Sunday, February 21, 2010

What's the big idea?

If one thing is evident as we enter into the second decade of the twenty-first century it is that the time of big ideas is over. It seems that the era of big ideas really got going in the nineteenth century, when great systems were hatched, these are all-encompassing ways of looking at the world. I am thinking here of Hegelianism, Marxism, Kantianism, Darwinism, Freudianism, et. al. Even Christians got in on the act, constructing large theological systems rooted in various schools of philosophical, scientific, even in schools of nascent social scientific (i.e., sociology, economics, psychology) thought. It was not until the twentieth century that these ideas, these systems, showed us in horrifying clarity that ideas have consequences.

Whatever other deficiencies Nietzsche's thought has, his basic thrust and parry is to reject and prophetically denounce these largely inhuman and inhumane systems, which, in his day, grew to include parts of European Christianity. It was Fyodor Dostoevsky who explained that the only predictive power most of these systems could muster was through coercion and manipulation. Søren Kierkegaard who, much like the prophet Hosea, in the specific instance of Danish Lutheranism being infected with Hegelianism, offered a critique of Christianity for whoring after these overarching systems. Oh, the horrors of the age of ideology! A good thing about all the new media (i.e., cell phones, iphones, internet, Skype, etc.) is that it all helps to level things by toppling many of these imposed ideologies and the not-so-sacred hierarchies each generated, but these, too, can be dehumanizing.

"In the time when new media was the big idea/that was the big idea" (from U2's song Kite). To illustrate, not with a big idea, but an experience, I point to an article from The Front Porch Republic that my dear friend Suzanne recently brought to my attention: Facebook and Friendship, which, in turn, points to an October 2008 article in the New York Times magazine by Hal Niedzviecki in which he writes about inviting his 700-or-so Facebook friends to a party and only one bothered to come. Yes, I understand the irony of this paragraph, the paradox inherent in getting my point across in this way!

There is good news, that is, euvangelion (Greek- eu= good; angelion= message): Christianity is not a big idea! It is a singular person, a human being, Jesus Christ, the one who died and rose from the dead. Pope Benedict made this clear this past Christmas through his homilies by stating plainly that Christ is God's sign who "makes himself small for us." He becomes "so small so that we [can] understand him, welcome him, and love him." So small does Jesus become "that our hands can enclose him." This small idea is something I can deal with today.

Meum cum sim pulvis et cinis

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