“The crowd is untruth”

Soren_KierkegaardIn our discussion of yesterday’s post The Problem with Crowds, Stefan Stackhouse linked to an essay by Søren Kierkegaard, The Crowd is Untruth.  That essay is shockingly profound,, with great resonance for today.

The Danish Lutheran/proto-existentialist takes a theological, as well as ethical, view of crowds.  He points out that the Bible says, “Love thy neighbor”; not “love the crowd.”  He deals with “the daily press” and its creation of an abstract “public” that assumes an authority over what we are supposed to consider true.  He critiques those whose profession it is to lead a crowd and how they often ignore an individual in need because of their obsession with big numbers.   He addresses preaching.  (Yes, one can legitimately preach to a hundred thousand, as well as to ten.  But don’t let the desire to attract a hundred thousand determine what you are going to preach.)  He warns against the “numerical”–attending to numbers as your main criterion.

Pastors of big churches and of small churches should read this essay, excerpted after the jump.  So should church growth consultants, who often give the direct contrary advice.  (Large congregations don’t have to be “crowds” in this sense.  And small congregations should be appreciated, though they too can turn into smaller “crowds.”)

You don’t have to agree with Kierkegaard on everything to appreciate the force of his argument here.  But let me raise a question:  How can we avoid the danger of the crowd being untruth while acknowledging the corporate nature of the Christian faith?  Some Christians do have a completely individualistic understanding of Christianity–as in Tom T. Hall’s song “Me and Jesus”–with no need, as in that song, for the Church.

I suspect Kierkegaard’s answer would be in terms of how Christianity is for “the one,” yet “everyone can become that one.”  And in what he says about the love of neighbor.  Does this solve the dilemma, or is he taking individualism too far?

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The problem with crowds

512px-Flickr_-_moses_namkung_-_The_Crowd_For_DMB_1In a column in which he explains why he didn’t go to the Inauguration, Jonah Goldberg says that it wasn’t because he is a conservative never-Trumper.  He says that also doesn’t like to go to sporting events or arena concerts.  He just doesn’t like crowds.  But from there he raises some bigger points:  Crowds can become mobs.  The unit of American politics is the individual, not the crowd.  The experience of being in a crowd is losing one’s individuality in a bigger corporate unity.  And then he quotes Christian writer Eugene Peterson on how some people seek religious transcendence through the “ecstasy of the crowd.”

Read what the excerpt says after the jump.  How might this apply, say, to megachurches?  Isn’t it true that some–not all, I hasten to say–have worship services that try to stir up the “ecstasy of the crowd”? [Read more…]

Fear of the working class

616px-AlfredPalmerRamagosaThe editor of a liberal website has written about a plumber he had called to fix his drain.  The plumber acted professionally and did the job.  But he spoke with a Southern accent!  He didn’t seem upset about the election!  He might even have voted for Trump!  The editor described his fear at having a possible Trump voter in his home.

All this fear talk about Trump has me confused.  I can see a generalized fear about the future of the country, but this is far more visceral.  Gay people say how afraid they are–but Trump is all for gay marriage, transgender rights, and the LGBT cause!   Jews are afraid–but Trump’s son-in-law and main advisor is an Orthodox Jew, he has appointed a hard-core Zionist to be ambassador to Israel, and his foreign policy is going to be far more pro-Israel than Obama’s.

These irrational fears seem to be phobias.  Reynolds, who reported the plumber story and a number of similar examples in a USA Today article excerpted after the jump, calls it oikophobia, fear of one’s countrymen.  C. R. Wiley, whose post alerted me to this article and whose comments are worth reading in themselves, says it is androphobia, the fear of masculine men.

Those syndromes may be factors, but I see this problem as a pathological form of classism–bigotry against people of a lower social class than yourself.  Classism used to be a taboo like racism, with which it has lots of similarities, but no more.

The working class used to be the base of the American left and the Democratic party.  Ironically, this phobia or classism of today’s liberals against the working class was arguably what elected Donald Trump, as Democrats wrote off industrial states like Wisconsin in order to pursue millennials, techies, and other cool people.

The left has come a long way from “workers of the world unite!” to the fear of plumbers.  At least there is little danger today of a Communist revolution.  Today’s left has become far too bourgeois. [Read more…]

Living under the law

3619878820_a375c3f2ca_mMore from David Zahl., who distinguishes between the big-L “Law” (of God) and the little-l “law” that people today try, futilely, to live by. . . .

The latter too is a sign of how people today are obsessed with justifying themselves, even though they can’t.   We need to point them to the justification they can have, freely, through Christ.

I would add that those of us who have that justification should remember it more and should apply it when we ourselves fall into these syndromes of perfectionism and the busyness that Zahl analyzes.

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Justification and contemporary culture

15692653361_7e7cf1101b_zLuther-influenced Anglican David Zahl has a brilliant article in the latest Christianity Today about Luther’s distinction between Law and Gospel and his understanding of justification by faith.  These teachings, Zahl shows, go to the very heart of what people are most struggling with today in contemporary culture:  perfectionism, the need for approval, and the futility of self-justification.

These are all symptoms of living under the law–if not God’s law, the other laws that we try to replace it with–and the new high-tech information environment only makes the symptoms worse.  (Zahl quotes a friend saying, “The internet is like the real world, only with all the forgiveness vacuumed out.”)

Luther’s breakthrough, that we do not have to justify ourselves–that is, attain perfection, or try to convince ourselves and other people that we are right and good–but that Christ justifies us, is as liberating today as it was 500 years ago.

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Spiritual anguish

grief-927099_640Contrary to the “prosperity gospel” and other theologies of glory, negative experiences can also have a positive spiritual significance.  Many of us go through depression, blue moods, black moods, and other sufferings, whether physical or emotional.  These are not signs that you have lost your faith or that God has abandoned you.

Luther, who knew these states of mind well, considered them important for the Christian life.  In fact, he considered them necessary for anyone who presumed to be a theologian, the three attributes for that office being meditation, prayer, and tentatio–struggle, trial, assault–the closest he could come in Latin to the untranslatable German word Anfechtung.

In looking for a good description of Anfechtung for that Bach post I wrote recently, I came across “A Primer on Anfechtung” by LCMS pastor Paul R. Harris.  It’s worth looking at for its own sake and for what it discloses about a state of anguish that can seem devastating–especially since Christians seldom talk about it today–but which can draw us closer to Christ. [Read more…]