The Battle for Minds: Globalization and the Christian Mind

Description: NECF Malaysia Cross-Currents Consultations
        Author: Leong Tien Fock

The topic assigned to me assumes that ideas matter and ideas have consequences. A recent Newsweek article began with these words: "Nations, like religions, are based on ideas." As a result of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, many Americans realized for the first time that the set of ideas upon which their nation is based is drastically different from that upon which Afghanistan under the Taliban was based.

In 1995 a book was published with title Jihad vs. McWorld. Jihad represents religious fundamentalism, especially the extremist and militant brand. McWorld represents economic globalization and the American way of life. Jihad and McWorld represent two very powerful but opposing global forces in the post-Cold War era. When the planes crashed into the World Trade Center, Jihad and McWorld quite literally clashed. When we recognize that Jihad and McWorld are each driven by a set of ideas we see that ideas are powerful.

The most powerful ideas are those that have become ideologies. The essence of an ideology is an idea (or a set of ideas) that has not only spiritual and moral, but also social, economic and political consequences. The idea becomes an ideology when it has become an agenda, i.e., there is an attempt to shape or reshape society based on the idea. The power of an ideology is unleashed when the idea and the agenda have taken a life of their own in the hearts and minds of the people. When this happens, the people knowingly or unknowingly take for granted values that are built on that ideology.

We will look at concrete examples as we consider ideologies that are globalized through industrial capitalism. Before we do that let us pause to consider how the Bible acknowledges the power of ideas and ideologies.

In 2Cor 10:3-5 the apostle Paul talks about demolishing fortresses or strongholds. I do not deny that there are other types of strongholds. But the stronghold Paul talks about here involves ideas. He talks about destroying speculations raised up against the knowledge of God and about taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.

Paul tells us the weapons he uses are not of the flesh but are divinely powerful. What could these spiritual weapons be? The answer is found in the classic text on spiritual warfare: Eph 6:10-18. The weapons are the pieces of the "full armor of God" backed by prayer. Two of the six pieces of the armor explicitly consist of truth: "belt of truth" and the "sword of the Spirit." The rest, such as the "breastplate of righteousness," implicitly involves truth. Spiritual warfare is thus ultimately a battle for minds and the spiritual weapons to be used are basically truth and prayer.

If we look carefully, 2Cor 10:3-5 is talking about evangelism. But the battle for minds does not end when a person becomes a Christian. In Rom 12:2 Paul admonishes Christians to be transformed by the renewing of the mind. When a person repents (a change of mind) and becomes a Christian, the unbiblical ideological strongholds in his mind collapse. But the debris of the collapsed ideologies remains. And unless the debris is removed, the ideologies still shape his thoughts and affections. Renewing of the mind involves replacing the debris piece by piece with truth. This process is greatly accelerated if we can consciously identify the pieces of the debris and replace them accordingly.

The Globalization of Atheistic Ideologies

When a country globalizes economically it must first adopt some form of industrial capitalism as the basis of its national economy. Otherwise it cannot be integrated into the global economy. Industrial capitalism, as it is practiced and experienced, is infused with at least three ideologies: secularism, materialism and individualism. Let me briefly explain what the three ideologies mean.

The word "secular" is ideologically neutral. It means the here-and-now, the temporal as opposed to the eternal, the hereafter. Most of our everyday activities, such as going to work or school, are secular in nature. But secularism is the idea that the secular is all that exists or matters. The eternal and the spiritual do not exist or matter. Though we talk about the secular versus the spiritual, in reality we cannot separate them. Secular activities are always undergirded by a belief system that has eternal and spiritual consequences. As a Christian, the secular aspects of my life are either based on biblical truth or on secularism and other atheistic ideologies.

Materialism is the idea that matter or the material is all that exists or matters. God and other non-material realities, such as heaven and the human soul, do not exist or matter. The outcome is a preoccupation with material things and the tendency to dehumanize human beings. Both materialism and secularism are explicit expressions of atheism. Individualism is the idea that the individual is all that is real or matters. That means society and its sub-groupings, including the family, exist solely for the benefit of the individual. Individualism upholds "the dignity, indeed the sacredness, of the individual. Anything that would violate our right to think for ourselves, judge for ourselves, make our own decisions, live our lives as we see fit, is not only morally wrong, it is sacrilegious." Individualism is an implicit expression of atheism.

People who live and work under industrial capitalism would have knowingly or unknowingly absorbed these atheistic ideas into their mindset. Let me briefly describe how this can happen. I once did an experiment during one of my lectures. I made the statement, "The king of France is bald," and asked the students to respond. A student raised her hand and said, "Just look at his picture and see if he is bald." I replied, "Is there a king in France in the first place?" The sentence is a standard one used by linguists to illustrate a case of presupposed ideas (which may or may not be true) in statements. The statement presupposes the false idea that there is a king in France. If I did not correct the student she would have unknowingly absorbed the false idea that there is a king in France. Now multiply what is illustrated here many many times in terms of what we read, hear and watch, which, in the context of industrial capitalism, presupposes atheistic ideas and ideologies.

The Battle for Christian Minds

No Christian will knowingly accept secularism, materialism or even individualism. For otherwise he is not a Christian. But though they will knowingly reject these ideas, they may unknowingly live by them. We have often heard it said that many Christians are materialistic, i.e., living by materialism. In fact, Christians have been labeled "practical atheists."

How is this possible?

We must recognize that an idea usually has an intellectual as well as an emotional dimension. And we can intellectually reject an idea and yet emotionally accept it. If we ask a Christian, "What do you think of abortion?," he will probably reply "Abortion is murder." But if we further ask, "How do you feel about it?" we are asking if he feels the same way towards an act of abortion as he would towards an act of murder. He may not feel the same way. And our natural (or "default") response in terms of action towards abortion, or any other idea or phenomenon, depends not on how we think about it but how we feel about it.

In biblical understanding, the mind is not just the place where we think about ideas but also where we feel about them. Repentance, a change of mind, involves both how we think and how we feel about sin and about Christ. The renewing of the mind involves both a change in how we think and how we feel about the unscriptural ideas that have become an integral part of our mindset.

In a modern society, when a person becomes a Christian, he would have rejected secularism, materialism and (probably) individualism in his thinking. In this sense the ideological strongholds have collapsed. But the new Christian has most likely not yet overcome the ideologies in his feeling. This is what we meant by the debris still remaining. The life transformation process taught in Rom 12:1-2 is directed mainly at the emotional dimension, or the fallen debris, of these ideologies.

The process is not easy because we do not normally realize that these ideologies are still present in our minds. Firstly, because we have rejected them intellectually we assume we have got rid of them completely. We tend to recognize their intellectual faces but not their emotional ones. In the context of industrial capitalism, it is even more difficult because even though these ideologies infuse the economy they do not surface even in our feeling very much. For we do not encounter them directly but only through the socio-economic phenomena that they undergird. And we have intellectually taken for granted that these socio-economic phenomena do not violate biblical teaching.

I would like to consider three such phenomena. They can be represented respectively by the following concepts: 1) economic growth, 2) human resource, and 3) gender equality.

Not many Christians suspect that these concepts and the phenomena they represent are unbiblical. Each of these three phenomena is undergirded by secularism, materialism and individualism. To simplify my presentation I will only show how secularism undergirds "economic growth," how materialism undergirds "human resource" and how individualism undergirds "gender equality."

Secularism and the Concept of "Economic Growth"

Economic growth is measured in terms of the GDP (or GNP). If we look at what the GDP measures, we can see that it basically reflects activities that can promote physical well-being. Activities that promote spiritual and emotional well-being are left out. A family spending quality time together or a Christian taking time to pray and study the Bible will not be reflected in the GDP. In fact when the GDP goes beyond the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter, what it measures becomes increasingly trivial from the eternal and spiritual perspectives. This fact alone does not reveal its secularistic undergirding.

But we must recognize that under industrial capitalism, as currently practiced and experienced, economic growth (which represents secular values) is all that matters. This means the secular values (otherwise neutral) have become secularistic values. This is even more pronounced as the national economy globalizes. In fact, a higher GDP (or GNP) often means families are spending less quality time together and Christians are spending less time before God. Also, whether a society is considered "developed" or not depends on its per capita GDP. And, except for some backlash in terms of religious extremism, a developed society has so far been a society in which the people are becoming increasingly secularistic in their values.

Yet every country that globalizes seeks to become developed in terms of per capita GDP. Malaysia's Vision 2020 seeks to avoid the secularistic mould by also including a non-economic agenda to preserve and enhance moral, spiritual, and religious values. However, there is little or no evidence that this agenda has caused the average Malaysian to think or feel any differently towards economic growth. The very fact that the time frame for fulfilling the Vision is set solely in terms of economic growth shows that the Malaysian government still considers per capita GDP as the fundamental criterion to becoming developed. Spiritual and emotional progress, even if achieved, seems to be simply the icing on the cake.

There is nothing wrong for Christians to participate in an economy based on industrial capitalism. Paraphrasing Jesus, we have to be "in the economy" but not "of the economy." For how else can we be salt and light in the contemporary world? But if we reject secularism in our thinking and feeling we cannot view "economic growth" the same way as the non-Christians do. We have to sort out our thinking and feeling and respond accordingly.

Materialism and the Concept of "Human Resource"

The concept of "human resource" has become very fashionable in management circles. Few Christians stop to consider its spiritual implications. About two years ago, while listening to a talk unrelated to the subject, it suddenly dawned on me that the concept is outrightly unbiblical. For it views human beings made in the image of God as resources like natural resources. According to a textbook on organization behavior, when "human beings are regarded, principally, as resources" they will be used "as efficiently as possible." This "inevitably means that whatever about a person is not strictly implicated in their efficient use--as defined by those with the power to signify what efficient use means--is not just ignored, but actively denied. What is denied is what makes people human, and this ranges through biological ..., emotional ..., psychological characteristics."

There is no question that human resource management is dehumanizing at least in name. What about in reality?

The concept reminded me of Taylorism or "Scientific Management," which is widely practiced even today under different guises. The basic assumption behind Taylorism is that human beings are to be used as machines and used most efficiently. Human creativity, a quality that distinguishes a human from even the most advanced computer, is actually a liability to an organization that practices this form of management. An extreme example, other than the traditional assembly line, is McDonald's and other similar fast-food chains, where human beings do work that can be done by mindless robots. What makes Taylorism "scientific" is basically its assumption of the materialistic "scientific" worldview that human beings are merely soulless cogs in an impersonal mechanistic universe.

Earlier this year I happened to pick up a book on human resource management in the University of Malaya bookstore. The title of a paper (chapter 5) in the book by E. M. Rao, a professor of personnel management, caught my attention: "Human Resource Management: The Road to Neo-Taylorism in Management Thought." Reading this and two other relevant papers (chapters 1 and 2) in the book confirmed my suspicion that human resource management is both materialistic in name and in reality. Rao sums up his evaluation with these words: "The attack on Frederick Taylor (for his dehumanizing practices) and Elton Mayo (for his manipulative approach) looks uncharitable. Human resource philosophy has the vices of both and the virtues of neither" (page 134).

Space does not permit me to recount the evidence and the arguments against human resource management. I refer the reader to the three papers mentioned above. I must here qualify, though, that there are exceptions to the rule. According to a study reported in the book (page 26), two out of twenty organizations practiced a humane form of "human resource"management that they swore by. Even then, the name is inhumane.

However, it is not for me to judge if a Christian should use the term "human resource" without qualification (it is hard to talk about management today if we totally avoid the term). If a Christian freely uses the term but does not look at human beings as resources like natural resources, we cannot really fault him. But my concern is how effectively one can do that. This is because we know the meaning of words subconsciously. We learn (i.e., absorb into our subconsciousness) the meaning of most of the words in our vocabulary by being exposed to them in the context they occur in our reading and listening. Thus very often we may know the meaning of a word but yet cannot define it. Hence I do not know if it is possible to use the term "human resource" indiscriminately without subconsciously identifying human beings with natural resources, especially when in practice human beings are indeed being treated like natural resources under the name Human Resource Management. I hereby raise my doubts and leave the question open.

Now that we are moving into the postindustrial k-economy, which requires workers to be creative or resourceful, will Taylorism and human resource management persist? Taylorism is certainly incompatible with the k-economy. But not everyone in a k-economy will be a k-worker. Besides, McDonald's and the like are still thriving and there is no indication that they will soon disappear from a k-economy.

Is human resource management, currently practiced and experienced, incompatible with the k-economy? Not really. Workers in such an economy are being given the freedom to be resourceful not because there is a change in how human beings are viewed. It is purely for economic or business, not moral or spiritual, reasons. Human beings are still viewed as resources and not as persons. The only difference is that they are resourceful resources (read machines and not persons). Materialism is still assumed. Materialists believe that computers can one day be as intelligent as the human mind. So a human resourceful resource is only an extremely advanced computer. There will be tangible consequences to this view. For one thing, retrenchment will affect even k-workers. Like any resource, they are used when needed and discarded when not.

Individualism and the Concept of "Gender Equality"

We now move on to a concept and phenomenon that is highly sensitive, if not explosive. Given its far-reaching consequences I will be doing a disservice if I avoid it. Before I show why "gender equality" is unbiblical let me spell out that I affirm that, traditionally, women have not been granted the equality due them. The Bible says Man, male and female together, not male or female alone, is made in the image of God. In other words a wife's identity is bound up with (not buried under) her husband's and vice-versa. And Eve was created a "helper" to Adam. The Hebrew word translated helper is most often used to refer to God as our helper. So her role as a helper is not a second class one. Generally speaking, wives have not been treated as true partners to their husbands.

But thank God that there was a time even in recent history when the biblical helper role was widely exemplified, albeit only to a certain extent. According to Nancy Pearcey,

Marriage in colonial times "meant to become a co-worker beside a husband, if necessary learning new skills in butchering, silversmith work, printing, or upholstering--whatever special skills the husband's work required." Of course, women were also responsible for household tasks which required a wide range of skills: spinning wool and cotton; weaving it into cloth; sewing the family's clothes; gardening and preserving food; preparing meals without pre-processed ingredients; making soap, buttons, candles, medicines. Colonial mothers did not need to start a feminist movement to demand a role in economically productive work. Many of the goods used in colonial society were manufactured by women, doing the brainwork (planning and managing) as well as the handwork.

Neither Pearcey nor I idealizes colonial times or endorse everything about the status of women then. But the family and economic structures then made it easy for the wife to play her helper role, and the need for "gender equality," at least in terms of the marketplace, did not arise. As Pearcey spells out in her paper, this problem arises only because of the drastic impact industrial capitalism has had on the structures of the family and the economy.

What then is wrong with the concept of "gender equality"? According to Peter Berger, a foremost sociologist of religion,

"Gender" is feminist English for "sex." The very term reveals the ideological agenda. It is a term derived from grammar, unlike "sex," which refers to (in this instance) undeniable biological differences. Grammatical gender is freely variable. Thus the word for "sun" is feminine in German (die Sonne) and masculine in French (le soleil); these gender assignments are arbitrary and could just as well be reversed. The ideological implication, of course, is that all so-called "gender roles" are just as freely variable--men nurturing babies, women ramming bayonets into enemy bellies, and so on. Comparative anthropological studies do show that the social roles assigned to the two sexes are variable to some extent. The notion, though, that these role assignments are sovereignly free of all biological determinants is almost certainly an illusion.

That means the two sexes are viewed by feminists as not just equal but are exactly (or almost) the same. A Malaysian woman recently wrote to (9 November 2001) saying, "masculinity and femininity are manufactured concepts. We are not born possessing either. It is a totally human made concept." She is simply parroting a standard feminist viewpoint that is based on the postmodernist argument that all moral and social norms are social constructs, i.e., arbitrary "human made concepts." This in turn is based on the postmodernist assumption that there is no absolute truth. I suspect most feminists in Malaysia do not subscribe to postmodernism. Probably they adopted a postmodernist viewpoint that supports their agenda not realizing that it contradicts their own assumptions.

The Bible teaches that the marriage partnership is equal but not exact. Eve is said to be a helper "suitable for him (Adam)." The Hebrew phrase literally means "as opposite (or corresponding to) him," i.e., "matching him," suggesting that the partnership is complementary rather than supplementary. There is much scientific evidence against the idea and ideology that masculinity and femininity are social constructs. I refer the reader to a book by Anne and Bill Moir entitled Why Men Don't Iron: The Real Science of Gender Studies. Feminism is trying to socially construct norms that are harmful to women, the family and society at large.

The concept of gender equality by itself is relatively harmless (and in fact purposeless) if the phenomenon it represents were not undergirded by individualism, the idea and ideology that society and the family exist solely for the benefit of the individual. To individualists, the individual, not the family, is the foundation of society. They view the family more like a social club that exists for no other reason than to meet the personal needs and wants of individuals. Knowingly or unknowingly, women caught up in the gender equality phenomenon think or feel that their individualistic "gender equality" rights are above the welfare of their marriages or even their families. Men caught up in the phenomenon applaud and defend them. Very often the marriage and the family suffer. Ultimately society suffers.

We are not suggesting that we return to the traditional oppressive status of women. Postmodernism is a reaction to and a rejection of the erroneous and harmful assumptions of the Enlightenment, out of which came secularism, materialism and individualism. But postmodernism has swung to the other extreme, which is equally if not more erroneous and harmful. The feminist reaction to and rejection of the traditional status of women seems to be doing the same thing, quite literally throwing away the baby with the bath water.

Space does not permit an adequate treatment of the issues raised. I have raised them to highlight and illustrate what is at stake in the battle for minds in the context of globalization. I hope we have caught at least a glimpse of what is involved in the renewing of the mind. The issues raised have far-reaching implications not only for the Church but also for the family, the marketplace and society at large. Much is at stake. Much more thinking and feeling is still needed in order to know how to engage the battle most effectively.

May God help us.


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