luxury cars and fundamentalism

Recently on this blog, my good friend Michael picked me up on my assertion that it’s not justifiable for a Christian to drive a BMW.  Partly because I really respect Michael, and partly becuase I think about this kind of thing a lot anyhow, the whole issue has been very much at the front of my mind recently, and I thought I’d share some of the points I’ve been considering.

Firstly to clarify – I use BMW as a shorthand for ‘luxury car’ – so I’m not referring to a second hand reliable long serving vehicle, I’m thinking of your ideal type luxury vehicle, which screams ‘look at me – I’m dead good and really expensive’ – you know the kind of thing I mean.

The problem with saying that Christians cant justify owning a vehicle like this, is where do we draw the line?  What can we justify in our lives?

How can I justify, for instance, the fact that I own about six different radios?  Quite easily as it turns out, I can think of lots of good reasons why its ok for me to own these radios.  As a proportion of my income over the years, they have not cost much, they serve different purposes in different places, and I get a lot out of listening to the radio.

But the truth is, I dont really need six radios, perhaps I need one, although lots of people manage without any.  So in the simple fact of owning these six radios, I place myself in the same place as the luxury car owner, who can probably find lots of ways of justifying his or her purchase.

The danger for me is that I tend to fall into the camp of a fundamentalist, finding a piece of high ground, and nailing myself to it.  In truth I know that Christianity is a religion (?) which is all about grace, love and forgiveness, based around a God who is completely unpredictable and capable of breathtaking acts of generosity to people who completely dont deserve it.  The same God in fact who apparently ordered the slaughter of many people, in circumstances I would find impossible to justify today.

All too quickly I impose my own left wing redistributive agenda on the gospel, despite knowing that God is greater.

And yet at the same time I am left with a paradox, I know what Jesus said about the way to live, I know what John the Baptiser said, I know what the Hebrew prophets said, and none of that leads me to believe that we should be driving luxury cars.

In fact the reverse is true – it makes me think that whoever has two coats (I’ve got about six – again) should give one to somebody with none.

In discussion last night with some good friends who dont share my particular slant on all this – the name of Cliff Richard was brought up.  Now let me say that despite my preference for Punk rock, and alternative music, I have a lot of respect for Cliff.  He could so easily have succumbed to the excesses of his peers, but has remained a decent guy, who gives a lot, and is a good example to those around him.

At the same time, Cliff is fantastically wealthy.  The question is, shouldnt he as a Christian live a more humble lifestyle?  My friends point was – ‘look at the way he supports charities, advocates for them, etc etc.  why shouldn’t he be allowed also to have a luxury car?’

My answer is that – ‘yes I respect what he does and has done, but wouldnt it be even greater if he was to say, ‘I dont need this wealth, I’m giving it all away and living like the rest of you”.

What a wonderful example that would set, just as Mother Theresa lived a life of simplicity, he could to, and people would look and say, ‘wow – Christianity is really radical!’ Or perhaps they would just say ‘wow – he’s a good person’.  Because while the rest of us Christians toddle around in luxury cars, and own six radios, and six jackets, it seems like those who do live totally scarificially are extremists, and Christianity for most people is about middle of the road, middle class living.

So my suggestion is that we all need to consider our lifestyles, and to give away what we have that we dont really need.  But here’s the rub – am I going to go out today and give away five radios?  No probably not.  So how can I complain that someone else hangs on to their luxury car?  I dont suppose I can really.

This is where I am at with luxury cars, I dont want to be a self righteous git, living in a self created fundamentalist bubble, placing my own definitions on what’s justifiable and what’s not… but how else can one live?

How can I say what is right and what is wrong?  How can I say (as I do) that killing is wrong?  I hear many different justifications for killing: protection of the innocent, self defence etc.  I dont personally accept these justifications, but others disagree – so whose definition of when its right to kill and when its wrong do we accept?

How can I say (as I do) ‘do justice’ – when around us we’re enmeshed in a society that lives off injustice?  And my life, my very existance, is completely tied up in that injustice?  I am an active participant in the oppression of others, just by being alive in this society.

So, to Michael and any others who didnt agree with me on the whole BMW thing, you might be right, I might be wrong, and I probably shouldnt say “Christians cant justify…” but we must be able to say there are some things that Christians cant justify?  Surely?

This stuff toubles me, genuinely troubles me, and I dont want easy answers, which come all too readily.  I’d love to get into serious debate, serious discussions, and serious thinking on all this.  I do know a bit, I have read the Bible, I have read Marx, I have read quite a bit of philosophy of one sort or another, but that matters not at all, becaue I see only through a glass darkly, and others are peering through the same glass, and from where they are standing they can see something a bit different, and that is so valuable!  At the same time though, I’ll continue saying what I see, and hopefully together we can begin to get the bigger picture.

I woke up at just before six AM thnking about this stuff this morning, which is why you’ve got all this drivvle in your blog reader – sorry about that, I hope you have a great day!  The weather here is fine, and I’m hoping to prepare a bed on the allotment to plant some Garlic before the weather gets too mild… full of excitement me 🙂

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