Are you aware that it’s the 21st century? I imagine so. For those of us who lived in the pre-digital age, we can see not only the enormous changes that have happened over the last fifty years but also the potential that this new order offers. The digital age has firmly rooted itself in the present and will be with us as we go into the future. There’s no going back to those simpler analogue times. And who would want to?
Quantum computers, day-flights into space, self-driving cars, zoom meetings across the world… Streamed cinema on demand, all the music in the world accessed via subscription, virtual reality… Big bang theory, superstrings, multiverse theory, blackholes… It’s wonderous and exciting. There’s never been so many possible futures open to humanity. From technological utopias to dystopian catastrophes. The possibilities seem endless.
So, where does this leave Christianity, the movement that shaped the past and enabled this exciting new order? Okay, it wasn’t Christianity alone. Ancient Greek philosophy, the Roman empire, the Industrial Revolution… also shaped the world we have today, but Christianity was the voice, the soul of that change. And it remains here with us. The Virgin Birth and the Resurrection, the Trinity and Salvation in Christ alone… Churches still stand tall in our towns and cities.
Christianity appears to cope well with modern technology, it even copes well with globalisation and the religious and spiritual mix-and-match culture that has arisen out of the availability of a diverse range of religious teachings to anyone, anywhere. But ultimately, will Christianity, and other religions, need to be reduced down to a small number of essential teachings that have some relevance to the new digital future?
What does the Christian story mean to people born into this amazing world where virtually all the world’s knowledge is accessible to them 24/7 from a small device they keep in their pockets? What does the Christian teaching mean to people who don’t feel the burden of Original Sin or the need for Redemption and Salvation? These people recognise sadness and guilt. They recognise jealousy and meanness. They also recognise love and compassion but they no longer feel the need to attach these feelings to the Christian story of Salvation.
For those of us who have been Christian for a long time, it is difficult to imagine a world where Christian teachings become merely ornaments of history like the Roman Empire and the Industrial Revolution. But it will happen. The energy that gave the Christian story its power has moved elsewhere. If Christianity was a vineyard I think it would be time to gather the fruit, ferment the essence and bottle it for tomorrow. The consumers of tomorrows religion will want a whole new set of flavours to give their lives meaning.
Christians need to see their beliefs through the eyes of those brought up in this new world. Maybe that is an uncomfortable thing to do, maybe that is the saddest thing of all, but it is what is required if the essential message of Christianity is to remain relevant to the hearts and minds of those who have yet to be born. Christianity is not God. Christianity points us in the direction of God, to an encounter with the Divine. If there is only one way of doing that, then the future will have to survive without such encounters.