Our Greatest Social Problem

I posted the question on my facebook page recently, “What do you think is our greatest social problem in the world?” It seemed a rather lively topic, so I thought I would share my thoughts in my blog rather than attempt to nudge in one more soundbite-type response. My thanks in advance to all who posted.

I believe the single greatest social ill is our fractured relationships. Humans, in my experience, are terrible at prioritizing, communicating, focusing and nurturing healthy relationships with God, self, others and creation. When most people look at a social ill, they stare at the stalk and say, “Let’s come up with a cleaver way to pull that weed!”

A recent conversation with a dear friend about pornography is a perfect example. He and another friend had come up with a way to significantly hinder the porn industry’s ability to process credit cards. It seemed legal and ethical in the way they proposed it, and I believe it would have cost MasterCard and Visa financially to continue to do business with pornographers, not to mention a terrible headache for smut peddlers. I advised my friend not to proceed because I believe that the roots of the industry would have only dug deeper in the midst of an assault.

The reason porn exists is because of broken relationships. The industry depends on broken parent-daughter relationships, parent-son relationships, and primarily, because of a brokenness in our ability to serve the Lord and follow His ways. Because we also have a broken relationship with financial resources, we monetarily incentivize, to the tune of billions of dollars, the further degradation of the family through porn.

This isn’t a diatribe about one industry, so let’s move on. One response to my facebook post was that “intolerance” is our greatest social problem. This is absurd (my apologies to the author), because you simply cannot tolerate everything. Alexander Hamilton is credited with telling us that, “Those who stand for nothing will fall for anything.” The idea that you can allow everything to exist in harmony denies the fact that, when left to our own devices and desires, sin ensues. The primary Wiccan/Pagan tenet, “…do what ye will, harm none.”, is ridiculous when followed to it’s natural end. Can any social ill be done in private that does not hurt another person? At the very best, we use sin to isolate ourselves from necessary relationships, and at the very worst, we grieve the heart of God.

I do not believe we have too few rules or values in society. We have millions of laws, and most people would tell you they believe that families ought to be more loving, ought to show respect, ought to, ought to …. ad nauseum. The values aren’t gone from society. They are being intentionally rejected. My belief is that people in Western societies are filling ourselves with what is comfortable and entertaining rather than what is relationally healthy. I could really get on my soapbox here, but I’ll summarize by saying that I only have one T.V. in my house, and that might be one too many.

My friend, Brian Fulthorp, wrote the following on my facebook post: “most problems are symptomatic of broken relationships: divorce, war, fighting, killing, all that…. and like others have noted, all of that is borne out of our alienation from God our maker.” I completely agree. To his list, I feel compelled to add my personal conviction that it pleases God when we care for creation. This was a primary request of the Lord in Genisis 2:15, and I believe he is pleased when we steward the earth well.

Also to the list, and of utmost urgency, is a realization that we have to steward our relationship with ourselves. We tend to be sentient organisims that are particularly cleaver at seeking pleasure and avoiding pain, but humans were created very differently here. We should, at times, chase after the thing that causes us incredible discomfort. I believe the greatest human attribute it to boldly pursue something that inflicts tremendous pain in the act of serving the Lord and serving others in His name.

I love that someone on facebook finally asked for the solution. Although I am far from mastering the solution, I feel I am living it, to some degree. I tend to my relationships with God, self, others and creation, in that order, stewarding each and owning none.

7 thoughts on “Our Greatest Social Problem

  1. Its a great post Shawn- I’m not discounting it. I agree with it 100%, but if I had seen your fb post (which hurts me that I didn’t) I would have said the greatest social ill is selfishness. I think that selfishness is the root of broken relationships. I think the correct order of relationships is God, Others, Me. I think a lot of people think, Me, others, God.

    my two cents! Keep it up bro!

  2. Thanks, gents. There is a popular acronym in Evangelical circles; Jesus Other You. In defining service, that works. When applied to stewardship, we are more responsible for our relationship with ourself than we are for our relationship with others. The healthiest people I know are self-disciplined, which is another way of saying that they steward themselves well.

  3. Great post Shawn! I recently read a book called When Helping Hurts in which the authors propose that the root causes of poverty are broken relationships, … with God, others, ourselves, and the environment. Of course it all starts with right relationship with God. Then as we listen to Him and grow in his knowledge and grace, hopefully the other relationships improve as well.

    • I read When Helping Hurst last year, and I wholeheartedly agree with Fickert and Corbett’s thoughts about broken relationships. If you liked that book, you’d probably also like Rich Stearns’ The Hole in our Gospel and David Platt’s Radical. Thanks for reading my blog & sharing your thoughts.

  4. I am slowly coming to the realization of just how important relationships are. I think when you mentioned people looking for the easy way, or prioritizing incorrectly, you struck the nail on the head.

    However, I am curious about your views on intolerance, and how that affects the relationships you build? Especially in the case of family members, since you can choose your friends, you cannot however choose your family 🙂 From a personal standpoint, I have come to the belief that, in the case of family (especially), maybe it is best to try and support the person, even if you do not necessarily support the decision. In essence, loving that person through their decisions. Not to say that you should not state your beliefs about that person’s decisions, but not abandoning them/shunning them just because you have opposing positions. That way, if things end up falling apart for them, at least you are there next to them to help pick up the pieces.

    I guess I am really trying to ask to what extent intollerance should affect our relationships? Can it merely be a statement of disagreement, or do you believe it should extend to such actions as severing relationships? Love you, Uncle!

    • Great question. This is my gut-reaction, principally based response.

      I don’t care for the word “intolerant” because there is a societal stigma attached to those who are intolerant. I recall once that Mayor Norm Rice said something to the effect of, “The only thing we will not tolerate is intolerance”. What a foolish thing to say. There are actions, behaviors and values to which we should be intolerant, even to the point of violence. I agree that everyone should be loved through their decisions, but there are certain beliefs that are not just wrong, but dangerous and damaging to others. Why was Jesus willing to throw over the tables of the money changers in the temple? Because their actions caused harm within the community. Why should we be willing to physically defend the defenseless? Because evil will attempt to conquer the week (Kuwait in 1991, Poland in 1939, Korea in 1950). In general, I think it is more harmful to fully embrace someone in their persistent, rebellious sin then to allow that person to become the “prodigal son”. Love the sinner and hate the sin. Sometimes the hate of the sin limits your interaction with a person who is enveloped in sin. We should always be there to help pick up the pieces for anyone, not just a family member.

      Unity in the essentials, liberty in the non-essentials, and in all things, charity.

      Love you too Hannah.

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