Sunday 17 December 2017

Some ideas for Christian evangelism

If I am correct that alienation is the major problem in modern societies, the Christian evangelism will need a new strategy.

What I am discussing is not a new way of reaching people, but what we say to people when we have reached them.

Alienation is partly lack of meaning, purpose and connectedness; and partly a general deadness, dullness, materialism and two-dimensionality in life and consciousness.

In other words alienations has (at least) two aspects: metaphysics and thinking

Modern metaphysics entails basic assumptions of Life as meaninglessness, purposelessness and our-selves as isolated; these are inescapable consequences because we have already assumed them to be reality. 

Modern everyday work-and-leisure thinking is passive; lacks depth, breadth and scope; is disconnected and impatient; prefers novelty to creativity; prefers quantity to quality; craves stimulation over creativity.

Too often the observable Christian Life is every bit as alienated as mainstream modern life; or even-more-so, since the Christian is a hated or despised outsider with respect to the modern project.

Christianity is often presented as a set of beliefs - which are inserted into the typical modern mode of thinking; or practices - which (whether enjoyable or tedious) fail to provide any transcendent experience; or social engagements - that are just like other social engagements, but with different personnel.

In sum, observation suggests that most Christians think and experience in a manner qualitatively undistinguishable from that of mainstream modern secular people.

For a person living in chronic, demotivating, despair-inducing alienation - even-if ordinary Christianity gave everything it claims to give, it fails to address The Problem.

What the mass of modern people actually have is the Iron Cage of bureaucracy at work, the superficial distractions and shock-culture of the mass media in leisure, and the hedonism of  (often sexual) relationships in their daydreams...

What people crave is a higher, deeper, richer, purposeful and integrated, more-divinely transcendent experience of living. Christianity can give this - to a partial but significant extent: That is the message evangelicals could attempt to convey. 

Christian evangelism needs to show, and to provide the possibility of, at least some proportion of a person's individual experience becoming a real Life of meaning and purpose; in spiritually-felt connectedness with people and environment and the divine; lived by means of an active, satisfying, whole and creative way of thinking. 

This comes from a mixture of new assumptions and a new way of thinking. That should be the content of evangelism.

To depict this kind of Christianity would be to offer 'a cure' for what most-people most-feel most-need of curing.


Chiu ChunLing said...

One thing I sometimes discuss with people is that religious belief that there is an ultimate meaning to life is demonstrated to have survival value, it often makes the difference between giving up and going on in a situation where survival seems unlikely. Atheists sometimes make much of this proving that the prevalence of religious faith in humans means nothing because it is a natural consequence of selective pressure. I think this misses the point, which is that it is scientifically proven that religious faith in an ultimate meaning of life makes life more worthwhile to people, both their own lives and the lives of others.

Hedonism is a possible source of value to make life worth the effort of preserving it, but it does not have the same value as ultimate meaning in practice. It also does little to provide incentives for one person laying down their own life to save other lives. And many hedonistic behaviors of themselves tend to compromise long-term health and prospects of survival or continued enjoyment of life.

Of course, the attempt to live a religious life with hope of ultimate meaning in order to have a more fulfilling experience in mortality involves a contradiction. The point of seeking ultimate meaning in life is that your experience of this life does not matter compared to what your life means ultimately. But the point is that rejecting ultimate meaning to focus on your experience of life is equally (and provably) contradictory. And by rejecting ultimate meaning you reject any claim that the reduced quality of your life experience is somehow offset by any other gain.

Bruce Charlton said...

@CCL - When an atheist; I regarded the benefits of being religious as an expedient delusion. ie. that religion was false, but it was an advantage (in some ways, perhaps even the most important ways) to believe it.

It took me a long time to recognise that a delusion (false belief) cannot truly be expedient, not in the long run - because if it is, it is not a delusion (as judged by atheistic criteria). So it was self-refuting.

However, I long eluded this recognition by changing grounds - so that I would evaluate religion on grounds of expediency, until it lookd as if religion would win, then I would reject religion on the basis that it was not 'absolutely' true.

(But if I had judged science likewise, I would also have had to reject science - the evasion only worked by evaluating religon far more stringently than science; I took teh valditiy of science for granted, even though I knew that science was 'always potentially wrong', always insecure, at any particular timepoint, at the cutting edge. Hence in absolute terms, all science was wrong. Indeed, the fact that all science is known to be simplification means it is all wrong, ultimately.)

But, when I became a scientist, I realised that one was never compelled to truth - it was alays a series of judgments. Each individual experiment had more than one interpretation; combingin the findings of experiments involved judgment, all scientific theories are products of thinking and evaluation etc.

Eventually, after a terribly long time, I realised that 'faith' was not qualitatively different than science - evidence *never* compels, theory is always primary, we must always judge. I recognised that it was not irrational to believe in God, there was sufficient to justify such a belief - and then I had become a theist, and I needed to find-out the nature of God (etc)...

Chiu ChunLing said...

It must be noted that there are those who reject the fruits of religion along with the metaphysics. Just as there are those who reject the fruits of science (that is, technology and engineering) along with the metaphysics (that the universe obeys some regular laws which can be meaningfully simplified to human comprehension).

But most people don't want to give up central heating or modern agriculture, and that's quite a good thing since it keeps the door open for accepting science. Likewise, most people believe that life should be happy and full of wonder and meaning, which is on the whole an even better thing. It is a peculiar goodness that is really innate to them, of course they could take God's word for it, but fundamentally they don't need to be told that a happy life is better than insensate nonentity.

They only need to be instructed in how this life is to be obtained and preserved.

Bruce Charlton said...

@CCL - "They only need to be instructed in how this life is to be obtained and preserved."

We cannot judge in advance of awakening how much would be obtained and preserved by a spiritual-Christian society - society would be remade, on different principles.

I personally suspect that we would discover that (beyond a limited point, perhaps very limited) the costs of human specialization of function, and the consequent need for (ultimately-) coercive organisation/ management, would tend towards a *much* simpler, less planned society. I am in no doubt that - for all their hardships - simple hunter gatherer societies were the happiest, least-alienated, that have so-far existed on earth.