Archive for January 23rd, 2008

Suicidal System

January 23, 2008

Okay, now we’re getting somewhere.

In Part 2 of Brian McLaren’s “Everything Must Change” (chapters 6-9, titled, “Suicidal System”), he outlines his model. He acknowledges that he has a model, you have a model, all God’s chilluns got a model, but to make sense of his goal of solving the problems of the world, we need to work with a model.

Chapter 6 shares several attempts to summarize major global problems – the Copenhagen Consensus, the Millennium Development Goals of the U.N., J.F. Rischard of the World Bank, Rick Warren’s PEACE plan, and a group of scholars McLaren calls the New Vision Group. He talks of how much he struggled to coalesce all these efforts into a model that worked for him until his friend, Leonard Sweet, used a term that brought it all together – the suicide machine.

By suicide machine, McLaren means that the major problems of the world aren’t distinct; they are interrelated in a destructive, reinforcing cycle.

He then attempts to develop a model of this social machine…

First, he presents three interlocking gears he calls prosperity, security, and equity. To summarize, society works to fulfill our basic desires to be happy, to be safe, and for things to be fair or just. These are all related to one another.

Second, he adds both input and output to his model – input in terms of raw materials and energy used to make products that fulfill the three interlocking desires, and output in terms of waste products resulting from this production.

Third, McLaren explains the suicidal nature of his suicide machine by pointing to the size of the interlocking gears – desires that have grown so large that neither the amount of resources needed nor the need for waste absorption can be fulfilled. (In so doing, he makes a nice little allusion to the Garden of Eden story, a place of beauty doomed to oblivion by the desires of human beings.)

There is a fourth section to McLaren’s model, the answer to the question of what drives the interlocking gears. He places one gear in the middle of the three interlocking gears (the desire to be happy, desire to be safe, and desire for things to be fair or just). This gear that drives the other gears is our framing story. And his conclusion is that ours is failing.

Let me share his thesis statement from each of the three areas:

THE PROSPERITY DYSFUNCTION: “Our story does not guide us to respect environmental limits, but instead inspires our pursuit of as much resource use and waste production (also known as economic growth) as possible, as fast as possible.”

THE EQUITY DYSFUNCTION: “Our framing story does not lead us to work for the common good. Instead, it legitimizes the growing gap between rich and poor in a variety of ways…” (and at the end of this section…) “Each group becomes a competing us/them faction that seeks advantage for “us,” not a common good for all.”

THE SECURITY DYSFUNCTION: “Our framing story does not lead these competing factions to reconcile peacefully. Instead we find, nested in the larger framing story shared by both rich and poor, a huge bank of patriotic and religious stories that celebrate how “redemptive violence” has helped good people (“us”) to defeat evil people (“them”) throughout history.”

Near the end of this section, McLaren offers a final helpful analogy, and compares the world situation to an addiction. Our framing stories are globally destructive (picture the alcoholic turning once more to the bottle), but they produce a short-term “high.” Eventually, we’re hooked. And regardless of the problems we face, we keep turning to the framing stories (bottle) for solutions, only to discover that we are becoming hopelessly addicted to the very thing that will lead to our undoing.

McLaren concludes, “Without altering our framing story, we will never successfully solve our crises.” He then raises the possibility that a fresh look at Jesus may provide the alternative framing story that our world desperately needs.

NEXT SECTION: “Reframing Jesus”