On a related note to some of what I said yesterday, I think that for some of us a fascination with “newness” and “relevance” often manifests as a love of “wrongness” – that is, the idea that we and everyone who has come before got it wrong. Nothing appeals to me more than to be told that I’ve completely missed the point.
It’s like a narcotic. Or, more accurately, it’s like some bizarre pain-addiction. Nothing compares to the thrill of learning some truth that casts our understanding of things in a whole new light. In that moment when the walls come crashing down and I realize that there is more to the world than I ever suspected, I get a rush I can only compare to something like smoking your first cigarette. And this is the root of the problem.
I’m all for gaining new insights about Jesus and the Christian story. I think there are plenty of wrong things that the church has tolerated for too long and which need to be challenged. That said, like cigarettes, it’s easy to get hooked. Before long, I’m not interested in truth anymore at all, just in the thrill of seeing it challenged.
This is only worsened by our cultural myth of the courageous hero standing against the evil system. The rush I get when I see the status quo broken, the admiration I feel when someone criticizes the reigning paradigm – these have more to do with the lone cowboy heroism of our cultural mythology than with the normal workings of the Church.
Left unchecked, I often end up mistaking ballsiness for holiness. I remember hearing a sermon in college by a guy who will remain nameless, but who I immediately fell in love with because I thought he was “speaking the hard truth.” In addressing a crowd of Southern Baptist kids, he basically made a point, and when they applauded, told them to shut up because they were the ones headed to hell. Wow, I thought, that was courageous.
It took me about 6 months to notice that maybe this wasn’t such an admirable thing. After all, according to this preacher, the reason these kids were going to hell was their TV-watching habits. Really? I didn’t agree with that. Funny, how I missed that part because I was so in love with the image of this man shouting down the masses. I inhaled the sweet smoke of beliefs burning, and it didn’t bother me that I wasn’t igniting them because they were wrong, but only because of the rush I got as they became glowing cinders.
Once again, the answer here is to be suspicious of novelty. It is a very good thing to seek truth, and sometimes this requires challenging our reigning paradigms. But most of the time, the right approach is to listen to the past. Saints for the last two thousand years have believed things for a reason. If I find myself continually chasing after the ways they got it wrong, it may be that I instead am addicted to the drug of deconstruction rather than the sweet taste of truth.