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In the latest Grove Ethics booklet, Rhona Knight explores the desire for self-improvement or perfection in contemporary Western culture. This manifests itself in numerous ways, including cosmetic surgery, testing babies for any possible 'defect', body-building, performance-enhancing drugs (for studying), and many others. There are many cultural drivers, including the media, the need for self-esteem, invidualisation, progress, and technology, which we are rarely willing to say no to.
Christianity is often portrayed as opposing all of these, and hence being out of date, but has a more nuanced view: progress needs to be in the right direction and have the right motivation. It teaches that creation was originally good, is broken, and that healing can bring freedom (Luke 4:18-19) - and indeed that scientific progress can be part of this. But it also warns that an excessive desire for perfection moves us away from a view of an intrinisic dignity of humanity and a transformation in Christ to one in which we are oppressed by a consumer identity and obliged to conform to the standards and desires of the world. Instead of seeking meaning in the world, we see it in ourselves.
The answer is the Biblical idea of shalom, in which we seek God and peace and healing in the world, but on God's terms, not ours. We should look for perfection in our inner life, not in our physical appearance: 'We do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day (2 Cor 4:16)'.
1. Ethics in Brief March 2017 - Ancient Laws for New Challenges: The Ten Commandments as a Critique of Inequality Mark Glanville
2. KLICE Comment March 2017 - Illiberal Liberals?
3. KLICE News March 2017.
4. KLICE award-holder and Research Associate organising conference at Aberdeen University on 'Joy and Prosperity'
5. Report of CORAB symposium available.