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Why prosperity does not promote flourishing

Max Jeganathan wants to offer people on a treadmill a different way to feel good

Max Jeganathan wants all Australians to think deeply about where we get our sense of worth from. The son of Sri Lankan refugees who came to Australia when he was just one year old, Jeganathan is a trained lawyer who was also a social policy adviser to federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.

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Yet he has quit the corridors of power to tour Australia with Christian communication group City Bible Forum, speaking publicly about finding validation – what is it that gives us meaning, purpose and drive.

He points out that humankind in general and Australia as a nation have never more technologically, financially, materially and educationally advanced. “And yet all of the markers of flourishing and fulfilment are either stagnating or going backwards.”

“Material advancement and prosperity is not the way to existential peace and fulfilment and validation.” – Max Jeganathan

He says there is a disconnect between all that we have and how it actually shapes our lives. He rattles off a list of markers – “homicide rates, suicide rates, crime rates, domestic violence, mental ill health [such as] anxiety, depression, social dislocation” – which indicate to Jeganathan that progress on the outside has not equalled personal progress.

“What [those markers] show is, in a broader sense, material advancement and prosperity is not the way to existential peace and fulfilment and validation.”

A senior apologist with RZIM (Ravi Zacharias International Ministries), Jeganathan is charged with discussing the Christian faith in light of public life. “We’re not here to win arguments,” he explains about a common misconception about the term ‘apologist’.

“We’re trying to win people. And when you are trying to win people – and they have hostility – we have to understand that and engage with the person first.”

“People are trying to fill that hole with houses, cars, superannuation accounts, professional reputation.” – Max Jeganathan

Jeganathan is keen to engage anybody in discussing the things of life from a Christian perspective. He wants to lovingly point out what he believes we all realise. “People know, on some kind of level, that they are just on this treadmill,” he explains about the stuff of life – from paying rent or a mortgage, to working long hours and wanting to go off on holiday.

In a nod to a famous statement made by French mathematician and theologian Blaise Pascal, Jeganathan firmly believes we all have a “God-shaped hole” inside each one of us. “That’s the case in Australia, just like everywhere else. In Australia, people are trying to fill that hole with houses, cars, superannuation accounts, professional reputation, advancements in technology and all those kinds of things.

“But at a deep, deep level, if people are honest with themselves, most are quick to admit that it’s not working as well as they would like. Or as well as they were told it would work.

“There has to be something more – and I think the answer is that, yes, there is, and it comes in the person of Jesus Christ.”

Jeganathan is convinced that, even in 2018, potent questions about fulfilment, success and validation still can point us back to a famous spiritual figure who lived more than 2000 years ago. He adds that, for those who already follow Jesus, any conversation about how to live life must be fuelled by showing the love of Jesus that Christians claim to be filled with.

Barriers still exist to such an approach and Jeganathan doesn’t shy away from people who have had bad experiences of Christianity or who hold intellectual objections to it.

“I didn’t think the gospel of Jesus Christ was getting a fair run in the public space in Australia.” – Max Jeganathan

“If it is true, it has to stand up to these questions,” he says, referring to legitimate questions about suffering, existence, science or evidence. “These are questions that are not just Christian questions; everyone has these questions.”

Although he’s an amiable guy, Jeganathan is still a bit strange. Not many lawyers and social policy advisers jump off the career ladder to explain how Christianity applies to everyday life. But Jeganathan felt he had the passion and skills to speak up for what he believes.

“I didn’t think the gospel of Jesus Christ was getting a fair run in the public space in Australia,” he explains.

“I thought that was largely because of, sadly, some Christian leaders and some anti-Christian leaders who were both misrepresenting. There were mistakes being made at both ends.”

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