Sunday, March 06, 2011

The Challenge of Belief

Over the last few weeks, I have frequently mentioned what I've dubbed the "Control-F Generation" as a way of thinking about the generation of high school students I am currently serving. As a cipher, "Control -F" attempts to capture a particular trait among my students: they are so fixated on learning the right answer to a question, so concerned about getting the right bubble filled in indicating the right choice, that they too often neglect the wider picture or deeper issues. They are content to hit "control-f" on the keyboard and look for a particular word or phrase that brings them to the 'right' answer.

While I was visiting a soon-to-be-closed Borders bookstore today, I was struck by what I would note as an incongruence. On the shelves, beneath the "Christian Theology" section, there was a label for "Atheism." To be honest, I seldom buy books from the theology shelf any longer: too many of them are too few of them are sufficiently philosophical for my liking (granted, if I were to write a book, I can't imagine that I'd be very philosophical....but my reading and writing are very different things). This being said, the books in the "Atheism" section were more interesting to me.

Many of the books, though, represent an anemic or boring type of atheism. Most, if not all, of the authors on this shelf represent something of the "New Atheism" and are actually great friends to authentic theism: they rightly reject a lot of the garbage and idolatrous notions people have about God. Far too often, it seems to me, so-called Christians think of God more like some pagan deity than the Creator and Sustainer of all that is. This, perhaps, tips the reader off to my indebtedness to Thomas Aquinas. Nevertheless, I think most of the authors on the "Atheism" shelf are just as bad as the authors on the Christian theology shelf: they have pretty odd notions of what God is supposed to do and tend to treat God more like a divine slot-machine than the unutterable Mystery at the heart of existence.  I digress....

I mention this because I don't think the spiritual malaise of the "Control-F Generation" is wrought by atheism. I think it is born of "Indifference," which is, to my eye, a shelf that is totally lacking in the store. Recall G. K. Chesterton's great quote: "Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried." Christianity has become so heady, either so much about what one thinks or what one must avoid, that it becomes irrelevant.

Without having to become too graphic, there can be a fixation amidst certain segments of the Catholic sector that focuses almost exclusively on the apron-area of the human body (if you think about the area of the body an apron covers, you'll catch my drift). Forgotten for these people is the horizontal dimension of living the Christian life: the Christian life is about how we are to live together, now, in anticipation of the way we will live together, forever, with God in heaven. This is not at all to minimize certain issues, although it is to indicate that the entirety of our human lives, our social lives, is of extreme importance.

For a generation that is easily seduced by easy answers, a fixation on acts of sexual immorality may not be the best tactic. To evangelize them into the Gospel, we almost need to force them to confront a world that defies easy point-and-click searches. Rather than allow them to treat Christianity as yet another document to be searched and culled, it needs to be presented as a way of life; recall, of course, that the original disciples of Jesus regarded themselves as followers of "the Way."

The challenge of belief facing our youths today is not virulent atheism. It is, rather, a pernicious indifference that fails to see the world "charged with the grandeur of God," choosing to regard it as yet another neutral text that they can read and study. I think our young people find the idea that there is a God who is found in and is encountered through the world to be difficult because it is so hard to characterize, so hard to pin down or search out. It is "a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of a living God" (Hebrews 10:31) and our students would rather assume a position of calm indifference rather than have to confront the chilling question: what if this whole Christianity thing is true after all? Christianity asks them to take a stand, to make a claim, and there's no bubble to shade or blank to fill in...the answer is written with their lives.

As we enter into the Lenten season, this may be something to consider: How am I doing as an example of living Faith? Do I manifest the beliefs and trust of a Christian or am I simply going through the motions because I have done so each year...because I am appeasing the Sun God? Am I willing to risk putting myself in the hands of the living God, risking my heart and my life in offering both to the God who has made me to be and who wishes to be the center of my existence? Or will I refrain from offering myself, giving only what I am comfortable with?

Our young people don't need more books or blogs or podcasts. They need living witnesses who will show them, in the day-to-day struggles, what it means to be a Christian. They need to see what it is to live knowing that the cross looms large in our lives, that our world is scarred by sin, that pain and suffering await any foolish enough to love in this world...but that hate and evil and death are not the final answers to the human life because the Resurrection of Jesus Christ assures us that life and goodness, not death and evil, underwrite our lives.

If we do not live this out, boldly and loudly, then we will lose a generation. It is not the likes of Dawkins and Hitchens who will have won but, rather, the phantoms of indolence and desuetude that will have snatched them. This is the group that needs to be evangelized not only in known-content (head) but also on an affective and bodily level. They need to see and taste and feel every bit as much as they need to see and hear. Christianity, for this generation, must become a full-body contact sport...anything less and they'll sit on the bench.
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