“Following the Darwinian theory of evolution… people began to look at themselves and the world around them in purely utilitarian terms. …So even man was measured by what he could achieve, produce, earn, contribute and so on. Not only that, all man’s attributes, talents and endeavors had to be justified in some utilitarian way.”
-Franky Shaeffer, Addicted to Mediocrity
I felt like I was reading my own experience and deep frustration as I read these words earlier today. In context, he’s speaking of the infiltration of secular cultural ideas into the church, and the impact of the theory of evolution and industrial utilitarianism on the arts and creativity. A statement I exempted from the excerpt above illustrated the idea from the perspective of the natural world. It reminded me of a study of economics I embarked on some years back. I was, at that time, stunned to discover that our present system of economics does not assign value to a thing, say trees, until they are harvested and produced into a saleable item such as lumber. Sadly, as he pointed out, human beings are viewed through the same lens at present. A lens that disregards anything we do unless it produces something of utility, a utility often measured in terms of its ability to generate money.
For most of my life I have lived in this tension, though it is only recently that I’m coming to understand the source of those feelings. It exists every time I consider my age. I turned 37 this year, and as far as the world is concerned I do not have, nor have ever had a career. It exists every time I indulge in pursuing my curiosities. I remember a time as a child, when I discovered paints in the cabinet. I took a small slab of sandstone from the backyard and painted crashing waves. I seem to remember doing things like that fairly often as a child. To do such a thing today leaves me with a sense of guilt, both for time “wasted” and the creation of something that has little to no monetary value. It exists in the hours upon hours of preparation and training necessary to reach the so called 10,000 hours for mastery of a skill. The old I get, the more I’ve felt that time to be stolen from something more important. As if my time for learning in that way should be past. Lastly, it exists every time I feel the pressure of my own meager living expenses. Sadly, indulgence of these things is considered to be the privilege of the rich who can afford such frivolities. And I find this is often true. While living paycheck to paycheck, suddenly the worlds advice to monetize everything seems the only way to both dream and create while making a living. Unfortunately, this pressure also drains me creatively, and often makes it hard to consistently produce high-value, well conceived work.
All of this can be overwhelming, but at the very least discovering this has helped me see the face of an enemy. Sadly, I am trapped in his world. A world that has forgotten the value of dreamers and poets, but it is also a world still filled with beauty. A world filled with lavish indulgence of creative play, obscene variety and frivolous diversity. A world created by an artist for His own pleasure. A world He gifted to us for our enjoyment. Maybe understanding that truth holds the keys to escaping the world of the enemy and rediscovering the world of the Creator. I certainly hope so.
So, let’s see where the road takes us, shall we?