Sunday, August 20, 2006

Religious Passion and Modernism

Last week as I traveled across a land entry to the United States I noticed that the officer seemed tense and preoccupied. Amazingly American Customs/Immigration officers are usually relaxed and friendly. Perhaps it is part of putting a person at ease so that more truthful answers come – I’m not sure. After my journey was complete I learned of the disruption of the terrorist plot in London. Was I ever glad I was driving that day, and not flying!

On cue the head scratching began in the media. These were young men who were born in England. And one was not of foreign extraction, but was a convert to the religion. Then, the now too commonplace talk about extremism and youthful alienation, but underneath one hears an unsettled befuddlement.

Truly the transformation of young British lads into terrorists is sad. But perhaps sadder still is the fact that our ruling elites, in government and media, operate on an assumption, a myth if you will, that modernism is so attractive that anyone who comes in contact with it, anyone especially who is raised in modernism, will be infected by it. But perhaps the infection works the other way.

The bacillus of tuberculosis is surrounded by a waxy substance that protects it from being killed even by many harsh chemicals. For this reason it can survive and slowly multiply in many environments. The waxy shell can even preserve the bacillus from the digestive capacity of human white cells, so that, when it first enters a human the white cells ingest it, but, inside the white cell it may live, and even multiply, and eventually eat the white cell from the inside.

The medieval religion has a strong, almost impervious shell around it, which, for want of a better word I will simply call religious passion, an absolute single minded conviction of being right.

Our elites have smugly assumed that the white cells of modernism can mop up this--and other--religious passions. Progress, modernism teaches, is inevitable. Hence, a medieval religion, with its belief in the supernatural, a code of conduct, authoritarian government, and a rejection of the very category of the secular, will, when exposed to modernism, be assimilated. But, to our elites' horror, the medieval religion is eating away at modernism from the inside. And the toys of modernism, its cell phones, chemicals, and its airplanes, are used to mock it by turning them into weapons.

So, if we, the evangelical elite, are sitting back hoping that these folks who have immigrated will just wake up and smell the coffee in our wonderful land, we too have bought into the myth of modernity. Do we think that if they just hang around long enough eventually they will wander into one of our rock and roll praise services and accept Jesus? Perhaps its time for us to wake up and smell the coffee.

What is to be done? Well, to start, I am right now reading the holy book of the medieval religion. I hope to have read it cover to cover by late fall. That is how I am starting. Why? Because I need to get serious about having intelligent, meaningful conversations about God with these folks. And I suspect that when others, perhaps hundreds our thousands,also begin such conversations,we will discover how shallow our modernist and our post-modernist apologetic are, and then perhaps we will begin a new hermeneutical journey and the design of a relevant apologetic.

In my blogs I am trying to raise questions, rather than give solutions. I am thinking out loud, which as I understand it is part of what blogs are for. I invite any who stumble across this to join in this thinking.

1 comment:

Rooster said...

No stumbling here. Looking and searching through your questions intentionally, and excited to read another post.

I find myself at an odd place of tension between the modern world and somewhere else. I could never put my finger on it or define too well the tension that I felt. Then I was exposed to a presentation that helped me.

At this years Canadian Pacific DITS, the DS (Dave Hearn) showed us a media clip. It was about 3 or 4 minutes in length, and was a presentation by a poet named LaDonna Witmer. She was making a presentation to Willow Creek church describing the characteristics of her as a 20-something seeker of God and how those characteristics might be painted across the breadth of people this age and younger. (The key there being people who have potentially grown up in an environment where modernity is not necessarily the accepted norm. So that would qualify basically gen-x-ers and younger) As a poet, she seemed more than apt, as her carefully word-smithed presentation was far beyond just sufficient in portraying and presenting the values potentially embraced by "non-moderns" of a younger age, and how those "non-moderns" still crave for a connection to those who came before us. (I'm now using pronouns that include my person in describing her as an obvious overtone and herring as to where I'm going)

Dave Hearn used the clip to express his passion for reaching people outside of the "modern box". He wanted to fire up other leaders in the district with the vision that he had. I watched that clip over and over, and I finally found wonderful words to my thus-far undefined tension. (The clip, btw, is called "This Is Who I Am"... I think. I'm working off of memory here atm.)

Having someone else's words that resonated so clearly in me, I found myself being able to categorize (a very modern reaction eh? Heh...) how I was raised, and the disciplines built into me by a lifetime of socialization by much older, established "moderns" and how at the same time the world around me seemed to be at war with itself to break free of these defining variables. (It seems many of these battles still rage on now, and I love your tuberculosis analogy) While pondering and categorizing, I discovered more of myself, thought about processes that I went through, and just was deliberate about self-awareness in ways I hadn't been before.

So armed with my superior sense of awareness, and being so smart, and informed now, you know what I have found? That all those non-religious types that I still associate with haven't changed. And I haven't really changed to them. And when we sit down and eat tacos or pizza our conversations are the same now as they were prior to my great revelation.

Am I discouraging self-discovery or embrace of the "post-modern" (oh how I hate that term sometimes)? Of course not. I think that the self-discovery just needs to be done more-so by the religious than the non-religious. Us religious types seem to suffer from the disease of inflexibility far more than those outside of our established little clubs. I think the world (outside of religious faith that is) is leaving modernity behind in a far quicker fashion than those in our little religious bubbles. (**insert topical examples, stemming back as far as the late 60s here.**) McLaren, Miller, Bell, Giglio, and some others are trumpeting calls that need to be trumpeted. (Ooooo....aren't we all impressed with my relevant, slightly edgey yet oh so mainstream-based name-dropping?) Return to community. Return to relationship. Drop the systematic symptoms of the "modern disease". I'm simply more convinced than ever that the trumpet calls just need to be made in our churches more than anywhere else. (On that note, good on Bono from U2. I saw his interview with Hybels at the latest Willow Leadership Summit. Talk about leaving the trappings of modernity behind!)

So like Dr. Pyles, I just wanted to air my thoughts. I think best outloud. (Not so safe all the time, as I've learned in my short life) Just tootin' the ol' horn here too I suppose.