Lesson 4: The Loss of Community and Tradition

Bart deals with his okaynessThe online comments have represented the two primary responses I have been getting to the first chapters in the book. The first, voiced by Lupe, Paul, and Don, rather powerfully express how people have used God’s Word to oppress and massacre. The second, posted by Derek, readily agrees we are seeing the loss of caring personal relationships and wonders if there is any way to correct this. This lesson will finalize the groundwork I am trying to lay before proceeding to offer some answers to Derek’s question. Besides turning to the main thrust of the book, I plan to offer some of Paul’s insights from his Australian Bushman Mechanics.

Last week, I tried to examine how some Christians in our technological society have reduced the Gospel to techniques for getting what I want. Those teaching the Laws of Creation claim that Jesus taught 5 techniques that lead to success.  And, those preaching the 4 laws and 4 steps of the Plan for Salvation supposedly establishes a personal relationship with Jesus focus entirely on the individual.

Neither has any use for community that is at the heart of Christianity. And when you lose community, you lose tradition. An isolated individual can look back on his or her life story. A community has tradition that binds its people together. Tradition establishes the common values that, among other things, inspire persons to care for one another.

The loss of community and tradition is quite evident in Pentecostalism and Scientology, two popular modern forms of Christianity. However, the most powerful is the Power of Positive Thinking school. Even though there are few congregations who identify themselves with this theology, its thought forms infect every branch of the faith.

The founder of the movement, Norman Vincent Peale, made no bones about redefining faith as a technique for gaining the confidence to pursue and achieve personal goals. His disciple, Robert Schuller, called for a modern reformation based on self-esteem rather than justification by grace through faith. The present celebrity preacher, Joel Osteen, rejects any negative thinking. He refuses to engage in any kind of prophetic teaching, any consideration of current events, or any confession of sins. He continually preaches an “I’m okay; you’re okay” message that encourages his followers to look back and say “I done good!”

Although there is a constant need to critique tradition, these preachers all but destroy it. They remove crosses from places of worship, drop baptismal washings and communion meals, and ignore any need for repentance. Indeed, traditional teachings are reduced to “if it works for you.”

H. R. Niebuhr might have offered the best evaluation when he wrote that the groups I have been mentioning proclaim and worship “a God without wrath who brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”

President Trump’s response to calls for him to cool off his rhetoric after the violence that culminated in the shootings in the Pittsburgh synagogue reveal the dangers that come with the loss of community and tradition. Trump vehemently places all blame on the evil of the individual who carried out the actual shootings. Absent is any sense of relationship to the perpetrator, but even more frightening, is the failure to understand a leader’s responsibility in all he says to take into consideration the ignorant and mentally ill of the community. A leader does not speak hatred, engage in name-calling, or denigrate any group because he is aware the power of his words might provoke violence in the disturbed among us. Sadly, Trump continually uses violent words to get what he wants, oblivious of their real power. We’ll start talking about that next week.

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