Tuesday, September 6, 2016
It is not a void we battle. . .
They do not abandon all meaning but have chosen to eschew the eternal for the meaning of the moment. It may not appeal to me or to you but they see it as a legitimate and alternative reality that satisfies them -- at least for now since nothing in the moment is ever more than momentary. It is not that they find no need for the eternal -- they are perfectly willing to let the eternal be the choice of those who reject the present but they do not reject the present. They are satisfied with the moment -- with the dizzying pace of change as a goal as much as the actual outcome or purpose for that change. They dread boredom as much as death -- could death be the ultimate boredom? So they delight in choice, in the supremacy of personal preference, and in a life which is defined by the moment.
In addition, they have come to terms with individualism. They see themselves as solitary organisms who define their own lives and who live to fulfill their own pursuit of happiness and pleasure. These may or may not include family and community in the real sense of neighborhoods and personal relationships or they may be satisfied with the virtual friendships and community of social media, of gaming partnerships, and of screens. It may not be my cup of tea but it is clearly theirs.
The church is not doing battle with meaninglessness but combating an alternative meaning of happiness, pleasure, and life. This is somewhat true of young women but perhaps more true of young men. Yet it is true. The church does not wrestle with despair or hopelessness as much as she does battle with an individualism captive to a moment -- and one which is, for the present, satisfying to those of a certain age.
We cannot engage those people by adapting or adopting something that is similar to their own world of individualism and the moment. We cannot distract them by offering competing entertainment to the vast video world they already know. But neither can we win them over by complaining about them or dismissing their choice of self and the moment. We have to do much more. We need to re-engage them on another playing field. They may not come to us but we dare not masquerade as one of them in some attempt to bait and switch them into orthodox Christianity. We must be true to the Gospel and authentic in every way (doctrine and life).
The moment works best for those who have no real expectation of or experience with suffering, with grief, or with death. It is easier to be satisfied with the moment when you do not look into the mirror and see that life has brought you to its final chapter. It is easier to accept a solitary life yoked to others through technology and media when you are a master of that technology. But that does not mean that this generation is already immune to questions of hope and community. We need to recognize those questions in the forms they take and address them with the one hope of Christ crucified and risen and the real community of life together as the baptized. We cannot escape from their world and we cannot allow them to think they can escape from the world of need that has found answer in the Incarnate Son of God who redeems us from captivity to a moment so He might make us eternal in Him.
Europe may have chosen a secular identity over its Christian past but those Christians who mirror the culture of the moment and glory in the individual have surrendered Christian identity on another altar. Neither should go unchallenged by the real alternative of hope, redemption, a clear conscience, life now, and eternity. One last thing. Even old curmudgeons like me have to wake up and realize that we are not entirely aloof from the age we abhor but are also embedded within this fabric and shaped by its ideals.