Urban Christian mission is struggling against a silent onslaught of a “post-truth” worldview. A post-truth worldview is a serious challenge just because it doesn’t want to challenge any; difficult to counter with traditional apologetics just because it doesn’t seek to engage in any form. In short, it is like trying to converse with a person who says “talk to my hand.” And in the face of such (seemingly absent) onslaught from simplistic folks, who just don’t want to think, apologetics in its good ol’ sense renders itself ineffective.
What’s wrong with the world today?
The problem with much of the current crop of generation isn’t intellectual or even moral, it is stupidity. I dare say it isn’t moral as stupid people are incapable of seeing the evil within them. “Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than evil,” wrote Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian. One can fight against evil, as for someone to do evil or even think of doing evil, it cannot happen without a feeling of uneasiness. But against stupidity, you run against a “dead-end” wall. You are just cancelled without a trial.
The post-truth adherents immersed in stupidity behave as if they are possessed. The left part of their brain is completely shut down. If at all they think, it is only “short-term” thinking. Their entire existence can be summed up from dog-whistles to sloganeering to what’s trending today. Speaking of these people who tend to live without any purpose, Neal Stephenson in his book “Fall or, Dodge in Hell” had this to say: Getting them to see reason is a fool’s errand. So for a Christian apologist, who tries to use reason and common sense, often ends up feeling isolated amid all the madness. So what should we do now – hang up our boots? No!
How do we reach today’s generation for Christ?
1) Firstly, get comfortable in the knowledge that we don’t know everything: One of the things some Christian apologists are guilty of is thinking they have God in their back pocket. God, like reality, is not something we can tie up in a neat intellectual little package and shove it in our briefcase and possess. In fact, it is God who possesses us. Even the inimitable Albert Einstein, who is undoubtedly regarded as someone who knew more than anyone else on this earth, while talking about reality said, “We can observe and theorise but we can never know reality. Reality is something we can only approach.”
To better minister to a post-truth world, Christians have to develop a taste for mystery. A taste for a complex world, baffling science, mysterious people and an omnilarge God. All of which appears so close and personal and yet remain far away from our comprehension at certain times. But this truth tastes bitter and is difficult to swallow particularly for some “hyper-zealous” Christian apologists. They are ever ready to prove the inerrancy of the Bible right down to that misplaced comma. They find it hard to hold their peace in problematic texts like for example “St Paul’s depiction of woman preachers.” And they just can’t offload their ego to concede debates or admit a mistake in some debates with the apologists of other faiths.
2) Then devote time to understand the cultural nuances of today: This generation is a smorgasbord of emotions all happening at the same time. They can drink and breathe through their mouth at the same time; get excited and depressed at the same time; can praise and criticise (anyone for that matter) at the same time; feverishly pursue something which they love and quietly quit the same at a moment’s notice; question each and everything around them but also believe in anything under the sun; and, if you challenge them with facts, will love you and hate you in equal measure. Never before have we witnessed a generation as confused and apathetic as it is today. A closer look at them might make you wonder whether they are on drugs.
Empathy is an overrated skill. We say we have decoded the psychology of today’s youngsters, only to hastily launch another product that soon turns cold or start a personalised community that soon turns hostile or ghosts. We need to exert considerable effort to understand this generation which operates predominantly on instincts and dog whistles. Bonhoeffer had more to say about these people, “Against stupidity, we have no defence. Reasoning is of no use. Facts that contradict personal prejudices can simply be disbelieved — indeed, the fool can counter by criticizing them, and if they are undeniable, they can just be pushed aside as trivial exceptions. So the fool, as distinct from the scoundrel, is completely self-satisfied.”
3) Finally, don’t just practise; become an agile preacher: For long we have taken the words of St Francis of Assisi to be the gold standard in Christian missions — always preach and if necessary use words. But going by the conversion results, majority Christians are either living an unchristian life or the whole idea of just living a life adhering to Christian values isn’t breaking the ice with the stoics of today. The post-truth devotees wear an earphone even while sleeping and see the world through a tinted Google glass. They neither have the time nor the interest to witness our holy life when they are all too busy wallowing in a sea of apathy and scepticism.
We now need to become “agile” preachers, who just don’t walk the talk but doesn’t shy away from every preaching opportunity. We can no more afford to waste even a single opening, as the gate to the post-truth devotee’s left brain opens sporadically and without notice for a short time. An agile preacher would improvise every situation around him and preach unabashedly in short spurts — even when their audience does not listen, appreciate, convert or worse, belittle them.
St Paul the apostle, who dealt with a similar audience, can share us rich insights on being an agile preacher. We read in Acts 17, the Greeks and the Epicureans who thought they knew everything under the Sun and yet acted out of feelings bestowed the apostle a rare audience. To those towering intellectual giants, the apostle appeared as a babbler and one who talked about strange phenomena. Yet, St Paul, arguably the greatest apologist of all time was gracious to oblige to their barrage of insults only to bargain a chance to present the gospel.
The journey ahead is rough, but don’t you just give up!
Jesus said the end times would be like the days of Noah. We often equate the generation of today to that of Noah’s time — just eating and drinking, as if there is no tomorrow. If this assertion is true — and I believe it is true — how much more should we preach with an urgency like that of Noah? The righteous Noah was not only zealous for the Lord but also persevered steadfastly even when he didn’t win a single soul after 500 long years of preaching. May the good Lord grant us the fortitude to remain focused and sane in a world becoming increasingly insane.