Wired Magazine this month has an article on a new generation of hip (not hippie) environmentalists. People are wearing organic cotton clothing and driving Prius’s, not primarily because they want to save money, or the environment, really, but because they are wanting to construct an identity based on what they wear, drive, and eat. A research company found that these things were primarily "symbols of identity" for people. "People construct their identities as narratives. The project of our lives is to tell a more interesting story about ourselves."
More than ever, it seems, you are what you wear and what you drive. It’s interesting that it’s not enough to simply be environmentally conscious, but that we also must broadcast that "identity narrative" through symbols that we wear, drive, and eat.
The environmental movement has, up until recently, had very little success in convincing people to consume less and be conscious of the impact we are having on our planet. The article says that’s primarily because environmentalism has been dominated by hippies with bad fashion sense (let’s face it: Birkenstocks and baggy t-shirts just look dumb). So there is an increasing push now to get the message out that you can be environmentally conscious and hip. And now some of it is starting to take hold. It’s interesting that people’s primary concern is with the "identity narrative" their lives are reflecting. Environmentalism = hippies. I don’t want to grow a beard and wear sandals all the time, therefore I cannot be an environmentalist. Now that it’s hip, I can do it.
In many ways, the church has tried to do similar things with Christianity. Hey young people! Look over here! Spikey-haired people who love God! Christianity is cool! Many times this has come across as a bad sales pitch and has been rejected as such. However, on the other hand, if the only Christians you knew looked and acted like Ned Flanders, you might be reticent to become a Christian. I know people who didn’t come to faith until they saw that Christianity was not at odds with their tattoos and piercings. But on the other hand again, apparently some people in the UK (of all places) are embracing their inner Ned. Even the Archbishop of Cantebury is a self-declared fan of the show, saying "It is one of the most subtle pieces of propaganda in the cause of sense, humility and virtue." Later in the article: "On the surface, he’s a doofus, a goody-two-shoes, but he’s such a basically decent and good character that as often as Homer and others heap scorn on him and mock him, he returns it with love, which in my view is the essence of Christianity." From the show, Homer and Ned talking about their neighbors:
Ned: They’re not perfect, but the Lord says "Love thy neighbor."
Homer: Shut up, Flanders.
Ned: Okely-dokely do!
Perhaps being like Ned isn’t so bad after all.
Bringing it back to my question yesterday, if people do the right thing for the wrong reasons, does it nullify the impact? Does the end justify the means? Should we use the dubious assumptions and motivations of our culture to draw people into a faith that will ultimately challenge and subvert those motivations, or should we challenge the assumptions and motivations right off the bat? What comes first: come and dine or come and die?