Toward the end of his life and last of his published books, Francis Schaeffer began to argue against the attitude of “personal peace and affluence.” A man who had dealt with the hippie culture head – a culture of rebellion against ‘the system’ and plastic culture – lamented over what he saw occurring in the 1970’s. He believed that many of the young people of the 60’s were giving in and joining the system in the 70’s. He feared that this way of thinking would only continue into the 80’s. Schaeffer, in an interview with Colin Duriez even said, “As long as they [Americans] can have these things [personal peace and affluence], they will give up anything!”
In our modern society, especially post-9/11, we look at these words and think that Schaeffer might have been a little off. After all, what is wrong in giving up some freedoms or giving up some moral ground, so long as we can live free of controversy and make money? I happen to believe that what Schaeffer feared did occur in the 80’s and early 90’s and has led to the nihilistic culture that is arising, a culture of empty selves.
When Schaeffer used the term “personal peace” he was not referring to just living at peace with everyone while holding onto your convictions. He was stating that people will become so willing to live free of controversy or struggle or inconvenience that we will give up certain convictions.
A perfect example of this is how we deal with alleged terrorists that happen to be US citizens. Assuming the US government jailed suspected terrorists who were US citizens indefinitely and without charge. Though this would be a clear violation of the Constitution many citizens would applaud the government for its actions – by securing personal peace, even at the cost of freedom, the citizens are happy.
Another example is that of gas prices – Americans have only become ‘green’ and shown concern for the environment en masse because of the extraordinarily high gas prices. If the government discovered a way to bring gas prices back down to the $1-$2 range, the entire ‘green’ fad would quickly fade. People don’t really care about God’s creation (because they don’t know God) or exercising proper Biblical domain over it – they merely care about what makes life convenient.
We can also look to the abortion on demand even though that abortion is the taking of a human life. It simply is not convenient to look at that human life as human – it makes it easier to kill a baby when we think he is just tissue. After all, with the need for a job or to get through high school or college – not to mention how pregnancy can ruin one’s sex-life – a mother may feel the need to kill the child within her. In order to feel free of the guilt the doctor will tell her that the baby is just a mess of cells, not even human yet. In the pursuit of personal peace, we have completely devalued human life.
This is the cost of pursuing personal peace; we eventually devalue the human being. As long as we can gain what we are after, we tend not to care what happens to others. As long as I can live free of inconvenience then I don’t care about the rest of the world.
Schaeffer also said that we should fear the spirit of affluence, which has recently been interpreted into being the American dream. When one turns to E!, VH1, MTV, Bravo, or other stations, they are often displaying what a life of affluence can look like. Students in high schools are told to get a higher education because it can help increase their earning potential. I remember seeing a poster displayed that had a picture of a mansion on a cliff overlooking the ocean with half a dozen luxury vehicles in the garage, with the saying “Justification for a higher education.”
This, of course, passes off the idea that the chief end of man in life is simply to accumulate as much wealth as he can regardless of the consequences. We bow down to the all mighty dollars (though it is not so all mighty as of late) and make it the chief end of all that we do. The consequences are staggering.
In order to save money we buy from “big box” stores, such as Wal-Mart (which I admit, I find myself there buying food at a cheap price at times). We, of course, willingly ignore and even attempt to justify their actions over seas. We turn a blind eye to the low wage conditions the Chinese workers have to work in. We simply disavow that Wal-Mart is practically using slave labor in order to get these cheap prices.
We celebrate ruthless CEO’s that buy out companies, lay off people, and use cutthroat tactics in order to make as much money as they can. We make great Capitalists, but horrible Christians when we lend a voice of support to such people.
In our pursuit of affluence, we inherently desire to show off the amount of money we have. How sad that a billionaire will spend far more money on a yacht than he will on helping those in desperate need. How pathetic that a person will spend $40 on a bottle of water simply because of how it looks (and up to $450 in some cases) quicker than they will help out a child in need of an education. In our pursuit of affluence, we have lifted up ourselves while devaluing others.
A Christian view
Now neither one of these things are inherently bad. Often times a person living in the Will of God and pursuing Him alone will somehow come across personal peace – a life of near inconvenience (though, if he is truly a Christian, his life will be inconvenienced at many points). He will also come across affluence at times. The danger, as Schaeffer argued, was the pursuit of these things. One can thank God when personal peace and affluence are attained, but one should not pursue these things.
Under the Christian view, the glory of God is first and foremost in all that we do. This means we must pursue the things of His Will, not our desires. It means that God may lead us into a life of poverty or into a life full of controversy. As Christians the only thing we should expect is that God will lead us where He desires and be with us the entire way – we are not promised anything more than that.
Secondly, we are to value the rest of humanity. We do not value humanity because it can create a witnessing opportunity, we do not place value on the human because he could be saved, and we do not do these actions because it might lead to the propagation of the Gospel – we value humanity because it is intrinsically valuable being made in the image of God. Though we are not humanists (placing man at the center of everything), we are humane in that we place the value of a human being above personal peace and affluence. This means that if we own a business, we should double check where our product comes from and make sure no humans suffered in the making of our product. It likewise means that we should stand up for what is right regardless of the personal cost it will bring to us. If we value humanity then we will de-value our own selfish wants and desires.
The ultimate cure for this social disease is Christ. It is only when we fall in love with Christ and His mission and Will that we can overcome our desire for personal peace and affluence.