Dealing With the Modern World

The modern era is characterized by very fast-paced change, the rate of which increases year after year. I’ve observed three main ways people respond to the change.

Embrace the new, reject the old

This reaction may be the most common. The assumption is that everything newer is better and supersedes what came before. The constant advancement of scientific knowledge lends credence to this idea, so we think that we know more today than did the people before us, even in areas that have nothing to do with science.

For the most part, this is the way of the world, and I submit that it is leading the world to destruction.

Reject the new, cling to the old

There are several reasons why some people are suspicious of modern ideas. One is that they hold to religious beliefs rooted in antiquity that are threatened by modern ideas. They may have been raised with these beliefs, or they may have had religious experiences that led to or confirmed these beliefs. The other reason, which may go along with the first, is that they witness the degradation and destruction of families and society because of the actions and changes made by those who embrace the new.

For whatever reason, people in this group tend to cling to ideas and thinkers from earlier eras and wholesale reject new ideas simply because they are different from the old ones. They often say that we would be better off if we went back to the ways of a previous time.

This reaction appears to be safe, and it does guard one from many of the errors of the modern world, but it ignores the fact that every age has its blind spots, and it’s easy to look at the past through rose-colored glasses. The other problem is that those who completely reject new ideas are not taken seriously by most people. They seem out of touch and so they are ignored. Even if they do get a hearing, they may not know how to communicate these old ideas in a way that is comprehensible to outsiders.

Critically evaluate the new without losing touch with the old

Finally, there are people who maintain contact with their heritage and learn from it, but they do not wholesale reject new ideas. Instead, they critically evaluate new ideas drawing from the wisdom of the past. They recognize that although we can preserve the best from the past, we cannot really go back. The world has changed and we must deal with it, even if we do not believe it is all for the better. We must figure out how the old ways that we know are good interact with the way people think today. Their desire is to inject ancient wisdom into modern thinking with the hope that we can straighten out the course of the world.

Not only does this position have a better chance of reaching the world, it also recognizes that the old ways were not perfect, and the new ways are not all bad. There is a danger, however, because new ways are untested. What may appear to be a good new idea may after time has past prove to be seriously flawed. We should not blame people for trying new ideas that are later shown to be wrong if they are willing to accept correction.

A specific example: Theology

The first 25 years of my Christian life was lived in a pretty conservative context. I went to conservative churches that rejected most modern theological ideas and methods. All I knew about these ideas were how they were wrong.

When I studied theology at University of Dallas, I encountered approaches that were more nuanced. For example, in my Christology course, taught by Fr. Roch Kereszty, I saw traditional views of Jesus established using the modern Historical-Critical (H-C) method that been used by others to introduce radically different ideas of who Jesus is. For example, Fr. Roch proved that belief in the resurrection of Christ existed in the Church shortly after the time that Jesus died by using St. Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians and establishing a historical timeline for the material in that epistle. In the past, I had avoided and ignored H-C theology, but I saw that it could be useful and did not have to be feared. Pope Benedict XVI did some of the same things in his Jesus of Nazareth trilogy. In fact, Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul II are great examples of this critical approach that engages with the new while staying rooted in the old.