I want to throw something out and see if it has legs. I will be playing a character today – feel free to play along!
My great-grandmother was born into a world that no longer exists in many ways.
I’m preparing a presentation for the Subverting the Norm Conference. I have been reviewing a book called Modern Christian Thought and I am haunted by the reality that there is something significant about the late 19th and early 20th.
The world changed 100 years ago. The changes weren’t just technological and societal. The changes were in areas that deeply impact the realms of belief and the way that we live out faith in community.
As a constructive theologian who is getting ready to present to a group of radical theologians, I keep circling around this idea:
The way that we think about theology and engage our faith has been fundamentally altered in the last 100 years.
I am tempted to say that we would be far better off if we just started theology at the turn of the 20th century. In some ways, the way that we all approach the christian faith begins about 100 years ago.
- Radio was becoming a technology for mass communication. Somewhere between 1909 and 1920 the medium emerged. 1920 sees the first public stations.
- TV didn’t exist yet.
- Women didn’t get the right to vote until 1920.
- 100 years ago – World War 1 had not started.
- The Great Depression is almost 2 decades away. That is important because it wrecked 2 things that ruled up until that point in the American psyche: 1) the myth of perpetual growth & prosperity 2) the illusion of independence and not be inter-connected with other nations.
- The 1906 Pentecostal Revival at Azusa Street was on the move.
- 100 years the large of majority of American churches were preaching ‘post-millennial’ theology: that we would usher in the kingdom of God through societal improvement. 100 years later almost no one believes that.
- In 1914 Margaret Sanger opened the first birth control clinic and was arrested. A decade later she would do it again with success since venereal disease had become a reality for soldiers in WWI. By the 1930s legal victories would make contraception normative.
- 1903 the Wright brother famously took flight. 1909 air travel began to go commercial.
- 100 years ago the psychology of Sigmund Freud was starting to be popularized.
- Movies were still a few years away.
- Vatican II, Nuclear War, and the Internet were not even shadows to be hinted at – and those three have perhaps impacted the greatest number of humans as anything else on the list.
In fact, there is only reason that I am hesitant to say that we would be far better off to just start theology at the turn of the 20th century. The reason for my hesitation is that matters of racism and the colonial legacy might be lost.
I would argue, however, that these concerns are accounted for in my 100 Year proposal because the implications of African slavery, First Nations genocide, and other historic legacies are so deeply embedded in the current structures that they show up continuously. *
It seems to me that those who are most into things from the 13th century (Aquinas) or 16th century (Calvin) or even the 19th (revivalism and holiness) are most prone to the ‘silo mentality’ that has then focused on ‘in house’ matters to the apparent neglect of the culture around them. I know that it is dangerous (and ill-advised) to paint with such a broad stroke but …
There is something self-satisfying when we get fascinated with a historical expression that tends to pull one into a more … I don’t know how to say it … internal place?
It’s not a lot different than when people get really into quilting, or tying flies, or video games. That becomes their big things, takes much of their thought energy and time. But in the end … it is just another thing. Like collecting Precious Moments figurines – it’s not harmful – it’s just not worthy to be the thing. Like a kid so enthralled with playing in the sandbox being totally oblivious to world around.
It doesn’t pass the ‘so what’ test.
Because the gospel is about incarnation, we are supposed to be the body of christ fully embodied in our time and place. That is how I read it. So much has changed over the past 100 years that to not put all our energy into the world in which we live is the equivalent of – at best fantasizing/day dreaming … and at worst to live in denial and prefer the fantasy.
I am growing suspicious that it is that stark.
The consequences are that dire.
The realities of our century are that severe.
I don’t want to talk about Aristotle and neo-Platonism one more time. I don’t care about the Greek polis. It doesn’t matter how pre-moderns conceived of substance and essence. I don’t care how the Reformers argued about communion and baptism. It’s time to move on.
* There is no greater danger in them being lost anymore than they are now, nor is there much progress being made by our current approach which is white-washed simply by ‘look, I didn’t own any slaves and I didn’t steal any land – that has nothing to do with me.’ So I’m not sure how much the 17th 18th and 19th century are really helping us in matters of justice.