Friday, October 25, 2019

To Change the World

The most important event in US history was the Great Awakening. Many of the settlers who came to America were Christians, and the awakening reinforced that influence, meaning the republic was established when the majority of people were Christian. if not in faith, at least in world view. This opened the way for Christian influence in the culture, education, government, law and most of society. The second awakening and later revivals reinforced that situation. The clergy had a strong voice into society.

That strong Christian influence is now mostly gone. The change was confirmed when the Moral Majority (not a majority) turned evangelical Christians into just another political segment. The politicians don’t give to much influence to any one segment, because that would offend others, which are equally important.

The United States now has a culture, education system, government, laws, etc, which is secular, and often anti-Christian. Politicians give a nod to God to keep this political segment on side, but they are not really serious.

Unless American Christians can bring in third great awakening (it does not seem likely, as Christians are hiding in their sanctuaries singing Halleluiah.), that is the way it will remain. Trying to return to the previous situation using political power or military force will fail. You cannot change hearts with a stick.

In his book called To Change the World, James Davison Hunter explains why recovering this situation will be much harder, due to the realities of modern pluralism. The following quotes are relevant.

Pluralism in its most basic expression is nothing more than the simultaneous presence of multiple cultures and those who inhabit those cultures. For most of human history communities and societies existed in relative isolation and thus were insulated from exogenous social and cultural influences. The operative word here is “relative” because pluralism, in fact, has existed for millennia all around the world. Ancient cities and trade routes were the meeting places of a remarkable diversity of people and culture. People did not live in cities or along trade routes, but were based in agriculture communities that tended to be very small in the number of people and limited in their geographic reach.

Yet beginning with the age of modern exploration, followed by western industrialization and urbanization and most recently the powerful forces of globalization, pluralism has emerged as one of the defining features of the contemporary world order. Pluralism has become so prominent in part because of the extraordinary growth of cities, in both their size and their number. The majority of people in the world now live in and around cities. Yet global urbanization has occurred simultaneously with the stunning growth in technologies of transportation, not only making travel easier, but rapidly increasing the mix of cultures regionally and internationally. Perhaps more significant than urbanisation and travel has been the growth of communications technologies— television, newspapers, film, and the Internet— and with it a massive flow of information. These technologies and the concomitant flow of communication and information make it impossible to avoid the plurality of cultures.

All this together means that instead of just a small minority of any given society coming into sustained contact with the differences represented by competing cultures, now the vast majority does—indeed the majority is constituted by precisely those differences... the incidence of pluralism has increased massively, which means that average people experience it more frequently and more intensely than ever before in human history.

In most times and places in human history, pluralism was the exception to the rule, where it exists, it operated with the framework of a strong dominant culture. If one were a part of a minority community, one understood the governing assumptions, conventions and practices of social life and learned how to operate with them. Because of the relative insular nature of social life, whether in the majority or the minority, one could be convinced of the superiority of one’s own believes and way of life and never really have to seriously face up to the claims of another’s...

Pluralism today—at least in America—exists without a dominant culture, at least not one of overwhelming credibility or one that is beyond challenge (p.200-201).

Pluralism make it much harder to sustain Chrisitan faith.
There is a direct relation between the cohesion of institutions and the cohesiveness of beliefs, values and world views. Strong and coherent beliefs require strong institutions enveloping those who aspire to believe. These are the conditions that turn beliefs into settled convictions. And when social conditions are unstable or when the cohesion of social life is fragmented, then the constituency and intelligibility of belief is undermined.

The social conditions supporting any particular belief system are necessarily weaker. Belief is certainly possible, but it is necessarily different. The confidence borne from beliefs that are taken for granted typically gives way to belief plagued by ambivalence and certainty. The uncertainty is not a matter of insufficient will or deficient commitment, but a natural psychological reaction to weakened plausibility structures. The social situation obligates one to choose, but once the choice is made— given the ubiquitous presence of alternatives in a market culture orientated toward consumer choice-one must reaffirm that choice again and again. These are social conditions that make faithfulness difficult and faithlessness almost natural.

Another way to describe the dilemma for religious faith is that pluralism creates social conditions in which God is not long an inevitability. While it is possible to believe in god, one has to work must charter at it because the framework of belief is no longer present to sustain it. The presumption of God and of God and his active presence in the world cannot be easily sustained because the most important symbols of social, economic, political and aesthetic life no longer point to Him.

While it is possible to be a faithful Christian believer, it requires an act of will much greater than in the past because the reminders of God’s love and judgment or his purposes in daily experience may not have disappeared, but they receded from shared public life (p.203).

A revival will not be enough to take the United States back to what it was. Massive cultural change will be necessary to make that real.

Two things will key.

  • A powerful display of the Holy Spirits power will be needed to blow open the aridity of modern pluralism.

  • Christians will need to establish strong communities that can sustain a different life in the midst of pluralistic pressures. Small groups of people will join together to support each other through the storm. This will enable them to stand together in Jesus while everything around them is being shaken. I describe how this can happen in my books called Being Church Where We Live and the Government of God.

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