Friday, June 20, 2014

Counterfeit Spirituality

SCRIPTURE: 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: June 20th, 2014

"1Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, 2not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. 3Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. 4He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God." (2 Thessalonians 2:1-4)

SYNOPSIS: Our tendency to copycat others is a poor rejection of our ability to create and to be creative in God's world. When we have run out of ideas to create and depend on copying for our survival, that is not because we have not tried hard enough. It is simply because we have failed to recognize that true creativity comes from God. 

Yesterday, I was watching a documentary entitled "Counterfeit Culture" on CBC Doczone. It is an indepth look at how the world's famous brands and products are fast becoming prey to copycats and pirates who sell imitations at a fraction of the price of the original goods. From cheap electronics to pirated movies and songs; automotive accessories to aircraft spare parts; pharmaceuticals to any consumer products; the world's best known names are increasingly and blatantly copied and sold. They look like the original. They feel like the originals. They are made to be as exact as possible to the original. Surface wise that is.

If one can wear a Rolex imitation, a Lacoste look-alike, or a fancy iPhone fake, one can indeed raise social profiles when walking out in the streets. While the documentary identifies different cities that manufacture fakes all around the world, it is China alone that supplies 75% of the world's fake goods. What struck me was the confidence the Chinese peddlars had: Show them what you need and they will create a fake indeed. The Chinese even has a word for that: Shan Zhai, which is essentially a culture of copying and replicating imitations. My friends from mainland China tell me that if I want to buy anything original, buy it outside of China.

Welcome to a world of counterfeits.

A) Copycat Culture

Experts have estimated the counterfeit industry at a staggering $700 billion that comprise 10% of the world's trade. This is expected to rise even further as the copycat culture becomes more pervasive. One company even attempted to copy the copycats by setting up a site to market their own copy products and was shocked to see how "successful" they were!

In a look-good, feel-good, and make-good society, superficiality takes centerstage. When the visible becomes the all-important goal, everything else takes a back stage. Ethical behaviour surrenders to profiteering; honesty gives way to reputation; and even people becomes means to material ends. This is also a global phenomenon. The fake products are no longer simply available in Asia or developing third world countries. With the proliferation of low price shops, dollar shops, and online bazaars, one can find fake good at major cities all over the world.

Faking it is also getting more prevalent in competitive sports. The FIFA World Cup is currently happening in Brazil. If you do watch the games, it will be common to find players trying to scheme and trick referees to awarding free-kicks for them or trigger cautions for their opponents. The prize of course is to fake a fall in the opponent's penalty box so as to win a penalty. If done improperly, the player who acted will be penalized instead. Unfortunately, players often fake falls because of the high premium and prestige for winning games. I call them cheats. The question this week I have is this: What about counterfeit spirituality?

B) The Need for Honesty

Why are there counterfeits in the first place? That is because deceptions and deceiving spirits are everywhere. In a popular TV reality show entitled: "What Would You Do?" a scene was made about a man who deliberately leaves behind his wallet while a hidden camera films away the reactions of people sitting nearby. One of the takes the wallet and keeps it. Viewers know straightaway that the man who took the wallet fully intended to keep the wallet and the money in it. Only when confronted, the man started to give all kinds of excuses which do not reflect his initial series of actions. Only when cornered, truth gets revealed.

This is the sad state of affair in many cultures. Paul warns us about the deceptions as the Day of the Lord approaches. "Don't let anyone deceive you" is a warning to the Thessalonians not to be deceived by the anti-Christ. There will be people setting up to be what they are not. They will pretend to be God. Even in the Church, there are cases where people use deceptions to get what they want. The founding pastor of The River:pm Church, Rod Tucker relates how crucial it is to cast a vision of honesty in the Church. One of the barriers is to overcome our tendency to fear that leads to self-protection and judgmentalism. He writes:

"We claim that we, as individuals, have overcome sin, when sin is something only Jesus can overcome, and that we are now qualified to judge others who do not overcome on their own. All the while, Jesus tells us to take the planks out of our own eyes before we even consider looking at another's sin. We are lying to each other and ourselves. We have exchanged true honesty for self-protection." (Rod Tucker, Uncovered, Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2014, p24)

The tendency to protect ourselves often make us hide the truth. Maybe the truth hurts. I contend that hiding the truth also hurts. Maybe more. In fact, Tucker's observations are not alone. Anne Jackson once posted a question on her blog. The hundreds of responses from all over the world took her by surprise. She asked: "
What is one thing that you feel you can't say in the Church?"

The responses highlight the way Christians say one thing but do another. They show the hypocrisy among Christians and the way Christians live remarkably in self-deception. People shared about taboo topics that they cannot openly share in their Churches. They said they were afraid to share their names. Worse, people have allowed superficiality to become the way of living among churches. When I read Anne Jackson's book, one particular page struck me. It is a picture of a handwritten confession:
"After my divorce, nobody called me. It broke my heart. Again" (Mark)
Ouch. The Church's silence is deafening. If that is true, would that deter others from sharing of their broken selves? If gaining acceptance means we falsify our true feelings and only say what others want to hear, would that not increase our counterfeiting tendencies? If we want to project a good image all the time, we risk becoming less than honest with others, with God, and with ourselves. Take a look at a sad testimony. Jackson shares a startling response which I enclose as follows:

Anne's Jackson's book, "Permission to Speak Freely" p65
"Why are Christians so afraid of honesty? Life sucks more often than not. Admit it, deal with it, quit giving pat. 'spiritually correct' answers and admit that we don't GET answers to most of our questions, but it's still okay to ask! God watched me suffer through years of sexual abuse - he did not stop it, he did not protect me or rescue me. I don't know why and that makes me angry but people freak out when my anger is expressed in church. So what if I look like the 'model' Christian - a BSF Leader, pillar of the church, strong, Godly, ..... I'm wounded and all the church offers me is pretense, no respite from the evils of this cruel world. 

Why are there pretenses in a community of people who pledges to be truthful? Why is there a need to counterfeit our spirituality so that we can look good or make people feel good about being a Christian? Alas, we are only human. John Powell's insights reveals the problem about human behaviour about why people are afraid to tell others who they are. "I am afraid to tell you who I am, because, if I tell you who I am, you may not like who I am, and it's all that I have."

When we are less than truthful, we are prey for counterfeit spirituality.

C) Counterfeit Spirituality

Counterfeit spirituality is what I simply put as pretending what we are not. We say we are godly when we are not. We highlight the promises of God without really believing what God has said. We become people "sitting on the premises" waddling around truth rather than standing on the promises of God's truth. Jesus has said that when we know the truth, the truth shall set us free. IF the world outside is full of counterfeits, can we make the Church free of counterfeits? Let me mention five marks of counterfeit spirituality for us to identify.

#1 - Counterfeit Spirituality is Selective Acceptance of People

Recognize that being accepted is regardless of what we have done or not done. Being accepted is about the common identity in Christ.  It is when we are afraid to accept who we are, we pretend. We presume that others only accept a part of us. In doing so, we project a selective kind of acceptance that highlights only what we approve. That is why people gravitate toward people that they like. Selective acceptance does not build community. It sets up cliques and closed communities.

#2 - Counterfeit Spirituality is Superficial

In counterfeit spirituality, just like fake goods, it lasts only a while. When the trials and storms of tribulations arrive, the facade fades away to reveal the plain and ugly side of us. It will hurt terribly. When one's true self is laid bare, there is only embarrassment and guilt. Superficiality gives only a temporary respite. True spirituality however is truthful at all levels, not only the upper crust.

#3 - Counterfeit Spirituality is Infatuated with Things Outward
The late Francis Schaeffer notes that true spiritually is "not to be seen outward at all, but inward." In fact, the words "counterfeit spirituality" is an oxymoron for spirituality itself is inward in nature. For something that is inward, how can it be easily replicated outside? That is why we must avoid using external signs to determine true spirituality. Only God can be the final judge of true spirituality. Christians can only let signs guide them and the fruits to help them know whether they are on the path of truth. Beware of spirituality that looks good on the outward. Be more aware of what is going on inside us because God is watching us.

#4 - Counterfeit Spirituality Does Not See Truth as Primary

Like the counterfeit merchants, as long as they can sell something, everything else is secondary. When I go to bazaars in Asia, I can usually see how shiny and pleasing looking the counterfeit products are. Whether they are fake Apple chargers or imitation leather wallets, they certainly look impressive. Many of them wear out rather quickly over time. One charger I bought is practically useless as it does not produce enough current to charge any of my USB devices! In the end, I paid something for nothing! All the counterfeit agents want is our money and truth takes a back seat.

If we are serious about truth, we must beware of becoming prey to peddlers of spiritual goods that appear good but are ultimately empty. Paul warns about idols that set themselves over God. We must be vigilant against such things.

#5 - Counterfeit Spirituality Copies Rather than Creates

Sometimes I wonder. If the whole world becomes a copier, who does the creating? It will be such a boring world if we simply copy everything we see. Just take movies for example, even the best sequels will become boring after a while. Even the best copies will reach a point of diminishing returns. Only through creative ventures will the world be ravished by beauty. One of the reasons why people run out of creative ideas is because they have failed to look at God's lovely creation. There are many things to learn of nature. One example is the ray of plain white light. By itself, it is just a single ray of light. Put the same light through a prism, and we get a spectrum of colours. God has created the world. We are to be that prism to embrace, to magnify, and to be channels of creative blessings for the whole world.

THOUGHT: "To act ethically, then, is to act as if there truly are interrelated harmonies that exist among all beings as they cohere together in God. This is not only to perceive (and celebrate) the mirror of God's beauty in every single being, but to engage in 'joyful, beautifying activity' of our own. Roland Delattre observes that, for Edwards, 'beauty . . . is more fully exhibited in bestowing beauty than in receiving it." (Belden C. Lane, Ravished by Beauty, Oxford, 2011, p194)


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1 comment:

  1. Hey Conrade,

    Thanks for referencing Uncovered. This is all really close to my heart. Feel free to email anytime: