In a very perceptive book called Life: The Movie, author Neal Gabler argues that entertainment has conquered reality. All of life has become a stage, and the way to success is through the pathway of becoming a celebrity. Gabler suggests that we spend our lives buying and shopping according to images and ideals that we hold as we seek to shape ourselves for our own performance. The constant use of significant celebrities to model lines of clothing, sporting goods, and cosmetics tell us subtly that if we own these items, we too can be like our heroes. We are strategically convinced that we don’t simply have to watch the rich and famous; we can become them. The democratization of credit and the availability of easily-accessed goods guarantee our ability to play the part or parts we choose.
The practical aids are many. Credit and finance options bluntly inquire, “Why wait?” In earlier times people had to consider whether they could afford such things, and they might have had to delay while they saved. The time between viewing and having was often considerable, but not anymore. The messages are clear that we can have it if we want it, and we can have it now. It comes, of course, with a huge price tag in terms of increasing debt and anxiety. But even as the social crisis ticks like a time bomb in many homes, the waiting has been taken out of wanting.
It has become the job of the advertising industry to keep us in a state of permanent dissatisfaction and restlessness with who we are or what we have. The answer is always bigger, better, faster, or more like someone else. Words like “enough,” “sufficient,” and “wait” are derided in favor of having what you want now and immediately becoming who you really want to be. We are informed of our lack of something and then told it is ruining the quality of our lives. But the voices of the media then tell us salvation is at hand! The new product or service will liberate you. It will initiate you into a better world, a new life, an alternative salvation.
Is it possible that we are trapped in a web of deception, and that we are being conditioned to blindly follow the pied pipers of fame and fashion as they determine who and what we are and how we should live? Is the bottom line to make money at all costs? Is happiness really being able to get what you want when you want it? Maybe it is time to recognize that life is far more than these trivial yet powerful views. Maybe it is time to call foul, to insist that real life is something far more nuanced, focused, and holistic than what the prophets of materialism have to offer.
The Christian view and alternative is that we are the products of a personal, loving creator, and that our lives, opportunities, and resources are gifts to us. We interact with nature and the material world, we see God within it, but we also have other dimensions to our nature. The psalmist explains it in a way that much of the world rejects: The earth is filled with the glory of God. Because we have been made by God and for God, our ultimate glory is found in Him.
The pretensions of the world are many, the seductions vast, and the attractions powerful. Yet in a world of invasive desires, intrusive demands, and restless indulgence another voice can be heard: “Come unto me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” The answer is not in a product but in a living person. Which answer do you hold?
Stuart McAllister is vice president of training and special projects at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.