Isolationism, Materialism, and the Evils of Our Age


Just a monkey in a cageIt doesn’t take a genius to see that something is drastically wrong at the very heart of our daily living. After reading Brad over at The Broken Messenger blogging about the American Dream and how it is destroying us through our materialism and outright stinginess toward tithing, I have to wonder if the cure we Christians are offering is just a Band-Aid pasted over something gangrenous.

Though I want to charge ahead in this post, let’s first consider Brad’s lament:

We blend the definitions between “need” and “desire” such that they are indistinguishable so that we can justify not giving to the Body of Christ our time and or money; yet somehow we find the means to set aside regular portions of our wages and time in our lives for our dreams – all with the expectation that once the allotted time has passed, we will reap the rewards for our patience and self sacrifices. But in the same manner that we pursue our earthly dreams, Jesus has asks us to abandon them along with everything else. He asks that we sacrifice all for a little while, for inconceivable and imperishable riches later.

With all respect to Brad, there is a far deeper problem here. Not only do we suffer from the very things Brad so rightly accuses, but we cannot NOT suffer from them because of the way we’ve setup our societal structures.

I’ve blogged about this many times before, most recently in part in my business series, but it bears repeating. I own a large farm tractor. I bought it when we moved to our property with the idea of having a small farm. All my neighbors own farm tractors, too, in various sizes, capabilities, and vintages. There are five families that live on about sixty acres of land. We all have need for a tractor, but do each of us have to have one that is strictly ours?

With our island mentality of existence, each man must have his own self-sufficient world supplied with things that keep him isolated. A man must have his own tractor because he rarely interacts with his neighbor at all, so it makes borrowing an issue.

It goes beyond sharing commonly used items, too. If fifty acres of wheat need harvesting, he, his wife, and his 2.1 children can’t do it by themselves if they try to do it by inexpensive hand labor—they need the machinery that will enable them to work alone. The machinery costs money—a lot of money. Now they’ve got to work even harder to make more money to afford the expensive machines, the fuel to power them, and their upkeep. Maybe the wife takes an outside job now. And the kids wind up latchkey kids because he’s moonlighting at night and there’s that overlap when both he and his wife are gone. It’s all too common and the reason is that there is no community left that will come to his side to eliminate his need for the expensive equipment in the first place.

What if instead of going bankrupt trying to buy a $75,000 combine, all his neighbors came over and helped harvest the wheat using little more than a horse-drawn scythe or two? Inexpensive and communal, too. The labor is divided. Repeat that pattern over a number of families and many hands make for easier work.

Sure, that may work for organic farm communities, hardcore Amish-types, and the like, but what about the VP of Operations at the soap making company? Well, what about him? What are we Christians failing to work through when it comes to problems like this?

Brad’s issue over the American Dream and how it afflicts us Christians will NEVER go away no matter how hard we try unless we jettison our self-sufficiency. If you aren’t part of a community that strategically works to see that no one gets left behind in the grinding wheel of modern life, then each one of us has to have a complete set of stuff to be self-sufficient enough to live. Even Saint Francis could not have been Saint Francis unless some person out there included him in the life of a community. Yes, a few people can drop out altogether and live like hermits, but all of us can’t do that. The only answer is for Christians to start abandoning the pie-in-the-sky idea that we will somehow stop with the self-sufficiency and the requisite materialism that naturally attends it without covering each other’s backs!

Initially we put our parents into nursing homes when they were aged not because we have hard hearts, but because no one would be there to support us in our support of them. Pull the right stick out of the Kerplunk game and all the marbles will fall. Name a problem in our society and I bet you can trace it back to our misguided belief in self-sufficiency.

Ever wonder why there are a hundred different types of breakfast cereal in the grocery store? Self-sufficiency breeds self-centeredness. Self-centeredness naturally evolves into the concept that I am the master of my own kingdom. As a king, I need something that sets me apart from the commoner. They may eat cornflakes, but I need the organic muesli with non-GMO, freeze-dried ollaliberries added. The common becomes despised because I require something better. Whining for “better” promotes greed. Need I say more?

Folks, being more holy won’t fix this. We’ve tried that route and failed miserably. Nor will attempting to live a simpler life get us out from under the burden that reinforces the very complexity we try to avoid. The brick wall awaits and we’re going ninety even with the brakes on. The system is broken at a fundamental level: We lack real, connected community and our need to overcome that lack results in our becoming self-sufficient. If I don’t need you, I need everything that is not you that might replace you. And soon enough, the thing that replaces you is viewed as more essential than you are. Is it any surprise then that we live in such an angry society? If I don’t need you, then all you are doing is competing against me. There’s that Darwinian ethic again—seems to crop up everywhere.

Our self-imposed isolation is destroying us on the inside and driving us to lengths that dishonor God. But a Christian community founded upon the ideals that no one is ignored and that your problem is my problem will not succumb to isolation, self-sufficiency, and materialism. It will naturally avoid living out a disconnected, stingy, ungrateful life before God.

Trying to undo entrenched societal structures that diminish our potential for the Lord takes brave men and women. Any of them still out there?

13 thoughts on “Isolationism, Materialism, and the Evils of Our Age

  1. Scott

    Great post, Dan. My brain is there, I don’t know if my heart/chest is. I think you hit the nail on the head, though; the real difficulty for me of living in community is being the guy with the need.

  2. We’ve been struggling with that, too, and have been giving some serious thought to cohousing or other forms of intentional community.

    We’ve been tithing and then some, but of late we’ve run into a sort of Catch-22. If the local church isn’t taking our sacrificial giving and using it to help the folks with needs, then what? I’ve just resigned from the stewardship team because I don’t agree with giving 15% of our annual church budget to Azusa Pacific to send a bunch of our high school kids to Ensenada, side trip to Disneyland(!), when we have plenty of Mexican immigrants right here in town… but they’re poor, and therefore invisible. Or we could send the cash to Mexico… seems more efficient to hire local workers to paint and whatnot, then the work gets done *and* some local workers have employment.

    We’re inclined to bypass the 501c3 and start putting our tithe where it will do some good, but then that runs into the isolationism thing. Catch-22.

    • jim day

      Dear sister Karen you are precios in Gods eyes because HE loves a cheerful giver as you undoubtfully are. I have struggled with the issue of giving in the past the same as you. Those of us who understand that God has given everything that we possess, will have the liberty to give as God leads. As you know our tithe is what God commands us to give to Him in malachi 3. You also understand the principle of the tithe, else you probably would not. We also know that He does not need our money, but in order to bless the lump ( the 90%) we are blessed to pay Him what is His. Then comes the blessing of finances to meet all our needs. I once asked a very sucessful Christian what he would do if God blessed him with a million dollar deal in his business and his reply was, I would give it away. That answer changed my life. I am a senior in the Lord And I would offer you this humble word, give and trust the the Lord and not your thoughts. Bless you my dear sister.

  3. Reloaded

    Being intentional about building community is hard. Yes. But I would encourage you not to be discouraged. Take what steps you can now. Bolder steps will come in time.

    All empires fall. The empire of materialism will fall one day. And the church will be there to help people pick up the pieces. Maybe not in our generation, maybe not the next, but one day.

    And then again, perhaps sooner than we think.

    I’ve written about being a wage-slave on my own blog recently. Great topic.

  4. andrew@stonepavement

    …practically you don’t need to live in community, you need to live in need!

    Living in need casts you back toward our Father who is our source. Our world doesn’t make it easy to be in need with all the benefit systems in place or the insurances we carry….When we left Canada at the end of last year my wife was prompted to suggest we give all our possessions away since we had walked by faith for the last 18 months without salary in a church planting role…everything right down to the childrens toys..(voluntarily from them offcourse..which they agreed)…I even formatted the flat screen pc and we gave all away …we approached people we knew needed in the work and outside the church and they came, we explained it wasn’t ours and by the Grace of God we had walked and would continue to walk…we left Canada with 11 suitcases…comprising our worldly goods, a small amount of Canadian dollars in our account…and the result…totally DEPENDENCE on God…we changed community we had no large community to come back to…the result..I would need a whole post to be able to share the testimony of the provision and faithfulness of God…the spiritual result = enormously strengthened faith, strengthend by God who is never too late and never too early….as we struggle in our generation with self interest…these struggles will persist. We are not our own, but purchased with the sacrifice of Jesus…personal revelation of this reality is the only catalyst that will change us individually.

  5. GREAT POST, Dan!

    While still in college, I remember telling my family I felt as though our very lifestyle was inherently sinful. I couldn’t exactly pin it down, though. I didn’t know if it was the polluting cars, the working strictly for money, the retirement plans, or what. But something in my bones told me those years ago, that the American dream was riddled with sin. Perhaps you have nailed it in this one post. Somehow, though, I think it may run even deeper.

    Keep it coming!

  6. Broken Messenger


    Great post. I took absolutely no offense by it and I whole heartedly agree with your root diagnosis in connection to my “dream” post. The reason I focused on “dreams” recently is that I use it often when stating what Christ requires us to sacrifice in order to rightly follow Him (along with our wealth, relationships, etc.) but I’ve never clarified it specifically. Regardless though, the root problem to any lack of denial is selfishness, and you have identifed it and illustrated it well here.


  7. Karen,

    There’s a lot of Catch-22 in this whole equation. Much of the problem resembles Pandora’s box—how do you put back what you let out? Undoing entrenched ideas is hard. I have more respect today for Martin Luther than when I was firmly in the embrace of the Lutheran Church. He helped excise a veritable religious tumor and the patient lived!

    I do feel discouraged, I have to admit. Just today I was driving home and I found myself staring into my rearview mirror with an expression that resembled the monkey image in the post! One of the things that bugs me is that I’m 42-years old—that means I’ll never fit in with the group ahead of me who didn’t see the problem, and I’ll be too much of a legacy individual to enjoy what may come after me. I may think I’m smart, but I wasn’t smart enough.

    Sometimes you jump off the cliff and fly while other times you hit the ground. I’ve never successfully figured out the distinctives that ensure the flying. In my case I think the only solution is to let God harden me so that hitting the ground doesn’t hurt all that much. Trying to always figure why you flew or fell literally drives people insane.

    MC Hendrick,
    I’m not certain that how it all started was evil, only that we crossed a line somewhere. Wisdom in found in knowing where that line is drawn.

    Thanks for the nice comment and for providing the fodder.

  8. Oengus,

    Yeah, sometimes when I’m looking for pics for the blog I stumble across something that just resonates. I meet to many people who are like that monkey. Or the other dog of Pavlov’s, the one they shocked into submission.

  9. Dave C.

    Reading this post reminded me of what I thought when I read your business series: you possibly underestimate the dangers of centralization.

    Take your farm tractor for instance. What would happen if 5 or 10 families relied on one tractor and then that tractor broke down? Would everyone then starve?

    You’ve mentioned Luther and the Reformation a couple of times in your comments. Can you see a connection between sola scriptura and allowing everyone man economic freedom to make his own decisions?

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