The issue is the internet when we come to talking about the quick dispersal of information and the resulting new transparency. The original post on this series The Death of the American Church – Truth or Hype? (Part 1) had in its video Daniel Dennett making an analogy between a certain era of evolution where the new transparency caused the development of eyes and because of this creatures could see one another and thus it changed everything because creatures had to adapt to that fact. To the evolutionist this is an explosive time where because of this development everything changed on a fundamental level. The central tenet of this is that the development of the internet and the free flow of information has done the same to western society and everything in that society has to reinvent themselves to survive and thrive. The church is no exception to this idea.
Now no matter what you feel about the evolutionary analogy as a Christian, you have to admit that this free flow of information has changed things dramatically. It has lead to gains for the Atheists for sure and many of the younger believers now have tons of alternative opinions to choose from. They can literally hear all different sides to any issue and then make up their own mind. This changes everything in the sense that for Christianity to survive it must 1) Be able to understand the arguments against it, 2) Be able to offer up genuine defenses to those arguments and 3) positively represent the faith in a way so that it rises to the top of being the best and most solid argument for placing a person’s trust and life philosophy. There is also at the same time an necessity of identifying that what is keeping the church from seeing clearly. What are the opaque parts of the membrane that need to be made transparent so we can see through it and others can see the truth of what Christianity really is.
There is an alternative idea here too. That if we accept the idea that denominations and individual churches are going to handle this transparency differently much like the analogy of evolution presented, there will be some that will adapt and survive and those that will die. The question is what things will make the church be more transparent and survive and what things will we cling to that might ultimately be a death nail. This is the question that needs to be asked over and over then next few decades. I might be right in these initial observations; I also could be very wrong.
I few months ago I wrote this article on the idea of cyber church: Is the Church in America Passing Away or Is the Internet Already the Future? I now think this will eventfully be the future of churches and the church as a whole in America and perhaps the key to its survival. The fact is that many churches are already investing in a virtual church technology seems to indicate that at least on the local level. The issue is can the internet church or an internet church element bring about a transparency that can counteract this free flow of information. But there is something deeper than just a counteracting agent but the issue to me is why do people feel they have a need to keep them secret in the first place. Why do churches and church leaders think it is a good idea to conceal information? There is a foundational problem in the heart of Christians that makes us do this in the first place?
In a movement that was started with the founder’s words that everything should be brought into the open because it shows the fruit of those actions is good and godly, why in God’s name would we want to conceal anything? I am not sure of the answer to this question but here area few guesses that are not too far off.
1. There are people who do indeed use religion to control others and they cannot do this if they have full disclosure of all information to their congregations. Denominations do this as well just at higher level. The motivations might be well intentioned but in the end in the new transparency is not going to be a place for this to happen and have good results. This is definitely a case where good intentions are causing a great deal of harm.
2. Territorial protection could be a big part of this. I am not just talking geography either. Church denominations tend to be very protective of what makes them unique as denominations. It is often this distinctive difference that allows them to think they are better or more on track than other variations of the Christian Faith. There can also be theological differences where the founders of denominations are given their own form of minor canonization. A lot of times it is the Bible as seen by X person. What happens here is hero worship to the point of actual theological wars. In large part the new transparency may have the most devastating effect on denominationalism itself.
3. Poor belief in humanity. What I mean is that there are basically three ways you can look at humanity – negatively, positively and neutral. The fact is there are many doctrines of the church that cause church people to look at humanity in a very negative light. It is however odd in the way it is done. One the one hand many churches maintain the sinfulness of man but that sinfulness is out there, not in the four walls of the church. On the other hand the clergy look at their congregations and think they really can’t just trust people to minister without direct oversight. They fear more that their people with do something wrong than being concerned about developing the gifts and ministry of their people. People suck is the message that is conveyed, so the question for me is why has God spared us so many times?
Is there a solution? It might very well be that the internet affords us to start tearing down some of these obstacles to transparency. I think this is a real possibility and in some measure is already happening. The fact is now that congregational members have access to multiple different ideas and theologies of the Christian faith but the real question is do the members of leadership encourage them to access it or ‘You need to stay away from that devil spawned internet!” The idea that we can keep people from hearing alternative opinions about anything needs to disappear from our mind and we also should welcome the challenge. You cannot protect the flock of God anymore in this world by blinding their eyes to the challenges of faith, you need to let them explore those challenges and see them so they can learn them and hopefully avoid them. We also need to be a little more trusting that Jesus can take care of his flock fine without us.
The internet has no territorial boundaries. You can’t put fences up in the internet landscape and that provides the biggest force that will break the various forms of territorialism. No matter how secure you make something people figure out how to break in and the internet is just one of those places as I heard one computer science professors say: ‘is just plain anarchy’. You can have your hero of your denomination but I almost guarantee that there are several sites out there that are written to counter them. It forces us to look at each great Christian writer, preacher and thinker in terms that they are one of many and all of them have their strengths and weaknesses. Denominational distinctives also could be viewed in the same light. The internet simply does not allow people to stay in their own little world once you step into it. It transcends geology, ideology and pet doctrines.
There are in my mind certain doctrines that cause people to look at there fellow humans negatively. Original sin, total depravity, and many other od the same ilk have been around for a long time. The problem I have always had with all of these is that they cause Christians to look at the sinfulness of people more than their humanity. It was Jesus’ ability to look past the sinfulness of man to see their humanity that was the basis of his compassion, I think the largest thing that American Christianity has lost is its ability to have compassion. A large source for this loss is the bad theology that a) does not consider the full counsel of the Word of God when it comes to the nature of mankind and b) seeing sinners as objects rather than people. The internet really is a double edged sword with this issue. One the one hand you can see other people around the world doing good as well as evil which gives a more balanced outlook on humanity. One the other hand because we spend most of our time looking at screens instead of people’s faces, it is easy to forget that there is a person on the other side of a text, post, Facebook message, comment, etc.
All of this is good or bad news depending on how you see it. For traditionalists this is bad news because the church as they knew it and consider the more pure church will eventually die out. For people who welcome change this might be good news or simply embracing the fact of change and adapting to those changes in the world and society. In the new Transparency of information, it is the ones that adapt the best that will survive. The questions I still have are many and this is only my initial thoughts so they could change but the one thing that remains is the idea that the church has had to adapt of the years to continue to move forward so we already have done this at various poins of history, the question is simply can we do so again in this particular case?