articles forge

Originally published on the Forge Scotland blog.

Any budding church planter must also devote himself to being an analyst of culture. There are many different ways to do this. I have previously1 mentioned Walt Mueller, an American who yearly watches the MTV Awards to peer through the “cultural window”2. Another route, probably one that is much more entertaining, is to watch the more narrative-based, cultural stand-up comedians - shows like Russell Howard’s Good News3, or Dave Gorman’s “Modern life is Goodish”4 can provide a great insight into the secular culture around us.

Recently, however, I’ve taken to thinking about adverts. I’ve been a fan of television advertising for a long time - these 30 second vignettes often stay in our minds long after the programme they interrupted has vanished from memory. I could wax lyrical about a number of adverts, but for today I would like to consider a small subset - bank adverts - and some disturbing cultural trends:

Natwest/RBS Cashback Plus

This is a fairly standard advert for a current account. But considering that TV adverts are usually aiming at mainstream audiences, and thus retain a certain level of conservatism, I think it’s very telling that here we have an advert where one of the “lead” characters is in a same-sex relationship. This probably isn’t a surprise to anyone, but I feel it is an underlining of what is now a “cultural norm”5.

Halifax First-Time Mortgages

Halifax is not the only offender in this category. Given the massive meltdown of finances across the western world, why would I trust a bank that “offers a first-time buyer a mortgage every 3 minutes”? Isn’t that what got us into this problem in the first place? Actually, no. Ultimately, it isn’t. House ownership is the UK equivalent of the American Dream. An Englishman’s house is his castle, we’re told. Owning a house becomes a thing that everyone aspires to, but we’ve ended up with a system that encourages people to go into massive amounts of debt at a young age. Is this a Christian value? Only a generation ago I think you would have found a significant minority, if not a majority, of evangelical Christians who would avoid many forms of credit - credit cards, loans, and yes, sometimes even mortgages. These days it seems to be difficult to find anyone without any (or all of these)6. This makes me sad.

Barclays Family Springboard

Again, Barclays is not the only provider in this category. Television views of family life have always been a bit distorted, but the increasingly common viewpoint we see in bank adverts (and popularised in TV shows like “The Bank of Mum and Dad”) show a father having to put up with the increasing financial demands of his daughter. Is it any wonder that we live in a culture of financial mismanagement if parents actually act this way - giving in to every whim of their child? Worse, we’re now being encouraged to stump up for little Tommy/Tammy’s first mortgage too, chaining them to the property ladder before they even have the financial muscle to maintain it. Particularly given recent reports that adolescence is extending itself to the age of 257, is this wise?

We live in a culture of familial and financial confusion. As a church, part of our response is to bring healing to those left broken, both relationally and financially, by the wayside. But we must also be Christus Exemplar - showing Christ’s example to the world, and shrugging off the false idols of society, be that money, or self, or home-owning, or children.

  1. Nothing New Under the Sun 

  2. Lessons from the 2013 VMAs 

  3. Russell Howard’s Good News (Note that the content can veer towards ‘adult’ in most shows) 

  4. Modern Life is Goodish 

  5. Note that cultural norms are based more on cultural perception than statistical reality. Stats on homosexuality are very difficult to calculate, although the Office of National Statistics said recently that it was about 1.5% of the UK population. Cultural perception, on the other hand, tends to put it much higher. 

  6. I, it must be confessed, have all 3. Despite being brought up in a family that had (and has) none. 

  7. Is 25 the new cut-off point for adulthood? This is not something we should just accept. I stand with Mark Driscoll on this, that we should fight this trend. (See The World is Filled with Boys who can Shave among other articles) 

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