Those of us who confess a faith live in interesting and difficult times. Many face what they feel is persecution for their beliefs, some are even martyrs. Our prophets and preachers are sidelined and ignored. Communion is no longer a central focus of our week. We pray in the hope that our supplications might appease almighty God and that he would deliver us from both our sins and the sins of others. We’re caught up arguing about predestination, homosexuality, transubstantiation, atonement, you name it we’re arguing internally about it. We’ve gone from being a major power player in social structure, through ensuring our core focus is to evangelise the lost, to recognising the need for social action, community living, mission, and intentional discipleship.
If you understood that paragraph, read it again. And then think to yourself about what our biggest problem might be. I would argue it’s one word: communication.
As any sub-culture, Christianity has a lot of jargon. When we were in charge, this was fine. People knew what ‘sunday school’ was. People understood ‘mass’ to mean the ritual we use to celebrate Jesus’ death and resurrection, rather than assuming it was a reference to physics. But we’re not in charge any more, and people don’t understand us. Worse for us still, they’re not bothered about not understanding us.
We see this shift of attitude in our modern politics, too. People don’t care if UKIP are going to screw them over with incredibly dangerous right wing economic policy. They’re wilfully ignorant of it (or too naive to see it), preferring to blame the lack of work ethic in the UK on a handful of ‘benefit scrounging’ immigrants.
People make up their own narratives now. Instead of seeing the world as it is, we choose to see the world how we want. Fed by decades of consumerism, where we are consistently and continually manipulated to want what we can’t have and then have what we don’t need, we have become obsessed with escapism. This escapism has driven technology to previously unimaginable new places: immersive computer gaming experiences, online prostitution, technology which perpetually interrupts us and encourages us to see the world through it, Facebook “friends”, and so on.
We don’t want to live in the real world any more because the real world is too hard to accept. The problems are too big and too unsolvable. And when we realise that the reason they are unsolvable is because of those in power, we become even more keen to totally escape the world we are in and be elsewhere. So we create our own little “world”s.
So my question is this: in a world which is bloated beyond capacity with hyper or virtual reality, can Christianity offer the medicine we need: authenticity?
The problem with authenticity for the Christian sub-culture is two-fold – and depends n which end of the ‘spectrum’ you sit. Either we’ve been going for a long time, and we’re really quite stuck in our ways, with all of our jargon (see above), or we’ve spent the last 30 or so years trying to appeal to the inauthentic world with smoke machines and flashy videos, when really we should have been leading the way in authentic relationship with those around us*.
So what does the solution to this problem look like? I believe that it involves going back to the way that Jesus lived. Firstly, Jesus used the language of the day to describe who he was and what he was doing (son of God, saviour, good news – words like these were all Roman concepts). Secondly, Jesus lived a genuine life, not distracted by his work or the technologies around him. Instead, Jesus consistently focussed on relationship with others.
In order to address our status as a dying relic of the old order, Christianity (I’m coming around to admitting I’m still a part of it, reluctantly) needs to junk the jargon and stop trying to be cool. Only then, I think, will it discover its voice in a post-Christendom, post-Modern world.
* I’m aware of the irony of writing this all on a blog post rather than saying it to you over a pint. There are positives to technology, too, but what I am getting at is our over use and over consumption of it.