December 14, 2004

Adventures in Missing the Point

So I know that in the past I've kinda knocked around liberals a bit, and probably rightly so. But this time I have a bone to pick with conservatives. Particularly, the Christian right.

Now, I'm a Christian. And I'm pretty conservative. So why, you ask, would I be picking a bone with the people who I support?

See, I got this email today that seems to kind of embody the entire Christian culture modernist attitude that I can't stand. I had never really liked Christian culture since I was introduced to it a few years ago when I moved to my new church, but the church itself doesn't really encourage modernist thought, so much as a lot of its older members are rooted in modernism. The email said something along the lines of "the Passion of the Christ movie is up for some award, let's show hollywood how much we like it".

I almost threw up.

They just don't get it! If they think that some movie about Jesus is going to make everyone nicer towards them so they can feel more "in", they've got another thing comin' to them. I really liked the Passion, it deeply moved me on an aspect of Jesus I'd never really thought of before. Suffering is a tough subject, and while a lot of more liberal Christians said "we didn't need that, the suffering wasn't the point, Jesus is supposed to make us happy so let's all be happy," I tend to think that Christ is a whole lot bigger; the suffering was just as important as the resurrection, but just as important as His life on earth. No one aspect can be really taken on its own, but one can only do so much in a two hour movie, so Mel Gibson picked one aspect that usually gets ignored by modernists and went with it. Kudos to him, I enjoyed it. Well, not enjoyed it, more like sickened by it (which I think was partially the point), but was moved by it and felt like I learned something important.

What the email so perfectly showed was the modernist attitude: "everyone should like Christianity, aren't we so nice? We're just as much fun as secular culture, and we really want you to like us. In fact, we really want you to join us, so don't worry, you don't have to invest yourself, you can just come along for the fun and talk about Jesus and how happy He makes us all. We'll sing some trendy songs, we'll talk about love and peace, we'll invent some really great phrases to show that you're part of the "in-group," not those silly pagans that run America."

Your horrified stares amuse me.

Yeah. I know, it's frightening. It's from the modernists that we get Christian bookstores, Christian radio, Christian merchendising, Christian ... fill in your own blank here, I think that anything that is labeled as repulsively "Christian" by most of today's culture is probably a result of modernists. This isn't entirely true, but one could make a fairly sweeping generalization and get away with it without arguing too hard.

They missed the point. Entirely. I haven't read Brian McLaren's Adventures in Missing the Point yet, but I'm sure it addresses this issue. Modernist Christians got absorbed in their little culture. They decided that they were tired of being harassed, so they invented their own "in-group" (to speak psychologically) and rejected the secular culture which threatened their safe existence.

It's not about being safe. Nor is it about feeling good. Yes, Christ is the joy within us; I was reminded of that this weekend in a sermon. But people, joy doesn't have to make you feel good in a happy-go-lucky sense. Joy makes us radiate. Joy isn't happiness, because Joy doesn't come from our surroundings. I could be entirely miserable with the world I live in, I could be tortured and flayed and burnt, and yet I could still be joyful. Likewise, I could be happy, but not joyful.

Modern Christianity missed a lot. They made it about themselves - about being safe, about being happy, about being accepted. Ironically, the only thing that happened was that they became another, albeit more boring version of the secular culture in which they lived.

I'm a postmodernist. It was only recently when I started researching "postmodern Christianity" (a term that I use lightly, since it's just a word to apply a lot of old concepts to a new generation) for my senior honors thesis that I realized what had bugged me about modernists. I had never been able to quite put words to it, but every church I went to that encouraged this "safe-and-happy" mentality bugged me.

Now, postmodernism does encourage "christian culture." But it's nothing like the modernist culture. Instead of the "we'll all be safe together" mentality, it's "do life together in a community." The modernist mentality sprung from a similar concept (who knew, it was drawn from Acts 2), but somehow they missed the part where it says that it's not about the community. Ancient manuscripts by Justinian (the Roman emperor at the time) show this quite clearly. He gets all frustrated with the Christians for more or less showing him up - during all of the many plauges that hit Rome in the first and second century, they not only took care of their own sick, but also all of the Roman sick! They were so focused on helping PEOPLE that they didn't distinguish between those who believed and those who didn't.

That's the biggest part of modernism that screwed up - they succumbed to the "us-them" mentality of secular culture. All of this springs from this problematic attitude. Jesus made no distinction between the pharisees and Rome. In fact, he was more harsh with His own people because they knew better! He even calls the Pharisees "sons of Hell" at one point. Frankly, the picture was reminiscent of the modernists - legalism to the hilt. You gotta DO everything right (which didn't happen) even if your HEART isn't right. It became so focused on the individual that they forgot about everyone else - EXACTLY what Jesus says NOT to do.

It's not about you. Really. I mean, it's great that God is so forgiving, but stop worrying about your own purity and go help somebody! With the right heart, stuff will start falling into place a lot better than you might think - and you won't even notice.

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