The Fallen World of “Perfect” Communities
An important part of being human is recognizing and remembering that we are all fallen creatures. The fallen state goes beyond just a person’s finite abilities (seeing the future, making planets, etc.) but ultimately leads to sin that alienates us from God and others. Our hearts, minds, and actions can be used for wrong things. Things that ultimately offend God, other people, and even ourselves. Even philosophers, psychologists, and sociologists realize that human beings have a problem; as much good as we are capable of doing our lives are also plagued with vices and corruption that even we cannot not fully understand or control.
Even after a person becomes a Christian, there is still this messiness of living out an existence of sin, grace, and holiness ultimately culminating in the doctrine described as sanctification. My goal in this blog is not to describe original sin or sanctification or other more complex issues of theological engagement. I personally am not a fan of either “defeatist Christianity” or “Christian perfectionism.” My goal in using the idea of the fallen state is to help myself and others recognize that “falleness” is a universal part of being human and cannot be forgotten when building Christian communities. However, in our quest to be a people for God, some have isolated themselves from the world to become a “holy” people. But is that the best way?
M. Night Shyamalan’s 2004 movie, The Village, described the struggle to create a “perfect” community in a fallen world. The movie described a puritanical-like village set during the eighteenth century. There were clear moral boundaries, respect, no crime, and an Amish-like innocence to life. However, we eventually learn that the village is not an eighteenth century community but an isolated social experiment set in contemporary society. The elders of this community each carry a story of how evil in the world had changed their life. They eventually created this community to build a society better than the one that hurt them. For them evil could be controlled and forgotten through constructing a community not corrupted by the modern world.
The younger generation of the village did not know about the outside world, and that helped maintain their “innocence” or so they thought. Even though the village grew and there was little doubt of its peaceful nature, one of their young men to try to kill another man. Because of this character’s jealousy, an assault was committed in what seemed to be a “perfect” community. One can only imagine the shock for the village. In their quest to rid themselves of the “evils” of society and create a peaceful community, the village never managed to escape evil and violence being done to them. The young man who committed the crime was not peer pressured, persuaded, or corrupted by his environment. His drive to commit a “sin” and hurt another person came from a struggle within himself. Although by the end of the movie the victim survived and the isolated village still managed to remain the same, the goal of the community in the first place failed. By isolating itself from the world the community of The Village didn’t leave the evil of the world behind.
This movie always reminds me of the sinful struggle within humanity and of the ways Christian communities have strived to do the same thing with the world around them. In our quest for holiness Christians have sometimes disengaged from the larger culture believing that somehow we can create a culture that is not impacted by a fallen world. Fundamentalists of the twentieth century strived to maintain a “pure” church by isolating conservative Christianity from all forms of “worldliness.” One could not engage culture without being corrupted; philosophy, the arts, film, music, politics, and a whole list of other disciplines and aspects of culture were ignored by “Bible believing Christians.” Even Christian’s today are ignorant of larger social issues and cultural understandings because of a need to be “set apart.” H. Richard Niebuhr described this mentality as “Christ against the World.” Christians are to be separate from the world and not let cultural engagement or influence corrupt the gospel of Jesus.
Now there is merit in some of Niebuhr’s analysis, and the concept of Christian’s being a holy people in an unholy world is biblical. However, I do not think that to maintain holiness the Church should isolate herself from the larger culture. The Church should also not think that somehow by creating Christian subcultures or movements “falleness” will not eventually have an impact in some way, shape, or form. I believe Christians should help create culture and engage culture. Building communities that are holistic and reflecting Christ through every aspect of our lives, while maintaining a sober judgment that human beings are well…fallen.
Now this idea of cultural engagement and community creation is still riddled with other problems (and will probably be addressed in future blogs). Christians have been known to engage the culture while losing that ability to be “set apart” and watering down the power of the living God to a few humanitarian efforts and happy thoughts. Even while writing this my head is filled with ideas and possible consequences. However, my goal is not isolate myself from the world to make me “holy” but to be transformed by God while living in this world. The theology of being holy is important, but I believe how we can be a holy people engaging, creating, and redeeming culture is an even bigger point to ponder.