This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

NOTICE:
This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

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The mockery of the modern church

We live in a land of WWJD bracelets, Jesus-is-my-homeboy t-shirts, Jesus-is-my-boyfriend music, and “Tebowing.”  We traverse a ‘Christian’ landscape as garish as a Thomas Kinkade painting, strolling to the beat of that sickly sweet poem about footprints…The Bible is not a self-help book, and while the Gospel is indeed good news, the Evangelists were not cast in the mold of modern-day motivational speakers.  Emotionally driven praise and worship songs are not going to win over anyone, and I swear, if one more person tries to tell me that the etymology of intimacy is ‘into-me-see,’ I’m going to have an aneurism.

–Michael W. Hannon

Now that we’ve beaten a few existential problems into the ground, we had better move on to the larger institutional issues. First and foremost of these is the church.

You probably think that there isn’t much to be said about church at this point. After all, we’ve spoke on and on about our disbelief—“What have we to do with church?” you ask. “Everything!” I answer. Our awkward relationship with religion is one of our most enlightening characteristics. By discussing it we can learn a great deal, both about ourselves and about the state of Christianity in general.

But perhaps I should backtrack for a moment. I forgot to tell you about our virtue.

We have a virtue—I bet you didn’t know that. We’ve spent so much time talking about our woes and our weaknesses that you probably didn’t think we had a single admirable quality. We have one, though. It is our deep sensitivity to hypocrisy.

We loathe this particular form of dishonesty, and because of the strength of our hatred for hypocrisy, we are hypersensitive to all forms of inauthenticity, be it religious, political, or otherwise. We can smell it a mile away like a shark smells blood. It only takes one drop of hypocritical blood in our ocean and we’ll detect it. If you’ve got deceit running through your veins you’d better stay out of the water. You know that I’m right. And that’s why we avoid churches.

You see, they are mistaken who think we keep our distance from churches because we don’t care for spiritual depth, or because we are shallow, or because think ourselves “smarter” than religion. That is the opposite of the truth. Many of us have tried church. Many of us have poured ourselves into the worship that takes place within those walls. We summoned all our strength trying to “believe” and to be “born again” through that belief. It just didn’t take. We weighed the whole thing and found it wanting. We tested the waters of the church, you might say, and we left the pool not because the water was too deep, but because it was too shallow.

Contemporary churches are saturated with two things that we cannot stand: procedure and sentimentality.

The traditional churches come off as a purely procedural affair, consisting in a mindless and heartless participation in a weekly process. It is common for people to accuse these churches of a “salvation by works,” but we know better. We’ve been there, and we did not see any salvation by “works.” A salvation of works is something we might have been able to buy into. If we’d have found that we might have stayed. But we found something very much less than works. We found “salvation by procedure”—and that is something we could not swallow. Works are living and breathing—procedure is stultifying and dead. We are already immersed in procedure up to our necks. Our education was procedural, our work is procedural. We can’t take any more.

And in the contemporary churches we find an equal but opposite superficiality. If the traditional varieties did what they knew without feeling, the contemporary churches do what they feel without thinking. Sentimentality reigns supreme in these modern services, and this too we find repugnant.

Remember that our strength is an acute sensitivity to the superficial and the inauthentic. Because of this we were able to pass our judgment easily and immediately: there is simply not much for us within the contemporary religious culture.

Beyond all this, I’m sorry to say, is the contemporary Christian himself, or at least a certain type of contemporary Christian whom we all know. There are no doubt a great variety of beautiful people who exist as Christians. That much is true. But there is one type who has come to predominate in our eyes, and who floods our view of “Christianity” each time we hear that word. Whether or not this specific “type” of Christian predominates in actual number, we cannot say. Maybe he just speaks the loudest, or gets out more than the others. All we know is that we are more familiar with him than any of the others. Thus, while acknowledging that there must be a variety, we must deal with this one familiar type:

He is obnoxious, first of all. He seems to have developed a mental condition which I will call “proselytism mania.” It drives him to “evangelize” us at all of the most inappropriate times, trying to share with us his truth. He is rude, in the sense that he presumes to know our most intimate depths before he even knows our names. Because of our hypersensitivity to superficiality and hypocrisy, he triggers in us the deepest resentment.

We see in his mentality a driving passion to convince us that he is right about something. He says that he is trying to introduce us to Jesus, our “personal savior,” but our keen perceptions reveal to us a different truth: he is trying to introduce us to himself. He not only wants us to accept Christ into our hearts; he wants us to accept him. He needs us. Every man he can coax into being born again is an affirmation of his identity. The project in which he is engaged is evangelism alright, but it is evangelism in the reverse. He is trying to bring us to “faith” so that he can rest in his.

We then come to a shocking realization: the man obsessed with evangelism is just as much an agnostic as we are! He is one of us acting unconsciously and in a different guise. The Christian who must evangelize his friends is just like the pop music star who writes songs demanding self-affirmation. He is crying out for security in his identity because he does not have it.

The contemporary “Evangelical” movement is, to us, just another expression of our shared condition of self-doubt.

We are then told that to reject Christ is to accept damnation. That’s the last resort. But we aren’t rejecting Christ. We are rejecting the evangelist and his neediness, which is quite a different thing. He tried to sell us his Jesus and we didn’t like the product. It left a nasty taste in our mouths. We’d be open to meeting Jesus, but we have the nagging conviction that he wouldn’t go around handing out “WWJD” bracelets. We sense that this man’s superficial version of Jesus is getting in between us and Jesus. We react accordingly: by asking him to step aside.

We don’t hate truth. We crave it. There is something we envy in the monk or the mystic. We envy their certainty and their peace. We don’t think they are fools, we just can’t find what they have and we refuse to pretend. We won’t be hypocrites.

We want truth more than anything else. More than pop music, motivational speeches, and youth groups. We want to meet others authentically; that’s why we don’t want to go on Christian “mission” vacations where we’ll be forced to impose ourselves on people we can’t truly meet or understand. That is hypocrisy and we won’t do it.

We don’t want a shallow “Extreme Home Makeover” experience where everyone gets warm fuzzies and cries at the end. We don’t mind crying, but only if the drama is real; we don’t want that manufactured stuff just so that we can have a release. We don’t want any part of that.

But that’s what church feels like. It feels like a situation manufactured to give security, warm fuzzies, and emotional indulgence to a culture starved of true, deep, invasive feeling.

We don’t want a band-aid for our anesthesia. We want a church of life and virility and depth. We’ll have a church of life or we won’t have one at all. We don’t accept this dose of “feel-good” just to offset the mechanical insanity of the daily grind. We want something so powerful it bleeds over and destroys the insanity. The fact that modern churches stay within the church and only come out during “ministry” time is proof of its impotence. We want something potent.

We do want salvation. We want salvation from our shame and our alienation, but we won’t accept counterfeits. And we see counterfeits everywhere. We cannot but refuse what we feel to be less than true. That is our painful virtue. This is why we avoid churches and church-goers. We haven’t rejected God. If we had then we would be atheists. But we aren’t atheists, we are agnostics. We don’t hate god. We don’t hate Christianity or Christ. We just can’t pretend like we know them when we don’t. We won’t trade our spiritual integrity for a mess of pottage. We’d rather live in pain than live what would be to us a lie. We refuse to blaspheme the holy spirit within us. For that reason we abstain from church. Someday our abstinence may come to an end, accompanied with all the rejoicing in heaven that we’ve heard so much about. But not today. And probably not tomorrow.

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