I came across a great quote today from Pope Benedict which presents a way of thinking about living an authentic Christian life in our modern, western world:
We do not know what the future of Europe will be. Here we must agree with Toynbee, that the fate of a society always depends on its creative minorities. Christian believers should look upon themselves as just such a creative minority, helping Europe to reclaim what is best in its heritage and thereby to place itself at the service of all humankind. (See the whole article by Benedict here.)
Toynbee was a British historian who looked at history as a series of rising and falling cultures. In his understanding, cultures are shaped by the particular challenges their culture faced. The role of the “creative minority” was to offer solutions which addressed the challenges of the times. There’s a very interesting and long discussion to be had regarding how this works, however, I have kids to take care of so I’m going to cut it as short as I can. In Toynbee’s estimation, the creative minority offer a solution to a challenge. These are people of virtue, conviction and clear thinking who are willing to stand outside of prevailing norms and ideas. The creative minority, in Toynbee’s view was central to shaping cultures through a process of imitation (as opposed to force through the rule of law and such). (There’s much much more to this, but this post has already taken too long!)
What Pope Benedict is proposing here is that faithful Christians see themselves as acting as a creative minority to the current state of affairs in which a nihilistic and sexually anarchic form of secular humanism currently holds the dominant position. Christianity, faithfully lived, forces the believer to live a life which is radically different from our dominant society. In time, this faithful minority will become more and more visible and could be seen as a viable alternative to the destruction of family, glorification of self and materially driven existence which our current culture produces.
Some may note that the pope is speaking of Europe, which has rather obviously been de-Christianized and not the USA which is often presented as a very religious nation. However, if we look at the fruit of this supposedly Christian nation while there are certainly some good, vibrant things present, there are also higher incidences of almost every social ill known to man found here than in most European countries. For an idea of how America can appear to be a Christian nation while radically not living it out, check out this article on what has been dubbed Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (HT Rod at Crunchy Cons). Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is a religion of sorts which while still being called Christianity by its practitioners, is actually something quite different from historic Christianity and produces much different fruits in the lives of its adherents.
At any rate, I find this formulation of the role of the faithful Christian in society rather helpful to me. I sometimes feel like a freak because there are so many ways in which my and my family’s life runs counter to cultural norms. Just last night I was telling some other homeschool moms that I worry that by raising my boys to according to my understanding of what it means to be well-socialized mature, thinking Christian men, I was setting them up to be so outside of the norm that they would have a hard time finding a place in society. However, conceiving of ourselves as a creative minority is much more hopeful than just thinking of ourselves as freaks. And I certainly prefer the idea of raising my children to be part of a creative minority rather than just producing freaks 🙂