Is there room for a Christian minimalism?

Lately I’ve been observing the religious spectacle that is our malls. And as I’ve walked past the stained glass screens of Westfield’s saints I can’t help noticing something. That so much of the happiness these models portray seem associated with what they’re wearing. Of course having a great body helps too. But why are people so fixated on objects?

I think the attachment to objects is something that’s built from infancy. We associate our first blanket with security. And hot Ribenas with a motherly caress. Every time I go back to Malaysia, I eat at a McDonald’s there. The food probably isn’t even that good. But I can’t help associating my childhood with the same place. The connections we have to people spill over into objects. And the stronger the attachment, the harder it is to get rid of it. Hence why it’s easier to throw away a box of food than a box of letters from those you love.

We adorn our rooms with objects that promise wholeness, peace and contentment which we know deep down we need. But what happens when we confuse our toys with the things they symbolize? Rather than having a car as a useful tool, the Audi becomes a symbol of our social value. And when objects become who we are, we’re not far from using people to get the toys rather than using the toys for the people. Unfortunately, it’s inevitable when we try to use objects to fill the hungry void in us. Like ravenous wolves, we consume forests and mines and we still can’t get enough.

The modern person is faced with a never ending struggle of accumulating things. The modern world is so comfortable, tasty and convenient. But maybe the outside of us has changed much faster than the inside can handle. Though your environment has changed, you’re still the same person deep down inside. So like a kid with a bowl of cereal after school, you eat and eat from the discontentment that still ferments in you. We still haven’t found what we’re looking for. We may not even know what that is. The ancient Greeks once said that the most important task was ‘to know yourself’. But our age has forgotten such ancient wisdom in the pursuit of the perfect present. We can never get enough of what we don’t want, treating the symbols for its reality.

Making and consuming products isn’t too different from ancient religion. We just don’t call our things ‘gods’. But they promise all the same things — fertility and wealth, power and success. As the Protestant reformer John Calvin pointed out, the human heart is an idol factory. And in the 21st century, its idols are on a permanent 24/7 clearance sale. They’re on every street corner and every browser tab. They peek from articles and videos and podcasts, beckoning passersby and following them even after they’ve clicked away. But there’s nothing behind its smiles and sheen. These idols are masks that only pretend to give you what you want. And the more we buy, the more they demand. What will we sacrifice for it? People become competitors and tools. Habitats become business opportunities. And we ultimately become just a hat rack for our things, inanimate and devoid of life like Lot’s wife who turned into a pillar of salt.

Joy That Cannot Be Shaken: The transition from circumstance to perception as a Christian

Can you be always happy? As a human being probably not. There just always seems to be something in the way – a date who’s late or a dog who won’t stop dropping his doodoo in your bathroom. But it doesn’t stop people from trying because the drive for your own happiness is universal. You try to get to bed earlier so you can wake up refreshed. You try to jog to lose weight and feel better about yourself. You try to read more books. You try. But you can’t stop. You can’t pulling your phone out as soon as you get up. You can’t stop shouting at your wife. And you just can’t stop…well, being you. All of these failures take their toll, leaving us with a vague disappointment and an even vaguer cynicism. We’ll never be happy.

Why is it that we seem stuck on a treadmill of happiness? We pursue it at every moment but can never grasp or find it. Maybe it’s because we’re too often searching to change our circumstances rather than first letting ourselves be changed. Happiness is not a thing. It is not the weather, rainy now and sunny later or blazing hot and chilling cold. Happiness is a perception. It’s our attitude to life. When joy shows up it can happen anywhere, no matter the circumstance. We can always find that reason to be thankful or to rejoice or to hope.

Happiness doesn’t mean being okay with what’s going on. No one rejoices because their child got cancer. No one should rejoice when they’re lied to or exploited. It doesn’t exclude being disappointed or angry. Happiness can spring out of these areas. Because having an unshakeable joy means having the right view of what’s really happening. It’s hopeful that wrongs will be righted. It knows that things will not always be that way. And it trusts that all that’s happened, happened for good reasons. Can you see what this means? Happiness is personal. It always has been. From when you were a child wondering if your mom would return to school to pick you up till now as you wonder if you’ll be there for your kids. I wonder if joy is the answer to the question: can you trust me?

Not if the universe is impersonal. Not if we’re just loose collections of atoms floating from here to there. Not if we came from nowhere and go to nowhere. Not if all that is all that will be. Existence is simply an accident without rhyme or reason, purpose or plan. Goodness is simply what helps us survive and those we want to survive. The will to survive is the will to power. And so all of life will be a fight for life before an unwanted death. After that all memory of ourselves will be wiped away. And in a billion years when the earth no longer ceases, the universe will scarcely have remembered the land we soiled.

Happiness doesn’t come from accidents.

An unshakeable joy comes from an unshakeable person. It comes from seeing the Creator behind creation. And it’s so hard to come by because we’re so short sighted. I think it can be hard for Christians to accept that it was meant for Jim Eliott to die to the Huaorani he wanted to reach. It’s hard for Australians to accept that it was meant for many ANZACs to forfeit their lives in the battlefields of Europe to keep Australians free. We ask: How could this amount of suffering produce any justifiable good? We just can’t see it. But if only we knew. If only I knew. What would I be? If I knew what glory would reveal for me. All I see all glimpses of light. But I long to see the mirror of delight.

A Reflection on Augustine’s Confessions, Book 2

I recently caught up with a friend to discuss chapter 2 of Augustine’s confessions together. It started smooth but we derailed towards the end of the chapter when Augustine began talking about the story of his disordered loves. Like many good stories it all started with a piece of forbidden fruit.

As a young man, Augustine took a pear from a farm. But to be more precise, he stole it. And as he reflected back on his life, he was puzzled at why he would do such a thing. It’s one thing for a man to steal a loaf of bread to feed his starving family. But Augustine realized that he had done it for no reason at all. There was nothing attractive about the pear other than the sheer pleasure of stealing itself and the joy of doing it in company.

We were both confused. Not just because Augustine had previously described the human condition as a case of loving the wrong things. But now he was pointing out that there was something wrong about our love itself. It sounded much worse than what we had originally thought about people’s motivations. Can you imagine forgiving someone who admits to hitting your car not because he was in a rush but simply for fun? The sympathy we feel towards those who wrong us often come from seeing them as noble people with misplaced intentions.

But Augustine is honest about you, me and himself. I can see what he means. There’s a certain mystique that draws you in to sin. It’s alluring. Lustrous. Forbidden. Scandalous. Just look at a Tim Tam ad. Remember the old msn status? ‘If loving you is wrong then I don’t ever wanna be right.’ There’s also the sweet, sweet feeling of vengeance – that feeling of being gloriously right and no apology will ever be good enough for you. We don’t just love badly but we love the bad.

I think Augustine provides some hints to help us understand the difference between the 2. When we sacrifice our lives for money we show how desperately we want security. When we sacrifice children for the sake of our jobs we show how much success matters to us. We’re enslaved by whatever we sacrifice ourselves for. That’s worship, the ‘for God’ part. And as Bob Dylan says, ‘everyone’s gotta worship something.’ And though our hearts are restless seekers until they find God, they’re also restless imitators of God. Even perversity doesn’t stop us imitating the one we were made for. We enjoy the freedom that comes with exercising autonomy and control over what we want, when we want, how we want, where we want. McDonald’s all day, everyday. Children when I want and how I want. So we become like gods.

This unlimited freedom we’re exercising is simply a superficial imitation of the one who is truly free. This cheap copy of God is what Augustine had in mind when he stole the pear. And I think this role of playing god is probably more destructive because by doing it makes its doers accountable to no one else. But as I spoke to my friend over the burnt raisin toast of a late night McDonald’s, I was reminded that God’s work is not so much to make us what we’re not but to remake us into who we truly are. We are what we love after all and we love best when we love what is true, good and beautiful.

On The Unexamined Life

One man has gone so far as to say that ‘all of Western philosophy is a footnote to Plato.’ I’ve read about Socrates’ last days and his defense of his own life. I’ve read about his life from Kierkegaard and many others he’s inspired. Behind his thought stands one driving desire: to live the good life. For Socrates this was the unexamined life. And it would be the same life that he would give his up for. Rather than escape to exile or face his accusers in an execution, Socrates would choose to drink hemlock and die. His crime? Corrupting the youth of Athens by persuading them that the unexamined life really wasn’t worth living.

I want to explore why this man was willing to die for such a belief. After all, not many people die for any beliefs. It happens a lot less than we think. Whoever died for the ontological argument for God? Or whoever died to over whether God and evil could co-exist? It seems to me that our lives can extend no farther than our actions. There and there only, lays what we truly believe.

That’s where the problem begins. When I think about a life of self-awareness and examination, I find that it’s hard to tell what I’m willing to stake my life on. Are the values I hold something I believe or just what the crowd tells me? Some people say fruit is good for you. Others say it’s too sugary. I haven’t made up my mind. But I just ate a banana. The most obvious difficulty of the examined life is during high school. Critiquing everyone AND trying to fit it? You’ll have a better chance of scratching your belly… with your foot. This is okay for small matters like the color of your shoes or the lunch you’ll eat (for most at least. Others may need a psychologist). But this applies all the way up to the meaning of our lives.

This is a dangerous game. By living the unexamined life, our identity will be inevitably determined by the masses – ‘Christians’, or ‘Doctors’, or ‘Family’ eventually makes the unique YOU not so unique at all. You’ll just be the clone of whoever or whatever people want you to be. This means that at the end, there’ll be nothing particularly valuable about you. There exists only the amorphous blob ‘Christian’. No one wants to be just a face in the crowd. Everyone wants to be known and loved as themselves. But what we trade off individually we gain communally. Money, status, security and even power. ‘Oh you’re a doctor??? Tell me more.’ At least that’s how I imagine how some doctors expect people to respond.

Is the reward of fitting in worth the cost of meaning and identity and truth? Man’s search for meaning is as unquenchable as the thirst for $10 McNuggets on a midnight drive. All of my life has been a search for meaning. If I just knew my purpose in the grand scheme of schemes, then somehow even the dishes I wash with my little hands would have some value. But for an authentic individual, meaning can never come from the crowd. So the value of the examined life is first revealing who we truly are and if our thoughts and actions align. But Christians know that the examined life can’t provide the truth we need to live by. Only Christ can. But as the early church fathers saw it, it seems like Christ and Socrates can be pretty good friends.

The Question Everyone Answers But No One Asks

The Question Everyone Answers But No One Asks

Should you snooze your alarm or kill yourself? Before anything else, before you plan your life goals, or argue about whether the world is understood in this or category, there is only 1 question worth asking…why not kill yourself? In a strange case of reverse engineering, Camus causes us to realize that the good life is an assumption that no one examines1. This is because people learn to live before they learn to think. But if they would think first, they would realize that working out how to live only makes sense if life is worth living.

It is strange to write this. In a time of a pandemic that echoes Camus’ own novel ‘The Stranger’, humanity is forced to grapple with the value of life and its meaning in way it hasn’t done so for a long time. But even before this there were creaks and strains under the weight of all this living. In those early mornings, as you clobbered your alarm clock and swiped across the pages of Google News, haven’t you wondered if it was all worth it?

When you become truly aware of this problem, it is like discovering a leech on your back. It has been there this whole time. But without realizing you had continued to walk on the same path. Now that you see it, you can’t forget its fangs or the fact that it’s slowly draining your life away. This is the ever present absurdity in all of living. This acute postmodern problem can produce heights of dizziness and nausea, disorientation and anxiety. But rarely does it surface to the level of consciousness. We’re too busy eluding it in every single pursuit, hoping that one person or promotion or experience will bring the desire of unity and transcendence and meaning to your life. We hope that we will eventually find joy.

Camus starts with this assumption that life is absurd. There is no rational schema, no grand narrative to understand the world and therefore no extrinsic meaning. Every single system that has tried to rationalize world has toppled under its irrationality. Faced with these facts, he believes that one must then ask whether or not the absurdity of existence means it is better not to be. The other options, to live apathetically and only for the sake of others is cowardice or to live with a false hope is dishonesty. Man then must construct his meaning from within knowing that it is absurd.

Whether you’re a Christian or a humanist, the same question remains. Even with the narrative of Christianity, one is faced with a world that is at present dark and filled with irrationality and meaningless suffering. No matter who you are, a leap is required; to have faith in the infinite Being (God) who transcends our comprehension and live, or to defy the absurdity of existence and live as a rebel. One is resigned the other is defiant. Both are courageous (for reasons that will require another article). But both cannot be right. Either way, Camus doesn’t leave us the option of escaping such a question once we realize that life ultimately escapes our grasp.

Note: the fundamental problem with the Christian leap of faith is theodicy, which Camus himself points out. The existence of a good and omnipotent God who permits suffering is a well known argument which I believe has been refuted time and again since Camus’ life (and even in eras before). But I think that it needs a new way of addressing which I hope to get to at some point.

  1. https://www.amazon.com.au/Myth-Sisyphus-Penguin-Modern-Classics-ebook/dp/B00GEDD3ZG/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

The Paradox of Self Preservation and the Shadow of Life

The Will to Survive

I often like to sit on the train and observe those around me. I see people on their seats, people in their houses as the train passes by, people standing up looking at their phones and the unlucky person staring right back at me. There’s a woman on on a call reconciling for a better relationship with her spouse. Another girl flicks through Instagram as she imagines what life in Peru is like. And as lights flicker past the train, with flicker at each moment, every person on the train is pursuing and seeking for something…

Some call it happiness, others life, others peace or prosperity and still others, freedom. And there are various ways people pursue them. Some look for more possessions, others fulfilling relationships and some even to spiritual transcendence (all this time it’s been all those unnoticed people sitting with their eyes closed). Whatever the case, it can be captured in the word life according to each person’s vision of the ‘good life’. It’s what Darwin captures in his Evolution of the Species. That what every living being shares in common is the will to survive. It’s what Socrates earnestly questioned his fellow Athenians about: the good life. And it’s what John the apostle recorded of Jesus’ words: “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came so that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

The Paradox of Self-Preservation

“John 12:24–25 (CSB): Truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains by itself. But if it dies, it produces much fruit. The one who loves his life will lose it, and the one who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

Yet why is it that the harder we try to grasp at this life the more it slips out of our hands? Like channels of water running through our fingers, we squeeze and all of it is gone. We balance these grains of sand in our palms, desiring and hoping for it to stay but like time and chance it trickles through seams that we didn’t even know were there. No matter how many people we please or corporate musical chairs we play or how much wealth we store up, the questions of how much and how many and how long don’t cease. And rarely is it whispered, ‘too much’.

Chasing Shadows

I’m an unashamed Bruce Lee fan. And one of the ways he used to explain different martial arts techniques was, ‘It’s like a finger pointing away to the moon. Don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory.’ In other ways, all these techniques are different ways of skinning the cat. But what’s important is that you don’t mistake the cat for the dog.

There are so many things that demand to be important in my life. But all the noise makes it harder to know what’s truly meaningful. So one of my greatest fears is that I live my whole life unexamined and realize too late that I never advanced past the kindergarden of wisdom. Yes Socrates, the unexamined life isn’t worth living. But what do we need to examine? Why do so much of our strivings and pursuits seem so futile when we look back?

I think it’s because we’re often chasing the shadows of things rather the things in themselves; their essences. Paul the apostle describes even the Jewish law in this way:

‘Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come, and not the reality itself of those things, it can never perfect the worshipers by the same sacrifices they continually offer year after year. Otherwise, wouldn’t they have stopped being offered, since the worshipers, purified once and for all, would no longer have any consciousness of sins?’ Hebrews 10:1–2 (CSB).

What he’s saying is that sacrifices were only signs pointing to the day when one man would die for the guilt of everyone else. But once that day had occurred it would be absurd to go back to sacrifices again. So if getting your ‘forever home’ was really meant to satisfy your longing for security wouldn’t you have ceased to worry after buying it?

The Essence Of the Good Life

Each person sacrifices what’s necessary to grasp what they think is life. For Plato, these were the ideals of beauty, goodness and truth. They existed in an abstract world which we could transcend to if we gave up physical pleasures for the development of our reason. For us…I’m not sure. We seem to be in this weird place of history where our desires are caught between a life lived to maximize pleasure and one lived with responsibility, meaning and transcendence.

John 1:4–5 (CSB): In him was life, and that life was the light of men. That light shines in the darkness, and yet the darkness did not overcome it.

It’s not the smartest who find life. A glance at the intellectual elite show that their lives are just as filled with misery and injustice. Instead I think Jesus expresses best, that the essence of life lies in a person. It is dwelling in the presence of the divine and having fellowship with him. If I think back to the times when I’ve been happiest in my short life it has always been a time when I’ve had the most fulfilling relationships around me.

In Plato’s Republic, he uses the analogy of ‘The Cave’ to illustrate how one awakes to truth. Our natural state is likened to a bunch of prisoners chained to a wall with a fire flickering behind us. Every time objects pass by behind us we see their shadows. But because we’ve only seen shadows our whole lives, we assume that the shadows on the wall are the real thing. Suppose one of these prisoners broke free. He is able to turn around and see the fire. And he sees that there is an exit to the real world outside. But exiting the cave he finds the light blinding at first and only gradually comes to see things aright.

John 1:18 (CSB): No one has ever seen God. The one and only Son, who is himself God and is at the Father’s side—he has revealed him.

Plato thought this person was one who transcended reality through reason (I assume he included himself as he was now speaking as though he knew the real world). But Christians know the reverse happened. Someone who was born in the light entered the cave. And making himself a prisoner, he set his fellow ones free. By his knowledge they could walk and see and say, ‘we have come to believe that you are the perfect son of God’. And when they come out of that cave they find that all of what they had seen before were flickering shadows passing from one life to the next.

Climate Change: A Loss Of Secular Hope?

Kids say the darndest things. And in 2019, its things like “how dare you” and “I want you to act as if the house is on fire, because it is.” We young people are pretty good at grabbing attention. But the attention we often grab paints us as little more than loud mouthed nuisances. I should know, as the person who wouldn’t stop telling others that I would be an NBA player (I’m still waiting for the call up). At the same time, kids have something that adults don’t have – an utter lack of blandish. And no amount of wheedling will convince your child that the sky isn’t blue or that circles aren’t round (I hope). So when climate change protests and groups like Extinction Australia turn out to be comprised mainly of young people what does that mean? I think it can suggest that they’re being manipulated. But I also think its an honest acknowledgement of a problem by a generation that doesn’t quite know what to do. The problem isn’t the climate. It’s far deeper. The protests are a demonstration for life over death. Young people want to live! And they’ve had to come to an honest acknowledgment that being itself is oriented towards death. Honesty is a good thing.

But the loss of hope is not. When I see Greta Thunberg speak, her eyes are fiery, her face is contorted and mouth is aghast. It’s as though she can’t quite believe that the world isn’t taking her seriously, beyond those coddlers in front of her. Honesty without hope only breeds despair. And despair is an ugly black dog. But what do you do if you grow up believing in the imminent end of the world? If that wasn’t bad enough, if you’ve grown up with a secular worldview, then you’ve also believed that this life is all there is. So you stuck between 2 walls. And the walls are closing in. On one side is the climate and on the other is your own mortality. And both are growing increasingly shorter, squeezing the life out of your young body, leaving you trapped and grasping for the air of transcendence which is no longer there. As William Lane Craig paints it, the universe is continuously expanding. And as matter gets further and further apart, life grows colder and colder. Far from the sun, life will cease to be, vacating the premise for decay to set in. Until one day there will be no life in the universe. All galaxies and the stars will be extinguished, leaving only a void that is endlessly expanding outwards on itself. Everyone and everything you have ever loved will be for naught.

I think Dylan Thomas has captured the most popular solution to our demise in our time:

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,

Because their words had forked no lightning they

Do not go gentle into that good night.

The end of the world kind of forces you to grow up doesn’t it? Climate change has aged these children as they grapple to deal with matters that one used to do in their death beds. The children rage because they think their time is short. But you will rarely see Christian children or their parents amongst the protesters. And its not because they’re all climate change deniers. Nor do they believe the universe will continue on as it has for infinity. We know the world is ending. But our honesty to face reality has been transposed to the plane of hope. And hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts1. This hope is the hope of a world to come, a world where God has made all things new, a world where a child may pluck an apple from the tree of life and eat and live (does that affect her carbon footprint?). This hope is a physical hope, verified by the resurrection of Jesus, the first fruits of that world. No wonder that it is written “if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable2. And Greta and all those Extinction Rebellion kids sure look miserable.

No Dylan Thomas, this is the song we should sing:

God is our refuge and strength, a helper who is always found in times of trouble.

Therefore we will not be afraid, though the earth trembles and the mountains topple into the depths of the seas,

though its water roars and foams and the mountains quake with its turmoil.

There is a river—its streams delight the city of God, the holy dwelling place of the Most High.

God is within her; she will not be toppled. God will help her when the morning dawns.

Nations rage, kingdoms topple; the earth melts when he lifts his voice.

The Lord of Armies is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold.3

  1. Rom. 5.5
  2. 1 Cor. 15.19-26
  3. Ps. 46. 1-7

Is An Insignificant Life Worth Living?

It has been a busy year so far for my family and I. At the beginning of the year I decided to begin studying my Master of Divinity degree at Christ College because I thought it was a better path to developing what abilities God had given me and how I would best help others. The semester was a hard one. Besides learning a completely new and dead language (Koine Greek) I also began a new role as clinical educator at work and the constant juggling between the 2 responsibilities meant that by June my body was worn out and my mind was absent. I needed a holiday. By July I was in Sabah, Malaysia enjoying the tropical weather and seeing my grandmother whom I had not seen in 13 years. But while the weather was sunny and the waves were calm, a storm in my heart still raged. I experienced a gnawing restlessness that grew each day and fully manifested itself only once I had returned to Sydney and prepared to return to ‘normal life’.

This restlessness of mine which I am prone to experiencing was crippling. Around the same time, I had struggled to know how I ought to rest and what to prioritize in the upcoming semester. Was I even studying the right course? Why was it so hard? How else should I be using my time? From the moment I entered my last clinical note, I think my mind had already begun to consider the alternatives I could be doing with my time and my life despite my constraints. Being open to new possibilities was exhausting, like never ending research for a product you want to buy. In the end, it came down to what I perceived as the absurdity of my life. What was the point of my labors if none of my work will be remembered? This is something that has become increasingly obvious to me. After all, Jean Calvin wrote his Institutes of the Christian Religion at 26 while Nietzsche only became the youngest professor at the University of Basel at 24. As the writer of Ecclesiastes wrote, ‘Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.’ Accompanying this feeling of insignificance is a feeling of missing out, that there is a life out there where I might be happy, leading everyday that I haven’t realized it to be filled with constant regret and envy at those to appear to have found it (though I haven’t actually met anyone who has yet). It wasn’t until the first day of returning to work at my clinic that I read this an article on restlessness in the Art of Manliness.1

One of the most valuable lessons for the young to learn is that it takes a great man to accomplish a great undertaking, and that both are necessarily few in one generation. If this lesson were learned and heeded half the heartache of our mature years might be avoided. Effort, and high resolve, and noble purpose are excellent qualities of character; but they can never enable a man to lift himself by the boot-straps nor accomplish the unattainable. It is at once the weakness and greatness of some to conceive what they attempt to do of so high a degree of excellence that no human power can reach it. The natural effect of this is a restless desire to accomplish something far beyond what is ordinarily attained even by surpassing talent. When such a desire has taken possession of the heart, the usual achievements of men seem poor indeed. With their broad views and far-sighted stretch of thought, it seems trivial to come down to the common affairs of every-day life. It is to them a small thing to do good and get good in the plain old common-sense way. J. Clinton Ransom, The Successful Man, 1886

Thanks to the technological developments of the last 2 centuries, the accumulation of wealth in the West and the emphasis on self autonomy, we are served a buffet of endless possibilities and enticed by endless temptations and expectations. How can one live in such a world? The solution I think seems to be by a good dose of humility. Just as the writer of Ecclesiastes concluded that there is nothing better for man than to fear God and keep his commandments, so Kierkegaard reminds us that there is little way of knowing if the life we have chosen for ourselves is the best. Often the responsibility of this immense choice can crush us from ever making a decision. “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” Humility and faith are the keys to enjoying the present and leaving the future to the One who sees all that is under the sun. Complement this with TGC’s article “How Do I Discern If My Ambition is Godly?” 2

Though we shouldn’t be overly introspective—exhaustively questioning the motives of everything we do—it’s helpful to keep a pulse on our ambition. I’ve found one basic principle helpful: Godly ambition requires both hustle and humility.

  1. ## How to Cure Neurasthenia (Restlessness) | The Art of Manliness
    Link
  2. Link

Understanding Millenials Through The Eyes of Kierkegaard

Photo by Peter Bucks on Unsplash
Photo by Peter Bucks on Unsplash

I write as one untimely born. I write as a millenial to millenials, whom by the end of this sentence may already be bored of the writing of this millenial. How wearisome it is to read something that doesn’t immediately capture one’s attention! Is it because one’s heart is searching for something else? Are you still reading this? Then I am surprised. And I trust you will then read on. This seems to be the paradox of the millenial — a person stuck hoping for an experience they remember and when such an experience finds them, they are remembering what they had hoped for. It is no wonder that the travel industry much profit from the wanderings of 20 year olds. Once a person has tasted the novelty of another country, they have engaged all their senses towards its sights and its sounds. The senses then dwell and eat away at the person while he or she works. Slowly but surely, its memories float to the surface and before they know it, they are off again in search of what they had remembered. But once there, what they had hoped for vanishes and is replaced by what they had remembered. And the chase goes on.

One of the ways reading Kierkegaard has helped me is to understand my own generation from the eyes of someone who lived 200 years ago. While we each have one life to live there are a few ways we can live. Kierkegaard captured this in his 3 stages: the aesthetic, the ethical and the religious. The aesthete lives for their immediate pleasures, the ethical for their responsibility to others and the religious by their faith in God (which transcends responsibility). But these 3 ways of living are not equally valid, as Kierkegaard hints at in his use of stages. Instead each one builds on the other until the highest mode of living is found in the religious.

From my own reflection, it seems that the typical millenial is characterized most by their search for the aesthetic. This is unsurprising given that global youth culture is marked by secularism. In secularism the lost of the religious mode of being gives way to the mode of responsibility (the ethical) but what millenials are subconsciously realizing is that without the religious there is no ethical. After all, who are other people to tell you how to live? Instead one is left with the individual including their tastes and what strikes their conscience. Do what makes you happy – as long as it doesn’t harm anyone (that you care about). The reduction of life to the immediate are present in many ways: in the preoccupation with lifestyles, in boredom and in the anxiety that comes with having to make decisions that ultimately have little meaning. These are problems that haven’t gone unnoticed. But their solutions seem far from simple and I hope to be able to start to pry them out little by little as I read further.

Further Reading

https://www.iep.utm.edu/kierkega/#SH1c

https://www.amazon.com/Either-Fragment-Life-Penguin-Classics/dp/0140445773

https://www.amazon.com/Stages-Lifes-Way-Kierkegaards-Writings/dp/0691020493

https://www.lausanne.org/content/lga/2019-03/connecting-with-the-new-global-youth-culture?fbclid=IwAR0CFxrebbnK5LTGIu3K9_Ro4ovyBslQcE5V6QRGv2OjNgj6WIASgL1X414

Gillette’s Ad Reveals Our Cultural Confusion About Man’s 2 States

What is a man? Over the last 2 weeks, I’ve been challenged to think more about this. It wasn’t a challenge because the concept of masculinity was previously unknown but because such a clear idea was being undermined. Recently, Gillette released a type of ad that I’ve been seeing more and more of. Rather than featuring a product, the ads center around who the company is rather than what they do. As a men’s razor company, the ad was addressed to all males but it clearly expressed a narrative that Gillette wanted to identify with and would cause controversy — toxic masculinity. Within 2 minutes I was treated to ‘manly’ behaviors from cat calls and mansplaining (someone still has to explain what this is to me) to kids wrestling and dads barbecuing. The message was that this isn’t ‘the best men can get.’ Instead, Gillette called on men to hold one another accountable to behaviors that have long been justified as ‘boys being boys.’ This was obviously a good ad right?

While some applauded Gillette and saw it as an encouragement towards male accountability, many more could do little but roll their eyes. ‘There goes another attempt to demonize men.’ As for me, I had 2 initial impressions of the ad. I didn’t have any idea what the ad had to do with their actual product nor did I feel the urge to buy more of it. So it simply seemed a bad ad from a marketing standpoint. But I’m not a marketer nor a critic so writing about this aspect of the ad wasn’t going to help anyone. My second reaction is what I wanted to write about and it was directed towards a deeper problem — the message of the ad. I was concerned because it reflected the confusion around sex and identity that has engulfed so much of the society I live and breathe in. In life there are certain things that you just have to live and let live. Toothpaste squeezed from the top rather than the bottom? You just have to grin and bear it. But the confusion around sex isn’t one of them. Being confused about sex doesn’t just hurt women but the men Gillette claims to help. Not knowing how to relate one’s self as a man or a woman means not knowing how to relate to each other. It means people without differences, unity without diversity and existence without meaning. Categories are how we understand being and male and female have always been a part of it. As a Christian, being unable to understand my design means being unable to relate my self not just to others but to God. So gender confusion hurts people because it doesn’t just affect lifestyles but existence and meaning itself.

The 2 Natures

In the book of Genesis, the first two human beings are created by God in his image. As his image, their responsibility would be of mediating between God and being, ordering the chaos of creation into the paradisical garden of Eden. But the first two human beings disobeyed God by eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The reward of having their eyes opened is for themselves a curse. One of the curses for Eve the first female, is ‘your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you.’ One result of that curse was the splitting of humanity into 2 natures – good and evil. So while Adam the first male was designed to order creation, the goodness of that order would now be twisted and perverted. The loving order and stability of Adam would now become the iron fisted ruling of a tyrant and it has continued in this way. In me there exists the wise king. Yet behind him lays the dark tyrant. They both look similar and at times it can be hard to tell who’s who. The courage, strength and aggression of our fighting men have often been the turning tide of wars. Yet these very same traits have caused the rape, pillaging and destruction of whole cities.

It seems to me that men are capable of heroic displays of virtue but are at the same time, history’s most destructive force. But I don’t think such a design was accidental. I have often looked up at the night sky to observe the beauty of the stars. But it was only when the sky was darkest that their light shone the brightest. Augustine himself recognized this when he observed that God would often use prosperity to remind us of his goodness and great calamities to remind us of our need. What we needed was something stable and unchanging. It was a reminder that what we needed was God himself. What men need therefore is true masculinity and the very God who restores them to it. I do not think the present threat in our society is excessive masculinity but rather a lack of it. When men protect those under their care the world is a safer place. When men create meaning rather meaninglessness the world is a truer place. And when men live as men the world is a more beautiful place.

With further reflection, I’ve become more sympathetic towards Gillette’s attempt to address this social problem. Let me be clear – I don’t endorse it. But I think it was their way of saying that there were wrong behaviors that males had justified as being intrinsic to who they were. This was badly expressed through the phrase ‘boys will be boys’. When I think about the encouragement to ‘suck it up’ as though stoicism saved anyone, I can see Gillette’s point. But harmful behaviors that are usually expressed by males does not mean that males usually express these behaviors. And I think this is what confused people and caused the controversy. Sexual harassment is no more a product of masculinity than lying is to femininity. Unless Gillette and those under the sway of toxic masculinity understand man’s two natures, they will only be able to address it by eradicating maleness itself. When you realize that men die on the job more than females, that they are the most frequent victims of homicide and that they account for 97% of war casualties, that’s not a great idea.