The Gospel According to Ikea: Postsecular Soul Space and Versatile Solutions for Modern Living

14 March 2012

Christopher J Wiles

writer | speaker | servant

Home is a universal human experience – most often in the context of leaving it and finding it again.  “Home is where the heart is,” we’re told, and ultimately I suspect the reverse to be true.  In either case, this old statement informs us that a commitment to one’s home is a commitment to one’s heart.

Enter “Ikea.”

If you’ve never been to Ikea, think of it as a cross between Wal-Mart and the airport.  It’s two floors of affordable, fashionable home furnishings.  In the film Fight Club, the lead character starts the film by confessing, “like so many others, I had become enslaved to the Ikea nesting instinct:”


In Charles Taylor’s Sources of the Self, he argues that man directs his energies toward forging an identity for himself:

“To know who I am is a species of knowing where I stand. My identity is defined by the commitments and identifications which provide the frame or horizon within which I can try to determine from case to case what is good, or valuable, or what ought to be done, or what I endorse or oppose. In other words, it is the horizon within which I am capable of taking a stand.”

Home is the horizon that so often gives voice to who we are.   In many ways, our struggle to “find ourselves” is a struggle to find our way back home again.  Our desire to create a “home” environment – stylish accents and all – only speaks of a desire to define ourselves and give us a sense of “place” and belonging.

So it’s no wonder that cable channels provide a panoply of programming geared toward home improvement.  Bob Villa’s “This Old House” has been far eclipsed by shows designed not just toward building and renovation, but decorating, improving curb appeal, and finding one’s “dream home.”

“[Where] do we derive identity today?” asks Barry Taylor, artist and professor:

“I contend that it is largely derived from our imagination. We shop for ‘ourselves’ in the marketplace of ever-expanding ideas brought to us when we enter cyberspace or media culture, or when we engage with the seemingly endless possibilities presented to us by a global consumer culture.” (Barry Taylor,Entertainment Theology, p. 46)

In his book Jesus in Disneyland, David Lyon speaks of the role of “consumer choice in identity construction:”

“people flitting like butterflies from store to store, and from symbol to symbol, constantly constructing themselves, trying on this fashion, this lifestyle. A sort of pastiche persona results, so the self – and life itself – becomes transient, ephemeral, episodic and apparently insignificant…flexible, amenable to infinite reshaping according to mood, whim, desire and imagination.” (quoted in Barry Taylor, Entertainment Theology, p. 47)


We live in a world that is not only post-Christian, but post-secular.  This means that for many, there is no longer a division between the sacred and the secular, between the heaven above and earthly matters below.  “There’s no line on the horizon,” as Bono intones.  Spirituality has now become a part of “a culture where personality rather than character is key” (Barry Taylor, Entertainment Theology, p. 110).

And because of this spiritual component, the idea of “home” has spiritual overtones.  We are looking not just for functional space, but soul space.  Home is more than just a habitat for our bodies, but a world inhabited by mind and soul.

This is why it’s no longer unusual for home-buyers to appeal to the spiritual principles of feng shui to find the perfect home (often following a long and seemingly arbitrary list of rules to find ways to direct the flow of energy in the home).  Barry Taylor suggests the recent appeal to oriental principles and design is found in “its ‘otherness,’ its difference.”

We are experimenting, you see, with trying to find just the right combination to find our sense of home again.  In the film Garden State, Zach Braff’s character returns home after the death of his mother.   He tells his new love interest:

“You know that point in your life when you realize the house you grew up in isn’t really your home anymore? All of a sudden even though you have some place where you put your [stuff], that idea of home is gone… You’ll see one day when you move out it just sort of happens one day and it’s gone. You feel like you can never get it back. It’s like you feel homesick for a place that doesn’t even exist. Maybe it’s like this rite of passage, you know. You won’t ever have this feeling again until you create a new idea of home for yourself, you know, for your kids, for the family you start, it’s like a cycle or something. I don’t know, but I miss the idea of it, you know. Maybe that’s all family really is. A group of people that miss the same imaginary place.”

In Christianity, this place is hardly imaginary.  Other religions say that the world is evil and that through some form of ritual or enlightenment we can escape it.  Others say that reality itself is an illusion.  But Christianity presents us with a story about a garden.  Eden was created good and perfect, yet has been defiled.  Ever since then, man has been “homesick for Eden,” longing to find his way home again.  Could it be that our obsession with Ikea, with feng shui, with home décor, all speak to a longing to return home again – to see Eden restored?

The good news that Jesus offers is that paradise is not lost, but simply awaits reconstruction.


A recent article in the New York Times observes the way that the word “random” “has morphed from a precise statistical term to an all-purpose phrase that stresses the illogic and coincidence of life.”  The author is concerned over the recent trend of young people not taking risks in travel and relocation.  His concern is that this emphasis on “randomness” suggests that young people are inclined to think that life and its success is based on chance occurrence.

But theology tells us that we are more than the flotsam and jetsam of an arbitrary universe.  In his sermon “The Weight of Glory,” C.S. Lewis writes:

 “The sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers, the longing to be acknowledged, to meet with some response, to bridge some chasm that yawns between us and reality, is part of our inconsolable secret…the promise of glory…becomes highly relevant to our deep desire. …The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last…At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendors we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumor that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.” (C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory”)

“How far is Heaven?” we asked recently.  Our attempts to recreate Eden, re-create heaven through “versatile solutions for modern living” only foreshadows the day when Lewis’ door is finally open, and we find our way home at last.

14 March 2012

Christopher J Wiles

writer | speaker | servant

Chris is a writer and speaker from the Charlottesville area. He regularly serves as a research writer for Docent Research Group in addition to doing some guest speaking.

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