Luxury Beliefs and Status-Seeking

In some wealthy Persian cultures, such as the United Arab Emirates, keeping wild cats as pets is a status symbol. Wealthy businessmen commonly pose for Instagram pictures on their luxury convertibles beside pet lions or leopards. Human beings have always loved to project status. The same impulse that motivated ancient kings to erect statues of themselves throughout their empire motivates the Crossfitter to publish his personal records to his social media followers. We want others to perceive us as a person of significance. We want honor and respect from the people around us.

Different cultures have different ways of projecting status. Historically, we’ve projected status through means of wealth, rank, attractiveness, or intelligence. Not that long ago, Americans were proud of owning their own house, their own car, or of being the first in their neighborhood to own a TV. How do you project status, however, in an affluent culture where it seems like everyone around you already has everything? How do you stand out from the crowd?

Last week, I came across the concept of “luxury beliefs.” Rob Henderson argues that while we used to communicate status through luxury goods, Americans are increasingly turning to luxury beliefs to fill that goal. He defines luxury beliefs as “ideas and opinions that confer status on the rich at very little cost, while taking a toll on the lower class.”

As an example of a luxury belief, he uses the view that all family structures are equal. Research overwhelmingly shows that children born within traditional monogamous marriages thrive by every unit of measurement over alternative family structures. However, increasingly, affluent progressives—many of whom have benefitted from being born into traditional families—project status by publicly renouncing traditional views on family. Ironically, the people perpetuating such views rarely live by them. Meanwhile, those who follow the advice of the affluent influencers and live by their projected views often suffer as a result.

The practice of using beliefs to communicate status, however, is not confined to the Progressive Left. A few years ago, I read about a study that linked increased road rage with people who adorn their cars with stickers. How do you explain that connection? My best guess: Sensitivity about status and identity often correlates with short tempers. People who feel the need to project identity markers on their windshields often operate with a status-seeking view of the world. They are sensitive about being recognized as a certain type of person. The content of the sticker does not matter. “Let’s Go Brandon” and “Co-Exist” are both status projections. Those drivers may be on opposite sides of the political spectrum, but they are both seeking public recognition by plastering their beliefs on their F-150 or Prius.

In a culture where affluent people seek status by identifying with certain beliefs, the all-important question of the rightness of beliefs takes a back seat. It doesn’t matter if your belief is true or right if it’s gaining you the recognition you’re seeking or identifying you with the group with which you wish to be identified. Using beliefs for status imperils our ability to choose beliefs based on objective standards of right or wrong, and human society cannot flourish if truth and righteousness are no longer the standards by which we act.

In recent days, Fox News paid a $787.5 million settlement to Dominion Voting Systems because their on-air personalities purposefully perpetuated the lie of a stolen presidential election in 2020 despite proof that they knew the election was not stolen. Hosts like Tucker Carlson were willing to broadcast a lie because they believed their audience wanted to hear it. They used a false belief to uphold their status as a Republican news source. In other words, truth took a back seat to status.

As Christians, we must be willing to hold unpopular beliefs based on the criteria of truthfulness and righteousness. Status must never be the controlling factor for our beliefs. In fact, I would argue status should not matter at all. We believe what we believe because God, who cannot lie, has revealed truth to us. When it comes to evaluating truth claims, the Bible points us to one criterion: “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10). When we speak, “we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts” (1 Thessalonians 2:4). If we’re seeking status, we’re not seeking God. Choose which one, but you can’t have both.

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