As I take my bottles and paper to the Chattanooga recycling center I feel a rush of good will as one of the workers comes with a shopping cart to take my plastic containers to sort for their individual bins. As my fuel efficient Honda leaves the parking lot I see the animal shelter and I remember the wonderful dog and cat that I “adopted” that have made the quality of my life so much greater. I am hungry and I survey my mind over the vegetarian options that I might have at the local fast food place. As I go through the Taco Bell drive thru I remember faintly what it was like having a job that paid so little and offered almost no benefits to help a struggling young adult. Driving along I smile at those who wait at the bus stop for public transit. ”I will do that someday,” I dream as I believe the fantasy that it will actually help the environment.
There are thousands of ways each day that I am buttressed to believe in a non-confrontational view of addressing the world’s environmental degradation, societal injustice and rampant violence. I am told by a prepackaged and consumeristic society that there are non-threatening and easy answers to societal’s ills. The reality is that recycling will not save the planet, voting for a Democrat will not stop war, a personal boycott will not stop homophobia, driving an expensive fuel efficient car will not reduce your footprint and eating expensive local produce will not help farming. These are false and unbiblical views of salvation. Sin is often seen as corporate and the solution to it is often catastrophic and radical.
There are two spiritual reasons that these practices are a lie. First, they are buttressed up by a historic American individualism that helps capitalism more than spiritual community. It is high time for those of us in the church to proclaim that radical individualism has failed. It has created the largest amount of aggregate wealth in the hands of the fewest and has corrupted power to the bidding of a select few corporations and individuals who can afford to pay for power. It has muted the voice of students to massive debt, foreclosed homeowners, those plunging into poverty and an increasing unemployed population. Most people intuitively know that the game is fixed from the beginning, but the only thing we have not shed is the fact that as individuals we do not matter to these powerful entities. Whether it is corporate crime, fraudulent banks, crooked politicians or manipulative media they do not care for individuals over the spread sheet’s bottom line. So, it is only as communities that we find our internal spiritual strength and the possibility of rising against the injustices that face us in this day. It will not come from the right or left, but from people who are forging their commitments to each other above what millions of dollars from power might say.
Second, it comes from the dominance of a wrongheaded evangelical theology over the past 50 years. It has been the predominant voice in media and from pulpits across the country. It is an individual salvation that plays well in a consumeristic culture. It is a message that has conformed to the world and is no longer as transformative against the wiles of sin. Believing that we can individually change the world is truly unbiblical and it’s spiritual antecedent comes from an equally unbiblical notion of “asking Jesus into your heart.” It is a narcissistic faith that all-too-often looks toward individualism at the expense of forging difficult communities of resistance for the salvation of our society as a whole. It is time for us to admit that even in our individual lives there is no salvation outside of community. That is where we will truly meet God.
So, it is time for us to quit building consumer walls against true communities of risk and boldly attempting to right injustice. We need to quit being correcting, passive English teachers to new generations that are attempting to change their world. We need to embrace each other and quit pretending that the machines of power will validate us as individuals.