CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

What These Three Trends Tell Us About Ourselves

Aug 27, 2017

There are at least three trends which really define where we are at as a culture – at least 21st century Western culture. These three trends do not tell us everything about ourselves and where we are at, but they are highly representative of some major directions people in the West are headed.

These three trends involve: storage; tattoos; and cosmetic surgery. They are all big growth industries and money makers, but they also indicate what a large hole in the soul there exists in the West. All three need more explanation of course, and each one has a related component attached to it, so we are really talking about six recent trends. Let me start with the first one (or two).

Storage. One of the biggest growth industries in the West at the moment is self-storage. I just did a quick google search of the term and I got 48 million hits! Seriously. The simple fact is this: folks in the West have so much stuff that they cannot fit it all in their homes, garages, basements, sheds, and so on.

Thus they are making use of commercial self-storage units that they pay a regular fee to. Wherever you go you see these massive self-storage buildings springing up, with hundreds of empty storage places where you can put all sorts of stuff that you may not be using at the moment. All this is big business.

The secondary aspect to all this is the sad fact that so often the owners of these storage units either pass away, or are no longer able to keep up the monthly payments to store all this stuff. So we often have plenty of these things sitting around, and they have to be dealt with.

We now even have TV shows about folks who make a living out of bidding on these unused or unclaimed units, hoping to cash in. So this is a related growth industry: all these storage units being auctioned off by those hoping to find a bargain. Often they just end up with a lot of junk, but sometimes they strike it rich with real deals.

Tattoos. My second example is another two-fold one: we have zillions of people getting tattoos in the West nowadays, and related to this, we have plenty of people trying to get rid of these tattoos! Both have to do with how we look, and both are becoming massive money makers for some people.

Why people get tattoos is not the focus of my thoughts here. Nor whether it is a good thing or not (but I am not all that keen on them for what it is worth). But for all sorts of reasons people are inking themselves all over the body. But often this can be done as a lark, or on a whim, or in an emotional moment, or when drunk, etc.

Thus we also have a new growth industry in tattoo removals. I just started to type in the word ‘tattoo’ into google and before I finished one of the first options it offered was ‘tattoo removal’. People realise they put some pretty bad ink on their bodies, or the person they swore to love forever has broken up with them and they need to get rid of that name, and fast.

So those who specialise in covering up or seeking to eliminate all these unwanted tattoos are also raking in the dough. This too has become a big growth industry in the West. And this too tells us a lot about where people are at today – at least in the West.

Cosmetic surgery. The last trend also has to do with looks, self-image, personal appearance, and so on. I refer to the huge cosmetic surgery and plastic surgery industry, with everything from breast implants to Botox injections to tummy tucks to liposuction to face lifts. A google of that phrase got only 25 ½ million hits on google!

The great majority of this is simply for the sake of vanity – of trying to get “the look”. Millions of people want to look like Kim Kardashian or Brad Pitt – or just look different from what they now look like. Thus the great majority of this is elective surgery. It is not essential, and it has nothing to do with some life-threatening condition. It is all about looks.

Of course there can be a place for some of this kind of surgery. A person badly burned in a fire may well need it to cover up or alter some of the hideous scarring and so on. So I am not saying it is all amiss. But much of it just springs from a foolish desire to become someone you are not.

The real changes people need to make are internal changes, changes to their soul, their character, etc. But way too many folks think that if they change externals they will become a whole new person. Um no, you will still be the same old person you always were, just with some new superficial changes on the outside.

And the related trend is the growth industry in correcting or changing these changes. Many breast implants for example are later removed, for a variety of reasons. I just saw an article today speaking of how cheap breast implants are in fact linked to breast cancer: www.qt.com.au/news/breast-cancer-surge-linked-cut-price-implants/3216949/

Again, there are a spate of new television shows about all these botched surgeries and how so many folks are trying to undo what they already spent heaps of money on. So botched boob jobs or lip jobs or what have you are being corrected. Or at least they are trying to correct some of these things.

Some of the el-cheapo medical procedures being done overseas (what we call ‘cosmetic tourism’) are so bad that they cannot be properly corrected or fixed. (And that phrase just got me 1.8 million hits on google!) So both the procedures and the ones to undo the procedures are big money makers today in the West.

Assessment. So what do these three (or six) trends tell us about the West, and most people in the West?

-We are obviously greedy materialists, who think we can be happy simply with the amount of stuff we have. While so many people in the developing world are still struggling to find food, clean water, and a roof over their heads, we are awash in things, and we can’t seem to get enough of stuff.

But we forget that we can’t take it with us, and simply amassing a heap of material things cannot follow us after this life, and does not really bring happiness in this life either. But the West is massively all about getting more stuff, accumulating more things, and hoarding what we got.

-We are obviously obsessed with our looks, and with presenting an outward image to others, to impress people, and so on. But we are also quite fickle about all this, and often change our minds on these outward appearances. And we simply forget the fact that the most vital changes need to take place on the inside, not on the outside.

-Our most prized values, in other words, are all about material things and external appearances. Spiritual things and our inner person come a distant second for most of us. The very things that make life worth living – spiritual realities, inward character, etc. – are the things we ignore or minimise while we are fixated on all the things that are not really worthwhile.

We in the West have upside-down values and priorities in other words. No wonder we are in such a mess. And so many Christians in the West are completely indistinguishable from non-Christians in terms of vainly chasing after all these things. That is why the church is so weak, so anaemic, so ineffective and so salt-less.

The words of Jesus are just as needed today as when they were first uttered in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:19-21, 25-33):

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…. Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Or as John put it in 1 John 2;15-17: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.”

Paul said this in 1 Timothy 4:8: “Physical exercise has some value, but spiritual exercise is much more important, for it promises a reward in both this life and the next.” And Peter put it this way in 1 Peter 3:3-4: “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”

Everyone in the West would benefit greatly from such words, but I would be happy just to get most Christians to agree with them!

[1791 words]

6 Responses to What These Three Trends Tell Us About Ourselves

  • Oh dear…..stuff, yes, our house is full of “stuff”….although to be fair, we don’t tend to acquire heaps more but to hang on to what we no longer use….that’s what happens when you live in the same house for over thirty years. I confess that books are my prime target, I have to do a shelf-analysis every few years and get tough. Conscious of the passing years, I now make regular efforts to get shot of “stuff” so that I don’t leave too much as a burden for my relatives.
    Tattoos and body surgery don’t figure in our lives, thank goodness.

  • All about a futile effort trying to fill the great yawning emptiness that is left in lives that are without any sort of faith in or relationship with God!!

  • Dear Bill,

    I think this is a particularly interesting article because you are right Christians as much as everyone else are guilt of it to a more or lesser degree. I think the op shops are testimony to how controlling this attachment to ‘things’ has become in our country. What is required is self discipline to resist temptation to acquire even more things you don’t really need and a strong desire to detach yourself from them. The older you get the more it becomes obvious that you can’t take ‘things’ with you.

    I was renting out my house for six years and learned a lot about this ‘materialism’ during this time through the inspections. The last tenant had a particular problem: she had indulged her only child (a pretty little girl of about six years old) so much that you literally could not walk around the rooms for soft toys! All the floor space was taken up with them. It was quite weird to witness this phenomena which I realise now stemmed from a drug induced idea of motherly love which had absolutely no spiritual content. I doubt whether the child had even been baptised. This is what is happening in Australia today so we have nothing to be proud of.

  • I’m glad you picked up on these three, Bill. The self-storage syndrome is amazing. People just keep buying the new thing, but can’t bear to pass on the “still working/useful” old thing. There are valid reasons for storing furniture and effects between residences when moving or overseas, but I’m sure that’s not the majority of storage.
    I’ve never been a fan of tattoos for reasons possibly similar to yours- the vanity of it all, and the “desecration of the temple”, and that’s what Scripture regards the body as being.
    It all comes back to the simple fact: there are two worldviews; the spiritual and the material. It’s far too easy to become captive to the latter.

  • Another aspect of the self-storage thing could be the trend towards
    a) smaller homes (due to lack of affordability)
    and/or
    b) appearance of uncluttered lives as per the trendy magazines and hi-tech adverts coupled with our disposable consumerist thinking (again, external appearances, not inner character)

    We usually think of the 10th commandment “Do not covet” as referring to the property of others, but it also applies to stuff we already own.

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