Tuesday, October 24, 2006

2. Finding God Again: Changing Times

In the next few blogs, I want to describe how I see society as having changed in the time I have been a priest, examine a specific example from the popular media that illustrates these changes for me, look at how some are describing the change at a philosophical level, and then look at the ways some in the Church, myself included, have responded to this change in the way we do Church. This will bring us to the movement I mentioned on Friday!

In other words, having written about how our view of God has changed, I want to retrace my steps and look at how society has, and is, changing. The two are closely related. Thank you to everyone who has sent me comments. They do help focus my thoughts even if it doesn’t always seem like it! I am intrigued why I can’t persuade you to post your comments here as well though!!!

I aim to post again on Thursday.

I recently preached a sermon in which I asked the congregation how many of the following, in no particular order, were around when they were growing up:

ipods and mp3 players
mobile phones
DVDs and CDs
internet and websites
cable or satellite TV
instant messenger
chat rooms

As the children and teenagers in our Church were meeting separately, the answer was somewhat predictable. Almost none of the above were around when many of us were teenagers and only a few were around when some of us were. The PC was first released by IBM in the year I was ordained deacon, 1981. Technological change, which was already moving apace, has accelerated since then and with this technological change has gone a corresponding social change.

Admittedly, this applies mainly to the western world, in parts of Africa, for example, life has been very much the same as usual, that is, poverty and starvation. There are signs, however, that what has happened in the western world will eventually reach the rest of the world. I was in India last year and mobile phones seemed to be the must have thing there in the way they were when I visited my family in the UK. Young people today are growing up in a culture of ‘infotainment’, technology, and communication. This culture is not value free. It communicates values as well as information. There is a philosophy and ideology that goes with it.

This technological change has come on the back of a widespread rejection of Christian values. When I was ordained, it was common to talk of secularization, but the fact remained that people still had some understanding of the Christian faith, even if it had very little effect on their lives. There were shared values based on centuries of Christian influence. People knew the stories of Jesus and the rest of the Bible for that matter.

This simply is not true any more. Jesus, for many people, is a swear word and no more. Biblical illiteracy is not just common, it is the norm. Christian explanations of reality are just not accepted. The Church is appreciated by some for the good community work it does, but it is hardly a place where people go to get answers to life’s questions. Indeed, for an increasing number of people there are no questions that go beyond this life. This life is life, and it is within this life that we find meaning. There is no need to look for answers outside of it. There really is no hell below us and above us is only sky. And for many people, this is all there needs to be. It’s not a problem.

They are happy chatting endlessly on the mobile, texting, or emailing family and friends. It is family and friends who give them all the support and encouragement they need. People find all the meaning they need in their relationships. This doesn’t mean that things don’t go wrong, it’s just that they don’t need all this heavy talk about God to deal with it. Inasmuch as people do believe in God, it is the Benevolent God, who is simply another member of their social networks.

I am a beautiful person, life is not a dress rehearsal, I want to be happy now. Yes, things can be tough at times, but my family and friends are there for me. It’s nice to think that there may be a God who loves me too, that’s kind of comforting. It’s not for you to tell me how to live my life, and I won’t tell you how to live yours. Let’s just try to get on with one another as best we can. Life’s too short to worry. Why have regrets? Move on!

This all seems very obvious as a description of where people are. Not everyone, of course, but certainly a significant number. By inventing the Benevolent God, we have shown ourselves to be both part of the change as well as responding to it. But while some may be willing, inside the church and out, to include this God as part of their world view very few want to let him/her define their world view. And that’s a big problem for us in the Church.

I ask myself: how much has God figured in my life today? To what extent have my movements, choices, and decisions been affected by my belief in him? How conscious am I of his presence in my life? How much has he become the unconscious force that shapes all I think and do?

That I can ask these questions of myself is a start and that you have bothered to read them shows you care. But, I hope, you see my point.

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