Episode 82: New Show Preview for 2021! Culturology- The Word and the World (Christianity and Identity Crisis)Oct 22, 2020
Today we preview a new edition coming to the Better Bible Reading Podcast in 2021 called Culturology- The Word and the World.
This segment will focus on the Christian worldview along with culture, politics and philosophy. This show is more 'newsroom' in nature, and it's presented to you in a way that makes you stop, listen and think. Our discussion today is entitled, "Christianity and Identity Crisis".
This is episode 82 of the Better Bible Reading Podcast with Kevin Morris!
CHRISTIANITY AND IDENTITY CRISIS
Today’s culture is trending in the topics of identity, gender, and sexuality. These trends are not simply subsets of investigative journalism or academic research, rather they are social, moral, and revolutionary in nature. While a thorough investigation of this trend is beyond the scope of this paper, the outworking of this trend ultimately speaks to the reality that society is seeking to reinterpret what it means to be.
In 2012, Forbes magazine interviewed Stedman Graham, a marketing CEO and asked some very important questions including how he defines identity: “Identity is about positive traits; it also can be negative traits. It’s a combination of things that you do” (Schawbel, Forbes.com). In this view, it seems that the line is blurred between what Graham calls identity and what others would simply call characteristics or traits. But he continues: “Identity is on the inside as opposed to the outside. Most people define you by the outside based on your color, based on your religion, and based on your environment, all of the external things that make you think that’s who you are.” This answer should not be a shock to anyone, yet the answer given demonstrates that the popular worldview is one that disassociates identity from externals, including religion. In Graham’s view, identity is subjective, whatever one makes it.
Moving from the business world to the philosophical world, there seems to be added fuel to the subjectivity of identity. Even three decades ago, the cultural current was being deciphered by Jane Flax, who writes in her article entitled “Postmodernism and Gender Relations in Feminist Theory”: “It seems increasingly probable that Western culture is in the middle of a fundamental transformation: a “shape of life” is growing old. In retrospect, this transformation may be as radical (but as gradual) as the shift from a medieval to a modern society” (621). According to Jane, 1987 was amid a fundamental transformation, and the link to this transformation was the rise of philosophical postmodernism (a distrust of grand theories and ideologies). What happens when this rejection of the objective is applied to identity? Identity becomes subjective and far removed from anything objective, it mutates from “the shape of life” to shapes of life.
Having touched on the business and philosophical world, a brief view of the social world of identity demonstrates how all of this subjective momentum comes to a screeching halt. The concept of social identity theory describes that of an individual’s self-conception of both personal and collective identity (Wengrzyn, Study.com) What better place to see this conception than in the social world, which we call social media. Northwestern CTD, a nonprofit of Northwestern University, wrote an article exploring the effect of social media on identity in which they make a sobering statement:
As sites like Facebook and LinkedIn become increasingly integrated in our social and professional lives, differences between our “real” and online identities can shape not only how others perceive us but our self-perceptions, creating pressure to be more like the often idealized digital versions of ourselves and our peers. (Ctd.Northwestern.edu)
Social media introduces a third element in what was once the two elements of private and public life. As the article states, people are now able to create and manage their own digital versions of themselves where photos can be edited, posts can be revised, comments can be deleted, and realities can be altered. Perhaps this used to be a problem that only celebrities had to deal with, but now it is a global dilemma for people of all walks of life.
How does this intersect with religion in general and Christianity in particular? According to the secular world, it does not and should not. Ryan Stringer writes in his Huffington Post article entitled “Yes, Life Without Religion Can Be Meaningful”: “Religion doesn’t have a monopoly on providing a sense of purpose in life. Instead, we can give purpose to our own lives” (Stringer, huffingtonpost.com). The Christian would agree with Stringer that religion does not provide purpose in life. This of course must be defined in the way that Stringer refers to religion, that is, conceptual religion. In fact, the article itself lacks any definitive substance, referring to ‘life’ conceptually instead of identity substantially and religion conceptually instead of God substantially.
This is where Christianity stands distinct over against the business, philosophical, and social views of identity. For the Christian, identity is rooted in God objectively and substantially in that we are beings created by Him in His image, given blessing and purpose as His creation. For the secular world, identity is autonomous; for Christians, identity is dependent upon the independent God of creation who causes all to live and move and have their being in Him (Acts 17.28). In the Bible, belonging to God is the epitome of identity and the highest degree of purpose: “See what kind of love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (English Standard Version, 1 John 3.1).
When Stringer continues in his article, he proposes that religion has been the guise of a rewards system, whereby people seek to find identity with a future promise of heaven. Again, the Christian would agree that identity is not to be rooted in heaven conceptually. Instead, it is rooted in a substantial heavenly identity: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Rev. 21.3). But lest this identity become a romanticized view of identity, it must be noted that all who enjoy the identity described in the Bible did not get there without some degree of seeking identity under every other nook and cranny.
As Tim Keller asserts, “Home, then, is a powerful but elusive concept. The strong feelings that surround it reveal some deep longing within us for a place that absolutely fits and suits us, where we can be, or perhaps find, our true selves” (1030). All human beings seek this place of belonging, the essence of identity. Yet for Christians, it is essential to stress that identity is not simply about God or towards but, but in God, “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3.3). And Paul, the man who wrote that verse knew what it meant to have life in God: “But by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15.10a).
For Paul, this was a reflection upon his ethnic identity as a Jew, his previous religious identity as anti-Christian, and his humble identity as apostle of God. Paul’s mindset of social identity is that there should be a balance between knowing who one was, knowing who one is, and knowing who one will be. He encourages Christians to come to terms with their identity and human qualities to find true substantial identity in God.
It is true that there are intersecting elements of self and social identity with the Christian worldview and the secular world. Yet an important takeaway from this analysis is to see that the secular view of identity is subjective, autonomous and conceptual. In contrast, the Christian worldview asserts that identity is objective, dependent and substantial, being directly tied to God and rooted in God. This substance makes all the difference in the world for Christians who are attempting to wade through the ever-changing waters of cultural and social norms.
Flax, Jane. “Postmodernism and Gender Relations in Feminist Theory” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 12, no. 4 (Summer, 1987): 621-643.
Northwestern CTD. The Self in Selfie: Identity in the Age of Social Media. Ctd.northwestern.edu, February 2016, ctd.northwestern.edu/blog/self-selfie-identity-age-social-media.html. Accessed 30 April 2018.
Schawbel, Dan. How to Find Your Own Identity and Capitalize on it. Forbes.com, September 2012, forbes.com/sites/danschawbel/2012/09/26/how-to-find-your-own-identity-and-capitalize-on-it.html. Accessed 30 April 2018.
Stringer, Ryan. Yes, Life Without Religion Can Be Meaningful. HuffingtonPost.com, March 2017, huffingtonpost.com/ryan-stringer/yes-life-without-religion-can-be-meaningful_b_9376188.html. Accessed 30 April 2018.
The Bible. English Standard Version, Crossway, 2008
Wengrzyn, Rob. Social Identity Theory: Definition and Examples. Study.com, October 2014, study.com/academy/lesson/social-identity-theory-definition-and-examples.html. Accessed 17 March 2018.
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