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The Art of Choosing and the Church

June 24, 2010

My iPad has brought me into contact with several new books lately that I am really enjoying. I finished Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior by Ori and Rom Brafman and moved on to The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar on our vacation. Another great book. One area that The Art of Choosing deals with is how different cultures are motivated to make choices based on different criteria.

In the United States we base our choices on individual desire. What we want. We believe this to be the superior way of doing things. Well, it has been ingrained in us to think this way. In the east in countries like Japan they base decisions on what is believed to be the best choice for the community. They believe one should be “willing to give priority to the goals of these collectives over their own personal goals.” The community comes before personal desire.

A way of thinking that is highly un-American. The American way of thinking developed during the Enlightenment and a belief put forward that if each person pursues his own self-interest society as a whole would benefit. Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, published in 1776 argued this idea. John Stuart Mill, a philosopher and economist wrote that, “Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves, than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest.” Everyone does their own thing instead of thinking of others and the world will be a better place. Can you see this idea in our culture?

This American way of thinking is actually quite limited. Very few cultures have this mentality today. This is not only true of the world today but the world throughout history. Evan more importantly it is something you won’t find in the Bible or the history of God’s people. Israel was a community. The expectation was that you sacrifice for the greater good. The early church was a community. Paul’s writing, the history of Acts, Jesus expectation about love, all show that the kingdom is a collective of believers.

So, what do we do about this today in the church? As our culture moves more and more to hyper-individualism what responsibility does the church have? Do we say this is the culture we live in so we must put the message of Jesus into an individualistic frame? Do we simply focus on how the way of Jesus will make things better for the individual? Or do we see the history of God’s people and how it was organized and say I think we should be counter to a culture of individualism?

What do you think?

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