Monday, June 4, 2012

The Trouble With Paris by Mark Sayers

Until I read this book, the best analysis of our culture's obsession with materialism that I had ever heard went something like "buy less stuff" and "watch less tv." While this is not bad advice per se it fails to get to the heart of what drives the modern day materialist mindset. Sayers really gets to the heart of the issue in this book without getting caught up in the idea that to solve our problems we just need a list of rules and some accountability so we don't spend too much.

He begins by addressing the fact that Christians tend to be less than satisfied with their faith. They often feel they are missing something and that life needs to be more exciting. Sayers says:

"If you want to blame someone or something for your life not ending up as wonderfully as you were led to believe it would, a good place to start is the cultural phenomenon called hyperreality...meaning that we could now have things that were even better than the real thing. The media-drenched world in which we live has overextended our expectations of life" pg 5.

This is interesting since this is remarkably similar to the lie that was told to Adam and Eve in the garden. They were tempted into believing that they could be "like God." Since we have this idea of what our life should look like, we are upset and even depressed when our life doesn't look the way our culture says it should. Sayer's points out that this inevitably leads to widespread "comparison anxiety." 

Social networking pages are like advertisements for how our life is matching up with the requirements of the hyperreal culture. We compare ourselves to our friends who have traveled extensively or speak many languages and have been on multiple missions trips. Why don't our lives look like theirs? Soon "experiences" become a commodity much like any tangible product. We seek to be the most "cultured" and "experienced" individual with as much fervor and obsession as someone collecting beanie babies (I once saw a fight in a McDonalds over beanie babies!). Life becomes a competition.

Most of The Trouble With Paris discusses the issues that are presented by this subverted version of reality called hyperreality. Towards the end, Sayers engages in a discussion of what God's reality is for us as well as some helpful ideas for combating the influence of hyperreality in one's life.

I have noticed that these types of books often have an "anti-material" message. As if you should not own tv, radio, or a magazine subscription because the material world is evil. Sayer's says however, that

"The Bible does speak positively of things that are material-wine, food, clothing, houses, and land are seen as blessings. But in God's reality these things are given their proper place in the order of creation" pg. 167

Sayers ends with a discussion of what it means to live redemptively in a world consumed with hyperreality. If you aren't convinced to borrow or buy this book I would at least ask that you find it at a bookstore and read the  final chapter. This idea of living a faith which seeks to restore creation rather than condemn it is something that needs to catch on in Christian circles.

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