Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Digital religion. . .

The great temptation has been to make faith a thing of the mind.  Rationalism was its movement but long after the movement was gone, we cling to the idea that faith primarily entertains the mind with explanations and justifications and truths that appeal to our desire to know.  While this was more predominate in the past, it has left its mark upon the nature of Christianity and how Christians view the Church.

During the pandemic, we traded the religion of Christ for one of the mind -- an explanation of what was happening to us and how to find our way out of the mess.  We listened to the voices, captive to every word.  Masks, social distance, vitamin therapy, odd drugs that might work against it, vaccines -- you name it.  So we watched religion as if it were a show on TV and listened with ears wanting to hear the words, the right words, that would lead us out of this curse.

Strangely enough, the religion of the mind is always associated in some way with the religion of the heart.  Rationalism as a movement was accompanied and then, seemingly, replaced by pietism.  Just as rationalism is mostly gone as a movement, so is pietism.  But it left us with the baggage of its time and it has woven itself into the fabric of the faith.  We listened with ears for answers for the mind but we were happy to hear words that drew out the feelings of our hearts.  When those answers did not give us what we wanted, we were content to live within realm of feelings -- even if those feelings could not change what we were going through we might feel better anyway.

During the pandemic, religion honed its therapeutic role to help us sort through our feelings and to console us and give us hope.  Absent the concrete answers that could reason this time out for us, the faith of the screen offered us something to feel good about it.  At that point we were probably content with a distraction that felt good anyway.

The digital substitutes for in person worship will probably not go away.  They have been championed by those who saw the numbers in the pews decline and who were heartened by the success of the screen offerings.  All of this helped the transition away from the sacramental to what we think and what we feel.  All of this hastened the move from the Word to what satisfied our curiosity and what consoled our longings.  Worship was already on a move from the theological and sacramental to the individual and anthropological but this movement was hastened by the restrictions against in person gathering and the judgment that such in person worship was neither essential nor beneficial when technology provided an alternative easy and already normal in our techno world.

An age of spiritual but not religious people with their mindset influenced all the churches not simply in the areas of worship and its practice but also in the way we view and use Scripture and doctrines distilled from that Word.  We have come to believe that communion is no longer a matter of eating and drinking with the body but something that happens inside our heads and inside our minds.  Perhaps we have no practical association with the dualism of ancient cultures but we have certainly come around to the idea that the spirit is good and the body is secondary to the practice of the faith.  So the goal of the faith is to fill the mind and give experience to the heart and when the mind needs no more filling and the heart no longer is moved by the experience, the person moves on to something that will continue to fill the mind and warm the heart.  It could very well be that in such a progression, the day will come when actual worship attendance will be obsolete and the digital practice of the faith will replace the in person gatherings entirely -- at least in the minds of some people and on the part of some churches.  

All of this, of course, stands in stark contrast to the incarnational message of Advent and Christmas.  He is satisfied not with symbol or image but with real flesh and real blood.  While some may be content with a digital reality, God is not and if He is not, should we be?  Much to think about here. . . 

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