Can Christianity and modernity go together?
It’s a topic I often hear when I study English and Art history. As the world moves forward and time continues, it’s inevitable that the things we see, hear and do every day will be affected by worldviews that continue to change. How do we stand firm in our belief when Post-Modernism and secularism heavily influence all the literature, art, music etc?
It’s part of the human experience, and as long as you’ve ever opened the internet, I’m sure this is something we’ve all experienced in our lives.
As an avid fan of history and the arts, these are some thoughts I’ve contemplated recently.
Christianity in literature
A poem I’m reading at school right now is about a man in early 20th Century America, and, bound by his religion (more specifically, his conversion to Anglicanism), he has alienated and isolated himself from society. The man is stuck in a dilemma:
- He doesn’t know what to do in his life
- He is afraid of approaching the people around him
- He fears death, and his body is deteriorating
- He is unhappy about the deterioration of this superficial world
Literature critics say that his spirituality is the reason why he is ‘broken’ or different. He doesn’t fit into society’s norms and certainly isn’t feeding into the new Modernism ideas that were emerging at the time.
Fast forward 100 years later, and we’re in the 21st Century or the Post-Modern Era. Do you relate to this man? Even 100 years later, his experience with the deteriorating and superficial world is still what we face today (it’s probably even worse now).
Christianity in art
“Does modern art hate religion?” a BBC Contemporary Art article reads. At first glance, it seems that, yes, religion and art in the Post-Modern world seem to clash in every way possible. What was once the most predominant subject matter in the art world is now tucked away in art galleries that focus on contemporary and modern art.
If you lived in the olden days, all the art you’d see would be Christian or Catholic. But now, the only Christian form of art we see regularly is probably Mary and Baby Jesus on the old church building window you see at the corner of your street (architecture is art, too!).
Obviously, there is a huge decline in Christian art today. And with the takeover of secularism, Christian art is not only rare but strange. More on this later.
Christianity in music
You’ve probably heard of Bach before (he wrote St Matthew Passion and the famous Cello Suites). He famously quotes, “The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul”. Notice how familiar this is to the Westminster Catechism; “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever”.
From the beginning of time, in the Bible, the purpose of music was for God—to worship, praise and enjoy Him. First used by King David, who played the lyre, and the Levites, who were musically trained, music in the Bible was originally used according to its purpose.
You can probably guess where I’m getting at now.
In comparison, think about the music you and I listen to every day. Though I do know a few people who only listen to Classical music and hymns, for most of us, secular music is normalised, and we are numb to it.
It isn’t exactly wrong to listen to secular music; I’ll admit, I do too (and probably to an unhealthy extent). I’m not rambling on about how all secular music nowadays only revolves around love, money and sin, but what becomes an issue is that the music we listen to isn’t fulfilling its purpose.
Does listening to music about money and sex glorify God? Or does constantly feeding our minds with heartbreak lyrics refresh our souls? Sure, there might be some empowering or reassuring music out there, but the comfort and joy we receive on Earth can only be temporary. Again, eternal joy can only be found in God and His glorification.
And so the question still stands: Can Christianity and modernity go together?
Many believe that Christianity and modernity are like oil and water. How can we maintain a Christian life, yet still be alive and somewhat ‘normal’ within society?
In a world that is slowly leaving tradition and spirituality behind, it definitely isn’t easy to stay strong in faith while not feeling like an outsider. And with the rise of pop culture and the internet, we can never really escape the world’s attempts to draw us away from God.
A Bible verse that I hear commonly about this topic is John 15:19. In the ESV version, it reads:
“If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”
Although the Bible was written thousands of years ago, its ideas and values still apply to us today (which is all the more reason for us to read it!)
Christianity and modernism aren’t total opposites. Like in any time period in history, as children of God, our end goal is to bring God’s glory and Kingdom to earth. In any context we are placed in, we are to bring people to God instead of following the flow of the world.
Another way to put it is that God is omniscient. He wants the best for us and wouldn’t ‘sabotage’ us by putting us in an evil world of modernism for absolutely no reason. He knows we can overcome it (with His help, of course).
When we feel down or lost among the treasures of the world, know that there is a higher and much more precious joy that we can have. A joy that we can only find in God, the Creator of all things.
So yes, Christianity and modernism can go together. When we are grounded in the truth and love of God, living a Christian life in the midst of a modern world is a must for us. And by doing so, we are glorifying God, setting an example to the people around us.
– Written by: V.H.