If I desire to live a fully human, fully Christian life, what must I do? How am I to interact with a contemporary world which, despite some good attributes, is in many ways dehumanizing and anti-Christian?
The question is simple, coming up with an answer is quite difficult. Here are a couple of ideas I came up with a few months ago:
1) Learn to Unplug: If we aren’t careful, modern media sucks us into its unspoken criteria in order to pressure or manipulate us. They can in fact make us stupid. The technologies are not bad, but we do need to realize they can be dangerous. Facebook lets me be in contact with family and friends I’ve not seen in years. It also lets me insult those friends and family over stupid political arguments. Twitter gives me an occasional joke to share; it also lets me join electronic lynch mobs, or waste hours of my life reading zingers. Don’t get me started on TV.
The more I think of it, it is not a matter of only unplugging from electronic media, but also from a consumer culture. How much of our unconscious criteria centers around status, frivolities, or possessions? How much focuses on artificial needs?
2) Learn to Create Human Spaces: This is the hardest task of the Christian today: creating a parallel community that doesn’t stifle interaction with the wider culture or create a siege mentality, but allows for true friendships, education of children, service to the less fortunate, and cultural enrichment away from the barbarism that surrounds us. These spaces might be formal institutions, they might not. Christianity is not a mere cultural identifier: one is not “Christian” by the simple fact of growing up in a majority Christian nation; but it is also not a simple assent to a few lines of dogma: among other things, Christianity is and always has been a culture.
This is still the sticker for me. The last thing Christians should be doing is joining a cult (which does happen), but I suspect the future of the church in the West will be not unlike Jewish ghetto life: you are not cut off from the outside world, but your day-to-day life operates in a distinct, tightly knit subculture.
I know some charming young people with a knack for creating groups of Christian friends wherever they go. They do it consciously, with the awareness that they are helping people live better lives by creating these impromptu circles. I think that is a good start, but a circle of friends just hanging out is not a community.
Perhaps the model of the future would be more like a town center: a church, a school, a charitable institute, and, if it is going to be real, businesses, all in close proximity, that serve as the social center of gravity for the area Christians. It would have to be consciously created and maintained, given the centrifugal forces of the highly mobile American economy. A commitment to build something lasting, inter-generational, might be the only way. Someone would have to “step up” as it were and undertake to run the cafe or book store. People would have to make the conscious effort to patronize the local Christian businesses rather than the ones at the strip mall down the road.
The benefit of such a community could be a real flourishing of Christian cultural life, with a pattern of communal worship, friendship, humane economic activity (you won’t screw over your core patrons and coreligionists), even artistic development (perhaps the theme of another post, it seems like churches are the only places where a living, not an academic, classical musical tradition is being maintained in the age of i-pods). The risks would be a siege mentality, shunning the unorthodox, snooping into your neighbor’s lives, and the rise of hyper religious alpha-females who give “lesser” women a hard time, not to mention the horrors of personality cults that have befallen certain fundamentalist groups. There would have to be some kind of built-in antidote to these things. The purpose is to make one freer to be fully Christian, and that is not possible under the dominion of an enclosed group.
Such social arrangements might become as inevitable for us as they were for the Jews: just like a Jew had to go to a Kosher butcher, a Christian might, for example, be forced to go to only Christian doctors (given the direction of medical ethics) to get “fetal-tissue free” drugs, etc. More Christians will begin to think that the only way to live their faith is to, to some extent, drop out of popular culture and seek to create another.