For many, this is a temple of worship...
I am a capitalist pig. A greedy, envious, gadget-loving swine.
That realization dawned on me yesterday while dropping off my office computer for repairs at the Mall of Georgia Apple Store. Despite the fact that I have more MacBooks than your average Starbucks, I still found myself wandering the aisles of the Apple Store, running my hands and fingers over each and every little gizmo on display. I drooled over iPads. I stood transfixed before a 27-inch iMac. I lingered a little too long over a 17-inch MacBook Pro and got a nervous glance from the Apple rep nearest me.
I stayed in that store for a few minutes longer than I should have because my heart was yearning for the money to buy some new goodies. I stood in the middle of that store and tried to convince myself that my wanting – my desire to have something new and Apple – wasn’t bad, just mere dreaming. Just healthy ambition.
But after thinking about it for a good, long time, I’m not so sure about that anymore.
Yesterday, I picked up John Piper’s classic Desiring God again, this time with every intention of actually finishing it. I’d began the book once before but set it down in favor of something else, probably something less challenging like Thus Spake Zarathustra. Anyway, after a long time sitting on my bookshelf, I picked it up yesterday and began to re-read.
It was very convicting.
Now, granted, I’m only two chapters in and Piper has spent the majority of time just setting up his premise – that we can pursue a joy-filled life because joy is an essential component of worshiping God, and worshiping God is the highest of all human activity – but Piper laid out a definition of life that blew my mind:
- The longing to be happy is a universal experience, and it is good, not sinful.
- We should never try to deny or resist our longing to be happy, as though it were a bad impulse. Instead, we should seek to intensify this longing and nourish it with whatever will provide the deepest and most enduring satisfaction.
- The deepest and most enduring happiness is found only in God. Not from God, but in God.
- The happiness we find in God reaches its consummation when it is shared with others in the manifold ways of love.
- To the extent that we try to abandon the pursuit of our own pleasure, we fail to honor God and love people. Or, to put it positively: the pursuit of pleasure is a necessary part of all worship and virtue.¹
¹ John Piper, Desiring God: 25th Anniversary Reference Edition (Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 2011), 28.
We all want to be happy. We should pursue being happy. We should pursue that happiness in God. We should share that happiness with others.
Now what really sucks is I’d read this just before walking into the Apple Store. And standing there, my gadget lust in overdrive, I began to feel that faint, familiar tugging on my heart, that subtle but unmistakable movement of conscience that tells me something is off in my spiritual core.
It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to know: I was desiring the work of Jobs rather than the presence of God.
I’m not saying Apple is evil. Apple is not evil – it’s amoral, or at least its products are. What is evil is my borderline psychological hunger for those products. I found myself thinking, “$2500 for a stock MacBook Pro isn’t so bad…I could scrimp and save and get that by next Christmas”, and the reality is that A) I’m about as likely to scrimp and save as the Pope is likely to breakdance naked with Lady Gaga, and B) even if I did somehow how manage to put back that much money, it would be intrinsically selfish to spend it on a new computer for me.
Especially when I have a couple of perfectly good ones kicking around the house.
Now, as any good capitalist pig would do, I immediately started justifying how I could get that new MacBook Pro minus the side-order of guilt: sell my other computers. Of course, that leads to into fantasies about how much I could get for them, how quickly I might be able to sell them, and then dreaming about how awesome it would be to have that new, out-of-the-box MacBook Pro (hereafter referred to as MBP) sitting in my hot little hands.
And of course that thought lead to further justification: if I got that new MBP, then I would be able to spend even more time writing, which might lead to me selling more articles, which would lead to money coming back into my pocket, which would virtually guarantee that the MBP would pay for itself. And by writing more, I would be fulfilling part of God’s plan for my life by utilizing the greatest talent He’s given me, which would in turn bring Him glory, which would in turn make me happy, which would in turn complete the spiritual and worshipful experience that buying a new MBP is almost certainly supposed to be.
And if you find that line of logic staggering, I can only say this: Genius doesn’t just work at the Apple store.
Of course that line of logic is patently counter-intuitive Piper’s point, and happens to be the kind of crappy thinking that irked many of Desiring God‘s critics (Piper addresses those criticisms in the 25th Anniversary Edition). What really gets me, though, is how stunningly easy it was for me to make this kind of leap – how quickly I could take a simple impulse and turn it into something holy and profound.
I was also disturbed by how quickly the other computers I had became undesirable. I happen to like my computers, even if the battery on one is kind of dying an early death and the other one has a bum command key. Both are good, reliable, run very fast, and are perfect for the kind of things I do on them. But in comparison to the new MBP…well, it was like placing a Pinto next to a Ferrari. Nothing wrong with either, but the Pinto sure seems a lot less by comparison.
All of this began to convict me even further: how much of the discontent that I feel in my life is rooted in my hunger for something other than God? If I were, for example, more concerned about pursuing God through reading or spending time with my kids or prayer or watching sunrises or just actually enjoying the things in my life that are good, how much better would my life be?
The Buddhists talk about letting go of self, of emptying out your desires and wants and all of the other self-created crap that makes a heart ache, as a way to inner peace. Funny enough, Jesus said the same thing: “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.” There is something freeing about being free from yourself.
I won’t pretend like I don’t have other problems, but with respect to technology, the question of what I desire really came to the fore yesterday. How much of my life is pissed away wanting things I don’t need (iPads, iPods, etc.) instead of seeking the One that I both need and want? How much am I a product of the market rather than a product of God?
To be honest, I think there are a lot more people out there like me, people who can sometimes bend their personal desires into something about which God would say, “Okay – go for it.” If I may be so bold, I think there are an awful lot of us who call ourselves Christian who are more Capitalists than anything else.
And please don’t make the mistake of thinking that I’m against capitalism. I’m not. But I think it introduces some cultural tendencies that have infected the American Christian in a negative way. I think that, a lot of times, we assume that God is okay with what we pursue when in reality what we’re pursuing is anything but Him. And He’s certainly not okay with that in any sense of the word.
I am a capitalist pig, a fat, consumptive wad of flesh that is always after the next fix, the next feeding. And like some of our more hormonally-enhanced porcine products, I’m unhealthy as a result.
The question is: how does a capitalist pig leave behind the food he knows to seek after the Food he needs?
What are your thoughts?