Sunday, January 28, 2007

Alienation and Abstraction

Two "A" words, Alienation and Abstraction, really seem to be words that describe much of our existence in a fallen world influenced by post-modernity.

We are around many people, but rarely communicate with any one of them. We have the tools to understand, probe, and examine, but we are fed a steady diet of cold summaries.

Imagine this hypothetical man:

He gets up in the morning on a week day, and quickly moves from one alienation to another. He half-heartedly says goodbye to the wife and kids. The only way he can drag himself to work is to know he is escaping his family. And the only way he can drag himself to his family is knowing he is escaping his work. Both environments are hostile. He could easily be cut off from either one of these environments. The one by a souring relationship and a divorce. The other by a souring economy and a layoff. He has both a job and a family, but at the same time it seems he doesn't have them.

Finally this hypothetical man is done work. He works his way through a crowded street. There are many people just like him, but he feels no reason to care. His eyes darn quickly to avoid eye contact. In his car, he turns on his radio and hears the weather. He hears that there has been 7 inches of snow in the last 24 hours in Colorado, or maybe it was 8. And the Nasdaq is going down too. It doesn't make much of a difference to him. As he leaves his car and heads into his, our hypothetical man's wife gives him a report of the state of affairs. The babysitter can't come until 8pm. Etc. Etc. He half listens to all that while listening to the latest sport scores. He flips the channel and finds that 5 more soliders were killed in Iraq. He's never been there or known anyone who has. 5 deaths don't phase him, nor does the next news blip which states that some 50 people died in an earthquake somewhere out in the East.

That is just small sampling of the alienation and abstraction that your average person goes through in a day.

Ever since the Fall, alienation has been active in just about every relationship that could be imagined. Human-to-human relationships (parents-children, husband-wife, friends, lovers) have had an element of alienation due to sin. But also, the fall also accounts for alienation between man and plants/animals, and even the relationship between animals. It isn't that these relationships have disappeared, but rather that they have been damaged. Even when they are in place, it is easy for a sense of alienation to creep, especially when things are not held in a proper perspective. And I think there are recently developments in culture and technology which pronounce these alienations.

Abstraction may be a little more difficult to pinpoint. There are many levels of abstraction. It isn't always easy to discern them. And abstraction is necessary in all thought, but I'd suggest that at some points, abstraction lets us escape some things that we shouldn't be allowed to escape. A suitable definition of abstraction could be "the act of considering something as a general quality or characteristic, apart from concrete realities, specific objects, or actual instances." Abstraction becomes nasty when we use this tool for condensing and focusing our thought in either a harmful way or use it to escape the reality of our alienation.

This problem is a large problem that can easily be evaded, but not easily resolved. In fact, it will never be resolved as long as we live under the understanding that we are bags of matter and the assumption that there is nothing beyond the material. However, even if we have some of the proper basic building blocks, we need to have a further understanding of the place of humans in this universe, their relation to each other and other creatures, and ultimately their relation to God. If Christianity is true, it must have answers to these sort of things. I believe it does. I think it ultimately comes down to the fact that Christianity alone has a view of the universe which accurately and properly describes the human condition.

I get the feeling that, as correct as our theology may be, a large portion of the evangelical Christian church is furthering this alienation. Instead of skillfully and faithfully holding forth the gospel and carrying out the work commissioned to us as ambassadors for Christ in our unique circumstances, it seems that too often we are only further bringing about the ugliness of the Fall while at the same time at least partially hypocritically proclaiming healing. We are asking people to cross a bridge to our side, but wonder when they point at our side and say "why?" when they see our state of affairs.

What must you and I do, individually, in order to live out a world view which allegedly (as my contention would be) solves the problem of modern man's alienation from each other and God? This is a question that I've arrived at while on vacation, enjoying God's earth, reading, talking, thinking, watching, etc.

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