Sunday, May 4, 2014

Christianity in the Age of Authenticism Part I

I began this week, a possible futile, mental exercise of preparation for a class I want to do in the fall of this year.  It could be a short Sunday school class or an evening class. I prefer the evening context but I'm doubtful if many would come if not herded into the room by such a long tradition as Sunday school.

This class would be on the Renaissance.  Part of my introduction is to examine why it is important that we study culture and the history thereof. My opening statement would be that to understand this present culture, we have to understand the previous and the one before that and the one before that.  But what is the name of the present western cultural trend? I knew that we were no longer "Post-Modern."

As I did my real (not just a mental exercise) research I came across one important opinion on the matter from Prospect Magazine.  The author believes that the best title of this age is the "Age of Authenticity."

I understand where the author is coming from.  I have heard the mantra a thousand times, coming from the mouths of the 20-something generation, of "be true to yourself."  More directly, I have heard of, and actually heard people in this age talking about they want to chuck everything and simply search for the truth.  I, of course, deeply respect that.  After-all, that is exactly what I did about twenty years ago.

While this course of thought, seeking authenticity, is at least honorable, I suspect that there is a nativity that will eventually haunt many of these pilgrims. I picture it like the scene from A. I. where the robot-boy (with real artificial intelligence), played by Haley Joel Osment, is being led by robo-gigolo, played by Jude Law into this adult world of obsession and entertainment.  It is no coincidence that this place is congures up vivid memories of  Pleasure Island from Pinocchio. After all, A.I. is simply a re-telling of the same story. But as the boy, with his stuffed robotic Teddy Bear, wanders the streets, you see the conniving eyes of countless people who want to take advantage of him.

As people search for a pure truth, there are many impostors. The real problem is that we can never know pure truth due to our own limitations.  As a Christian I see the limitation as the Fall of Adam on our sense of reason.  But some will say that if you can't absolutely know pure truth, what's the point?  Why not give up and fall into a form of hopeless nihilism or an existentialism where you create your own truth. Of course that latter course is a nostalgic movement back the post-modernism.  The reason that this generation has moved beyond post-modernism is because it didn't work. When you create truth from nothing, within your own head, it is like creating paper money from nothing. It quickly has no value for even yourself.

So this brings me back to Christianity.  The Church, like all human institutions, is a chameleon, strongly reflecting the colors of the culture in which it lives. The problem with Christianity, more so than other institutions, is that they have never fully accepted one of their basic tenants, the fall of Adam on our reason and ability to know truth. So, The Church has always thought of itself as the barer of absolute and specific truth.

I will now bring this down to a personal level before having to pause. I'm very different that I was when I was an evangelical.  In the past three weeks I had several opportunities to interact with people from my past.  I sense from things said, but also I must admit, from my own projections of what I think they are thinking, that I'm either with them (just like I use to be) or I have fallen off the wagon so far, that I dare not consider myself Christian.

No, I find this strange because I still adhere, without compromise, to the fundamentals of the faith. I do believe that God is there. I believe that the Biblical scriptures are true, although not always meant to be literal. I certainly do believe that Christ came to save us and humanity is saved through him alone.

But I diverge from my friends on many cultural items.  Each of them seems to have segmented into certain sects. Some have become Catholic. Some one branch of the Presbyterian Church, some another. Some became Lutheran, some Orthodox.  The problem with that, is each seem to believe that they have settled into the one and only true church.  They seem to believe that you can know specific truth and know it absolutely.  So they know that the specific tenants of their denomination are the ones closes to the early Church.  But should the early Church be our standard?  It was a total mess.

I am certainly not a relativist. Truth matters and two opposites both can't be true. However, there are many unknowables. But, beyond the unknowing, is the intentional (by God) freedom of expression.

After visiting Istuanbul a few weeks ago and spending months studying the history of that fair city, I've fallen in love with Sophia (the church building, as in Hagia) and the Greek culture of Christianity (Orthodox) around her. But I can admire that culture in the same way I admire the Romantic Catholics of central Italy.  None of course are pure and perfect, but with their own glory and admiration.

My old friends, and I know this because I use to think the same way, that it is all or none.  You either believe that Sunday morning worship is exactly the way it should be (and the way your particular denomination does it), that contemporary Christian music is God's music, that God wanted us to bomb Iraq and elect Republicans, that Jesus is constantly doing supra-natural things around us, that there is a conspiracy of Muslims wanted to steal our babies, and that we are all emotionally perfect (so intense denial) because we are good Christians.  If you don't swallow the entire American-Evangelical-subculture, then you are lost.

But it is at this juncture the present church becomes incapable of offering those in the age of authenticity any safe-harbor. It is because the Church has lost interest in knowing the best truth that we can find, in order to support its false narratives, it is not a place for the authentic.  But it must change. I hope that this makes some sense.

I will be back if I can find a window of time again.


NOTAL said...

In addition to the early church, the church of Hagia Sophia was also messed up. I was just discussing yesterday how much of a contradiction that church is. In the one hand it is a majestic monument dedicated to the celebration of Holy wisdom, on the other hand it was almost literally built on a pile of bodies. It was only because the original hagia Sophia burned down in the massacre when emperor Justinian ordered his general, Belasarius, to slaughter 30,000 citizens gathered in the hippodrome. It was only out of this incredible act of ruthless violence that Justinian was able to build this monument.

j. Michael Jones said...

I can't imagine how many people have been tortured and killed in the name of Christ over the past 2,000 years. Of course . . . all of it appalling to Christ Himself. I can't understand why then, do people want to defend any specific denomination to the ultimate end. Enjoy the good of the particular group, with a weariness and skepticism, knowing that we are all fallen and capable of deceit.