we are not one of the poor)?
Organisations will have to draw close to people they serve, listen to them, and help them make up their minds! What lessons for the church? Agents and advisers! Even doctors are becoming advisers when people check on the Internet and go with choices. But will we trust agents to give impartial advice? The suggestion that church could be a really valued ‘agent’, helping to steer people through life – giving advice and drawing attention to the considerations that need to be taken into account!

‘Tradition’ (the way we do things around here) used to guide people’s behaviour and outlook – but education has exposed people to new beliefs and possibilities. The great goal now is to be one’s own person – to be authentic. The importance of ‘brands’ as a source of ‘identity’ – that have replaced church!

Could the church – adopting the notion of service – identify people’s needs and aim to meet those real rather than perceived needs? How close is the church to ‘ordinary’ people? A key to brand success is to create a sense of belonging (she must be my kind of person – she is wearing the same designer label). People are more likely to join church if they can identify with others who belong. So why not take the church to groups of people who feel comfortable with each other? When people ‘belong’ you can begin to tackle the question of belief.

Strong brands draw people close and enable you to identify with others and above all, are recommended by friends – eg McDonald’s birthday parties – word of mouth is vital – following the crowd will become more and more important as a faster world leaves less time for research of alternatives. More choice will leave people gasping for certainty – people will go with the flow.
What would church have to do to become a strong brand? People don’t trust church because it doesn’t appear to understand them. Would a listening church rebuild trust?

After the war (and a standardised way) people clamoured for more choice to express their individuality. One result was abortion! Now perhaps “Don’t give me more choice; just give me what I want”. The right to choose is becoming the right to be satisfied. But satisfaction based on self-satisfaction leaves little room for compassion and service. Will the church learn to connect with people’s everyday concerns and provide practical help in making day to day choices? Going to them on their terms?

The two faced society – the totally different values of consumer and the workforce (where the workplace includes education). Overwhelmed by alternatives people felt that truth was less fixed and certain. Truth came to be seen as a matter of opinion, and tolerance was highly valued –”It’s up to you”. “It’s fine for you to be a Muslim, so long as you respect my right to be a Buddhist”. People will cherry pick ideas to compile their own versions of what is true and false (what theologians have always done?). As pick and mix becomes a way of life for younger people, tolerance is being redefined as the freedom not to choose between alternatives but to combine them (the opposite of conflict thinking?).

The boomer generation (born 1946-1960) – importance of individualism and self-expression – a continual process – never really grown up – still subject to emotional cries?
Generation X
(born 1961-1977) – no sense of the collective – concentration on protecting self from vulnerability and possible loss.
Generation Y
(post 1978) – refusal to be boxed in – there appears to be a genuine assumption of individuality and tolerance. Identity as a fluid concept – you are all the people you want to be?

From a sense of moral obligation to being driven by pleasure and endless ways to have fun (but only if it fits me exactly).

We have left behind a century fascinated by what lay under the surface (probing thoughts and memories) – a focus now on appearance. Individuals decide their values – authority is no longer respected – there will not be the patience to resolve conflict and argument – “Stick at it and make it work” will be a strange idea – if the group doesn’t work for them, they will search for a new one.

As people participate in different activities they can behave differently and no one will know – deeply concerned about the environment at a Greenpeace meeting – but no thought when going shopping – health conscious at the gym and then pig out at bridge. This is fragmentation of behaviour (made even easier by the Internet where you don’t have to be yourself – where placid people could experiment with being aggressive).

Books promoted sequential thinking. With so much TV people think in less logical and linear ways – a succession of images. Images foster intuitive rather than rational modes of thought – impressions rather than logic – thinking in parallel rather than in sequence – pictures rather than paragraphs.
Screenagers will not only be bombarded by images they will be immersed in one experience after another.

Greater self-sufficiency leads to a lack of commitment. There is a lack of willingness to join any stand-alone society – “It’s not my kind of thing”!

Church is disconnected from people’s networks. Work and home not in the same place – time for families – church no longer just around the corner? Working women means the local churches have lost their “woman-power”. Family type issues dominate local churches – a domestic agenda – the place of work seldom considered. Church is largely absent from the workplace – irrelevant? But work looms larger for a growing proportion of the population – status – purpose – a sense of belonging.
For many the job itself brought little satisfaction – “I can’t wait to retire”. It is suggested that as jobs become more challenging, more people will seek fulfilment through work (rather than family or friends) – looking for autonomy and project based work?

There is now less hostility – people used to feel the need to justify their rejection of church – now with little contact they do not feel the need to be against it in the way that their parents were.
“Your beliefs are fine and so are mine” – tolerance – attacking church is unnecessary – fewer preconceptions as to what church should be like.

A spiritual revival? – people can connect with prayer – a widespread desire to be part of a larger whole – looking for ultimate meaning (God sized void?). A group in prayer creates an atmosphere which encourages each member to pray – being with others aids worship. Learning about the faith with others provides stimulation and encouragement. A strong case against individualism? But there is the suggestion of freedom to be together while making your own spiritual journey – but how far can you get alone?

When older people look back – some will be disappointed with families or ambitions – some who were successful will question its significance! – An emptiness?

A longing to belong!  The need for support groups!
The chance to share our journeys and build on shared interests?
A chance to look back and consider what we have learned about the significance of life!

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