I love being unique when finding a gift for birthdays or Christmas. Distinction in the midst of conformity is what calls to me. As an American, we fight to be individuals or fight to be recognized as someone special-more than an award for participation. We like to find our individualism believing we have overcome any conformity. Whatever one has done to show their “rebel” self to the world, we are all looking for acceptance within the uniqueness we created. This is true in outward expression-our hair, new tattoos, piercings or change in clothing styles even personal choices we make or products we buy. How ever we define the rebellious nature found and our fight in anti-conformity, we desire affirmation and comfort.
I find comfort when I travel. Traveling is a lot of fun. I have been on cruises and felt offended to have participated in feeling like I went and stayed in my big comfortable boat only to briefly visit another culture during the day. The cruise vacation, where one is never really immersed in a culture, has long offended me. I like the idea of being an adventurer, living in a culture and finding the hidden treasures. Although this is true, I have come to admit that I enjoy creature comforts as well.
I am currently in Thailand at a resort. As I stare out of our tenth floor air conditioned room, I can see neighboring properties. Those places would be more local then the beautifully manicured grass and swimming pooled conference center that I am in. I am better than those cruise ship people (in my mind) because at least I eat at local restaurants(I justify well). Have I sold out to comfort and pretended uniqueness? Thailand is a country that caters to vacationers and European snowbirds. It is a country that has what everyone wants. If you desire a resort with a daily massage and drinks with umbrellas in them by the pool, you can find it. If you want to rough it in a cheap hammock by the water, you can easily find it. Reading Heath and Potter’s Rebel Sell, I realized that there is a product here in this country that is offered and a culture that is created to promote just about all desires and all kinds of lifestyle (even averse ones). Those that rail against a particular aspect of society, really are unintentionally promoting that aspect, especially in terms of consumerism. “These critics have – sometimes unintentionally, sometimes not – provided modern capitalism with the fuel it runs on.”1
Reading Rebel Sell from my resort room -chosen to reflect my desire of the Thailand I enjoy- my thoughts kept returning to the American church and specifically denominations. Through our history of Christianity, there have been many denominations created (mine included) because of a desire to be distinctive and against… something we are against. We promote our uniqueness and even our anti-sameness as that distinction. As I even look within the Church of the Nazarene, I ask myself “how often have we created policy that is truly just us being a rebel against something we don’t like?” I remember that I went to a pastor’s office and on the shelf was a book title, Why I am a Nazarene and not a…” then listed every major denomination at the time of the book. In our anti-conformity, anti-evil, anti-consumeristic religion it is easy to become an entity that lives to just be against.
We could say that secularism is a reaction to Christianity, pluralism could be seen as a reaction to isolationist, anti-conformity a reaction to authority and our Christian unity a reaction to denominations. If as Heath and Potter suggest that our life is about the pleasures of the individual (hedonism)2, how does a Christian, that is in the world and not of it, be counter cultural? “The book’s most compelling argument is that the countercultural idea on which the critique of mass society rests—one that places conformity as the dominant marker of mass culture—is false. What the countercultural critics overlooked in their rejection of the dominant culture, and more importantly here, in their critique of consumerism, is the idea that distinction rather than conformity drives the consumer economy.”3 We long to be unique, to be remembered for something great. Our causes and many of our passions are truly a desire to be heard and remembered. We see this in the extreme behaviors of suicide bombers or even the parent that works excessive hours to provide material goods but doesn’t spend anytime with their kids. The belief that one’s actions will be seen and remembered as good often motivates those individuals to continue what we might call foolish actions.
Critics have said that “when Heath and Potter are not in attack mode, they describe their own political beliefs in orthodox left-leaning terms. They favour the welfare state and aiding the poor. They dislike unfettered business. The book’s assumptions are sometimes too North American. “4. While this might be true about certain concepts of individualism, I believe inherently within our core there is a desire to believe in something greater than oneself. As Americans we might be more inclined to be individualistic in how we see and view the world, but a desire to be seen is universal. Not seen in that we are noticed or called out-Chinese love to say the tallest nail gets hammered- rather accepted and loved.
Our causes, passions, and even our faith in Christ can be viewed as serving our own comfort. Even in our pursuit of individuality and identity, we are drawn to things that are give us accolades, justify our own lives, or rally against something that makes us feel better about ourselves. God people are not immune to this type of personal delusion. If Christ is truly our “rebel” leader calling us out of our world and into His, our comfort and conformity need to be founded on those things that glorify Him. With that is the understanding that the pursuit and strength will also be directed by Him as well. As Christ illuminates one step at a time, let us not rally around personal agendas nor false piety.
1https://www.theguardian.com/books/2005/jun/04/highereducation.news1 accessed February 22,2018
2Heath, Joseph & Andrew Potter. “The Rebel Sell, Why the Culture Can’t be Jammed.” Harper Collins Publishing. Toronto, Canada.(2004) 6
3Reilly, I. The Rebel Sell: Why the Culture Can’t Be Jammed. Journal of Popular Culture, 40(1), (2007) 187-188.
4https://www.theguardian.com/books/2005/jun/04/highereducation.news1 accessed February 22,2018