Friday, 20 September 2013

Why the shallowness of modern life? Lessons for Christian evangelism

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From commenter Adam G:

People content themselves with shallowness because they are afraid.

They are afraid that if they confront ultimate questions they will find that life is meaningless.

It isn't a conviction of nihilism that makes our culture the way it is. It's a worry that nihilism may be right.


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This analysis strikes me as highly insightful; and it has lessons.

Christians need to demonstrate by their living that there are real answers to the ultimate questions- I don't mean that this should be acted or expounded, but that the whole mode of interaction should be suffused by the light of these answers.

But this is not the same as being able to answer any and every question, especially not to answering every question to the satisfaction of the questioner - that is impossible, and the process of questioning tends to reinforce the false world view of the questioner.

Rather it is a matter of letting it be known that a Christian does have the answers, that the answers are wonderful - and that they are real.

We are talking about realities -  and the discussion is about realities.

Realities does not mean that the evidence for this interpretation of reality is overwhelming and irrefutable and compels acceptance - but that Christian answers are solid in every way.

(Christianity itself is irrefutable - but the evidence-for Christianity is not so. That is in the nature of things, including science. Any specific item of evidence can always be challenged, reframed, refuted - thus evidence as a whole can always be broken down into specific items and - supposedly - 'refuted' piecemeal.)

But the most important way that Christian answers are solid is that:

Being Christian enables a person to confront the ultimate questions of life - fearlessly.

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9 comments:

Thursday said...

I have to say know. People are irreligious because their minds and senses have been dulled. You don't say of someone on a mind dulling drug that they are fearful. It's ridiculous.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Th - I presume you mean 'no' rather than 'know'.

But it isn't ridiculous - you are simply adding a further layer of complexity, which begs the question of why people get themselves addicted to the mass media, why they deliberately (and at great cost in time, life, resources) ramp-up their addiction, and why they make no attempt to cure their own addiction.

The reason is probably because they believe that an addicted life is better - or that there is nothing else better (since there is no God): and that reality is worse than addiction.

This seems like a profound truth to me. Addiction cannot be addressed until there is something better 'on offer' on the other side of the cure.

Nicholas Fulford said...

A person does not have to be Christian to ask the difficult questions, and to seek a deeper experience of life.

The problem is not one of religion but of ennui. Without noble struggle, decadence is often the inevitable outcome, in which event Camus is correct, and there is no reason not to kill oneself. However, we each have the capacity to engage in the noble struggle, to find humility and meaning through laying down the false forms and symbols to which our society encourages us to pledge allegiance.

Consumerism is a more vacuous than inter-galactic space, and to be entertained is hardly a worthwhile aim. And yet, how many are there who refuse to step out of the bubble of a spoon-fed lethargy, to put aside being a consumer, and to instead be a vital person? It is like Plato's cave, and the majority are entranced by shadows on the wall, and they would no sooner step outside of their homogenized, sheep-pen than jump over the moon.

We must find the hero within, and be willing to leave behind the certainty of prison for the uncertainty of the unknown country, the place that beckons, but to whom so very few pay heed.

How sad the empty life that is so easily entranced by tin and quartz as though gold and diamond.

Bruce Charlton said...

@NF - "A person does not have to be Christian to ask the difficult questions, and to seek a deeper experience of life. "

But without acknowledging the reality of divine revelation, all this is mere transitory opinions caused by contingent processes of which we know nothing.

The stark choice is revelation or nihilism.

Bruce Charlton said...

@NF - To understand my previous remark this may be useful

http://www.columbia.edu/cu/augustine/arch/nihilism.html

But it is just a fact. As Dostoievsky said: Without God anything is permitted.

He might have added, 'because nothing is known'.

That is the modern condition.

Wm Jas said...

I disagree with the last sentence. If "being Christian" means being absolutely certain that Christianity is true, such that no conceivable discovery could ever make you change your mind -- then, yes, it allows you to confront the ultimate questions of life fearlessly. In other words, the big questions aren't scary if you no longer consider them to be questions.

But for most people, confronting the big questions means confronting the possibility that the answers aren't what you think they are. A Christian confronting life's ultimate questions runs the risk of "discovering" (rightly or wrongly) that Christianity is not true after all. As Adam says, they are afraid that nihilism may be right, and they don't want to run the risk of finding that out.

Actually, it should be the nihilist, not the Christian, who can confront ultimate questions without fear -- because what does he have to lose? Anything would be better than what he believes now! The Christian, on the other hand, has a great deal to lose, and I suspect this makes it very difficult for serious Christians to confront the big questions in an honest way.

Bruce Charlton said...

@WmJas - I think you are conflating things here.

Certainty of belief is not the same as knowing for sure that no conceivable discovery can (as a matter of fact) make you change your mind - that is an unverifiable empirical prediction. For example, a person may be certain of the truth of Christianity but may develop endogenous depression and - because of the illness - lose faith; or they may have brain damage, or dementia, or take a mind-bending drug.

So, certainty is a here and now thing and cannot be otherwise.

Your focus is on the individual feeling that they are putting their belief system at risk - but I think the wrongness of the predictions you get from this (eg you seem to predict that modern nihilists should be always discoursing on the ultimate questions since they do not fear them - when the whole premise of this discussion is that they never do this and instead they divert themselves with shallow trivialities) shows that there is *something* wrong with your argument.

A confident Christian is motivated to examine the ultimate questions, not least because he believes they are understandable, that he can himself understand them, and that the increase in understanding he expects to attain will be useful and joyful.

A nihilist expects to gain nothing from examining ultimate questions - except perhaps to have his nose rubbed in the vertiginous meaninglessness of everything and make himself feel even worse - hence he dedicates life to NOT thinking about the ultimate questions.

Ben Nye said...

"Actually, it should be the nihilist, not the Christian, who can confront ultimate questions without fear -- because what does he have to lose? Anything would be better than what he believes now! The Christian, on the other hand, has a great deal to lose, and I suspect this makes it very difficult for serious Christians to confront the big questions in an honest way."

@ Wm Jas - But what about hell? Doesn't this fundamentally change things and make the Christian eschatology much harder to accept?

I readily admit that when I add hell into the equation, and I mean, really add it; dwelling on what it would be like to be in a place of eternal suffering, the Christian belief structure becomes much easier to dismiss as untrue. Thinking about some of your friends and family suffering for eternity is not a pleasant thing, but must be addressed by 'orthodox' Christians.

@ BC - I don't know if you've heard of Louis CK. He's a profoundly funny and gifted comedian in America. He's also very honest and a person I sympathize with, but he is vulgar and a nihilist!

This clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5HbYScltf1c Is I believe, a perfect articulation of the nihilism that underpins the distraction of our age. It also depicts why it is so difficult to turn away from the distraction.

Misanthropist said...

A major cause of the superficiality of modern life is that political correctness has extended such a grip over debate that most of the really difficult existential problems of life are effectively off limits to meaningful debate. And because of the extent to which many issues have become dominated by compulsory falsehoods perpetrated by PC, it is more difficult to delve deeply into any particular issue without conflicting with some compulsory falsehood.

When you have a society where all the difficult realities of life have effectively been taken off the table for meaningful consideration, what are you left with? A kind of bland and vacuous shallowness, where there is not much to do other than to maximise idle pleasures and distractions.