I recently watched a BBC Documentary called The Power of Nightmares, a three part series directed by Adam Curtis. In the first part Curtis (who also narrates the film) explains that people have lost faith in ideologies, and in order to maintain (or regain) power and authority, governments have shifted tactics. Where once they sought to inspire their citizens with "optimistic visions", they now have become mere managers of our public life. So - in order to get back the power and authority, they promise to protect us from "nightmares" - "dreadful dangers that we cannot see and do not understand". If you want to check out the first couple of minutes of this film, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qk1WkmioQvA.
As I think about it, I have to say that it DOES seem like there are a lot of things to be afraid of these days - terrorism/militarism, global warming, the economic "crisis", climate change, the H1N1 virus, to name a few of the big ones. Then there are issues that the more sensitive among us might lose a bit of sleep over like human rights, food shortages, water issues (from drought to contamination), human trafficking, child labour and the use of children as soldiers, and so on. Of course these are perhaps less attractive - or less useful - to governments because they are not dangers that our governments can claim to protect us from and most of us can, if we choose, live our entire lives in North America, without ever seeing these issues up close. This is not to say, of course, that we don't have lots of issues right here at home that rob people of dignity! We do!!
But just when we're beginning to feel overwhelmed, weak, fearful - we can turn on the news and refocus on the things that threaten our own livelihoods and safety and health and prosperity - we seem to be "hemmed in" on every side! And who can help? Well - don't we expect our governments to step in and take care of us? Of course people of faith may proclaim a confidence that their God will look after them, but sometimes it's hard to completely abandon ourselves to God's provision and protection when the dangers are encroaching... Perhaps we have more confidence in God when things are going well.
Adam Curtis claims that people have lost faith in ideologies, but what I think he means is that we've lost faith in the ideology that says we can rely on our own devices - our intelligence, our ingenuity, our resourcefulness, our democratically elected officials - to create a world where humanity and society can be perfected. Where we can achieve the adolescent dream of having everything and giving nothing. Where self-centeredness and narcissism are actually virtues. Where economic growth has no limits and no casualties. Where the good guys (us!) always win and the bad guys (them!) get what they deserve. Where the environment provides us with inexhaustible resources. But who are we kidding!!! That ideology has ALWAYS been a sham.
So what are we to do? Well - we can get caught up in the fear of the day - chasing after cures and correctives and coping strategies for the dangers that lurk around every corner - or we can intentionally distance ourselves from the hysteria and take a sober look at the BIG picture. Those who study trends and generational tendencies tell us that those with a "post modern mindset" do not subscribe to any meta-narrative - a consistent, unified story line that explains diverse events and ideas and conditions. But I disagree. I think that post moderns have rejected certain meta-narratives because they have failed - but that doesn't mean that they have abandoned the hope that there IS a meta-narrative to be discovered that is valid.
As I've been writing this blog I've been thinking about a passage in second Corinthians (verses 7-9) which says:
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
There IS hope! As for me, I would argue that the Christian meta-narrative has never been fully understood. We have our ideas and our interpretations, but we "see through a glass darkly". We have taken liberties - filled in and developed themes according to our own wisdom - and have created a system which aspires to know truth, but which sometimes forgets that truth is elusive and multi-faceted.