A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.
7th August 2009
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It has been another sad week for the media. As with the football scandal of a few months ago another high profile media personality has lost his job because of public outcry.
I make no excuse for these men or their behaviour – but they are only scapegoats. We are not sacrificing them in order to repent and change our ways. We are sacrificing them so that we can continue our system of self-indulgent sinfulness. We are addressing an extreme symptom without considering the disease that gives rise to such symptoms.
The system and disease is materialism. Materialism is the philosophy that our society is choosing to adopt as our lifestyle. For most people the choice is not made philosophically but economically. It is made unconsciously as we ride the waves of affluence, subtly shifting in our value system until somebody goes too far and we axe him. By removing the extremist we can continue on our journey unhindered by questions of what gave rise to his terrible actions.
Materialism is the philosophy that emphasises the material world over the spiritual. As the Oxford Dictionary puts it: materialism considers “material possessions and physical comforts as more important than spiritual values”. This is economic materialism. It is the “love of money” which God warns us is “a root of all kinds of evils.” (1 Timothy 6:10)
Behind this economic materialism lies the philosophical materialism that the dictionary describes as “the doctrine that nothing exists except matter and its movements and modifications”. This is atheism and secularism. Few people accept this atheistic view of the world, but many accept its lifestyle of amoral economic materialism.
The amorality of materialism has led to the degeneration of our mass media, which in turn has fed the amoral materialism of our society. It is a feedback system that is only going to get worse till the system, as a whole, is challenged. In the hands of private capitalists, who with government assistance have limited the licenses to a few companies, we have the profit motive providing our window into the world.
What we as a community are able to know about - the news and public debates as well as the creative presentations of fiction, art, music and drama - is determined by the economic profit motive. The key consideration is “will this show bring an audience to the advertiser?” Whatever it takes to bring the audience to the advertiser is fair game for public consumption.
Given the sinfulness of the human heart – “whatever it takes” – will inevitably be an increasing degeneracy. Sinful people find immorality titillating. But this fascination, like all addictions, requires continued escalation to hold its appeal. What is broadcast or published today was unthinkable only a few years ago.
What will be published and broadcast in the future is unthinkable today. Watch (or rather don’t watch) as pornography becomes increasingly mainstream.
Censorship is not the solution. It requires some social cohesion on a different basis than materialism to determine what standards are going to be enforced. If it is by Government fiat then dictatorship has arrived. Political and philosophical censorship does such damage to truth and justice that it must be resisted. Even a democratically elected government cannot be trusted with the power to censor. It will easily fall prey to the materialists’ bribes to lower standards or its own desires to “sanitise” political discussion. Changing brands of economic materialism will not solve anything. Capitalism lives on greed and Socialism on envy – neither is going to create a better society. To divide all our political debate on this basis is to commit everybody to materialism.
And yet the issue of public media is a social concern. “No man is an island entire of itself.” What I read and watch and listen to affects not only me – but also you who have to live with me. My children are being raised in company with your children. My teenagers’ choices and behaviour will affect yours as they live through the powerful influence of peer group pressure.
It is materialism that promotes the ideal of individualism – “what I read and watch in the privacy of my own home is of no interest or consequence for anybody else”. We know that is not true because we ban child pornography. But turning off the channel does not remove the problem. I pay at the checkout for the advertising. I live in the society whose media promotes anti-social behaviour.
Industry self-regulations and complaint bodies do not seem to work. How can materialists self regulate against the interests of their shareholders? Complaining does little to stop the trend towards degeneracy. It only increases publicity and “all publicity is good publicity” when it comes to making money. Only when there is the likelihood or threat of losing money will the materialist take any action. It is only the possible loss of an audience for the advertisers that has lead materialists to axe this week’s scapegoat and make us feel morally safe again.
Nothing is going to change until society is established on a higher basis than the profit motive. It may be a good motive for business but it is a disastrous one for society and the flow of information in public media.
Increased affluence does not increase happiness. On the contrary it is the non-economic commitments to friendship and family, hobbies and community voluntary endeavours that bring greater satisfaction. Yet still the materialists pursue materialism as the way to happiness. Even the fact that we describe much of the most valuable community’s activities as the “not for profit sector” shows the all-pervasive influence of materialistic thinking. Atheists do not win in the classroom but at the checkout. Their rationality and their evangelism are not intellectual but economic.
Our society needs a change of heart. It needs Christians to renounce economic materialism and to prayerfully declare the great news of spiritual rebirth through our risen Lord Jesus Christ. Only people turning back to God, is what will improve society.