Well, I survived Cyber Monday. And Black Friday. And that day you take to do all the laundry you shoved into every corner because there wasn’t ever a good moment to do it. And then I saw this article about what google calls “The Creepy Line” and wandered around reading about China’s new Social Capital system whereby they make life easier or harder depending not only on how you yourself behave, but on who you associate with. So now I feel jittery and stressed about how it should be the apocalypse but it probably isn’t yet, and so we can just keep watching humanity organize itself into its favorite idolatry—controlling other people.
I would say it is a fascinating proclivity—the impulse to control, to bend another human person to your will—except that it is one I have in the usual undiluted human measure and so it is probably not as interesting as I would like. Making another person organize his life around your convenience is the human task. It is how we work out society and make money. It is the thing that wakes us up in the morning. And it pleasantly bakes up with other kinds of sin, like consuming other people as if they are things, and measuring every portion of the created order by our own thoughts and prayers.
And truly, it is the small selfishnesses that make it so great. Wanting your kitchen counter to look a certain way. Wanting to sail down the road unimpeded by the inclinations of other drivers, or all those wretched pedestrians ambling unhurried across the road. Wanting to have the work day play out in a way that doesn’t jar and destroy your peace of mind. You want to be happy and unhindered, and one of the best ways for that to happen is for other people to do what you want them to and not keep you from doing or thinking or saying the things that you want.
In a free-ish society there is the illusion that everyone can carry on while being polite to other people who are also carrying on. And it should be fine. Except that everyone is also sort of vaguely isolated and lonely, irritated and unhappy. It is easy to see this, and to then propose all kinds of solutions, like Ben Sasse’s idea that we need “thicker” communities—those kinds that we used to have in the past when we all cared about each other and went to local football games, and probably church. I don’t actually know because I haven’t read the book. Let’s fix the problem by being the unselfish, civic-minded people we once were, propose many a sensible person. To which Google reposts, “Oh don’t bother. Have another device. Look look look look, buy these shoes.” And because we were never that good, we all keep scrolling. It’s too cold for football anyway.
And this is why the church isn’t everybody’s favorite place on a Sunday morning. Because one of the points of church is to give way to the feelings, inclinations, and needs of Other People. You’re not meant to go there and get what you want. If you go to “be fed” you’re probably not going to have a good time, mainly because you won’t like the food that’s offered. The food is the person who gave himself up for the lives of other people. That’s the food. It is dry and it sticks in the throat. The sharp chaser of wine makes you cough. You turn away from the rail and still have to face those Other People who you are supposed to count as more important than you yourself. It is an impossible task.
Honestly, a complex electronic totalitarian system of social credit is easier than the gospel. It is easier to organize the whole world into a society that you think is best than to die to yourself, even for a minute.
So Christians like me shouldn’t panic, although I think it is appropriate to feel sad, in an empathetic way. I am a tiny Zuck. Put the laundry away wrong in my house and so help me, I will come after you with the fury of a thousand suns. Fortunately for me, and you, God loves me enough to make my realm tiny, and to afflict me with himself so constantly that every totalitarian impulse is put to death, however painfully.