The Christian Culture Bubble
Michael Spencer, the “Internet Monk”, posted a description of someone he knew who had decided to abandon his faith. What strikes me about his description is that it repeatedly depicts a community of people who struggle mightily to control the world around them and shape it into something that suited their ideas about the world and how it’s supposed to work. The Christian school, the Bible classes, the push for Creationism, etc. Spencer goes so far as to call it the water and this young man was the fish, surrounded by it at all times to the point where it’s difficult to tell if there’s anything different.
I am troubled by this description because it feels to me like an enormous amount of effort to keep the rest of the world at bay. We want to protect ourselves from the dangers that are out there – the evil people and influences that might harm us or those we care about. Proverbs 4:23 says “Guard your heart for from it flow the springs of life,” and Philippians 4:8 offers, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.” So we strive to guard our hearts from the sinful things in the world and instead focus ourselves on the good things of God and the Bible.
There is, without question, wisdom in this. This is particularly an appropriate maneuver for dishing out developmentally appropriate doses of what the world is like to those who are too young physically or emotionally to handle all of the problems of the world at once. We don’t show toddlers Saving Private Ryan. That’s only going to traumatize them. But most of us aren’t there anymore. We have the emotional and social structures to handle these kinds of troubling aspects of the world, the reality that sin has brought into play. And yet we keep pushing the world away, and in the process, we end up pushing reality away. You can’t create a world for yourself to live in without, at least to some extent, denying the world that you’re avoiding.
The difficulty with avoiding reality in this fashion, first of all, is that reality does its hardest to assert itself, to remind you of what really is real. We can go ahead and listen to Christian music about how wonderful God is, but at some point, it’s likely that we will find our worship, prayer, and Bible study dry and listless. Reality has crept in. Should we create a Christian culture bubble for our children to live in, eventually those children will have the freedom to head off to a place where they will run into things that didn’t fit into that culture, and now they have to face and deal with them. Reality once again has crept in. If reality will continually creep in, then perhaps a more effective means of coping with it is to find ways to deal with reality rather than denying it and creating our own. It is appropriate to not focus on the evils of the world 24/7, but it is similarly appropriate to work within them when we’re faced with it. And that’s the example that Christ set anyway, coming into the fallen world rather than denying it.
Another problem that arises from creating our own reality is that we don’t grow in a false world. Or perhaps we only grow falsely in a false world. Boys that pretend to be in the army may rise in the ranks until they become four star generals, but that doesn’t translate to the world outside of their imagination. Similarly, what growth we may find when we are avoiding reality may only be meaningful in that reality. If we are surrounded by Christian culture all the time, and we have grown strong and faithful in that realm, there is every chance that should we be confronted with something outside of that realm, should, for example, a tragedy strike, we may find that our faith isn’t that strong, and we suddenly need far more help and support than we thought. To experience real growth, we have to deal with the real world.
Denial is a powerful tool, and it’s a sanity-saving technique sometimes. If we are exposed to something far more harsh than we can handle, denial can prevent us from being overwhelmed. But denial isn’t a long-term or permanent option. After the trauma, the walls that were put up need to be slowly taken down so that we can deal with the issues behind them. Gradually, through the Holy Spirit, caring others, and our own work, we can live well even with the trauma and not have to spend our energy pushing it away.
As a teacher at a Christian school, I’m not trying to disparage Christian culture entirely. But when Christian culture becomes a defense against the rest of the world rather than a means of framing and dealing with the world by the reality of a loving God and the laws both natural and moral that He’s ordained, then it begins to hurt as much as it may help. And when it begins to hurt, perhaps we lose people like Michael Spencer did. A vibrant spiritual life requires that we are honest about the world around us and the one within us.