Materialism and consumerism are probably the two defining worldviews which operate within our Western culture in the 21st Century. More than 'operate', they have us in their vice like grip - worse than this, we are blind to it, stumbling unaware through our lives filled with plenty of stuff but devoid of any real meaning.
One of the best ways to spot whether you are being lied to by a defective worldview is to get outside of your own culture and enter someone else's paradigm. There is no bigger jolt to our system than landing amongst people who don't see the world in the same way as us, who don't value the stuff that we thought was of primary importance. For many of us, we get the occasional hit in this area through watching Comic Relief. Seeing through our TV's the lives of the have nots, only to be astounded that those who go without are actually happier than we are - happier than us, with all our stuff? And suddenly a bankrupt worldview is exposed.
One of my most recent 'exposure' moments came when visiting a Gypsy community in a desperately poor village in the north of Romania. Startled by their want, confronted by my plenty, I was shocked again at how hard I find it to connect with the developing world. Travelling home, thinking these issues through, I read these compelling words from Calvin Miller in his excellent little book, 'The Disciplined Life.'
'The editors of Leadership magazine suggested nine rather drastic steps wealthy Westerners would have to take to truly identify with the developing world:
First, take out the furniture. Leave a few old blankets, a kitchen table, maybe a wooden chair. You've never had a bed, remember?
Second, throw out your clothes. Each person in the family may keep the oldest suit or dress, a shirt or blouse. The head of the family has the only pair of shoes.
Third, all kitchen appliances have vanished. Keep a box of matches, a small bag of flour, some sugar and salt, a handful of onions, a dish of dried beans. Rescue the mouldy potatoes from the garbage can: Those are tonight's meal.
Fourth, dismantle the bathroom, shut off the running water, take out the wiring and the lights and everything that runs by electricity.
Fifth, take away the house and move the family into the tool shed.
Sixth, no more Postmen, Firemen, Government services. The two classroom school is three miles away, but only two of your seven children attend, and they walk anyway.
Seventh, throw out your bank books, stock certificates, pension plans, insurance policies. You now have a cash horde of $5.
Eighth, get out and start cultivating your three acres. Try hard to raise $300 in cash crops because your landlord wants one third, and your money lender, ten percent.
Ninth, find some way for your children to bring in a little extra money so you have something to eat most days. But it won't be enough to keep bodies healthy - so lop off 25 to 30 years of life.'