Friday, December 09, 2022

"Just because, that's why"

It's the worldwide slogan of disastrously bad parenting, when an adult is unable or unwilling to explain to their child why things are a certain way. The demand for obedience, with no explanation, and therefore stimulating no understanding within the child's mind. And, for the parent, the exercise of explaining why you think something, or why you do something, is a great way to self-examine, to re-assess, and to adapt.

Outside of parenting, it's also an attitude that has come up in some reflective conversations with friends in recent months, who have moved away from the religious, political and cultural contexts of their upbringing, which was often due to the failure of the previous generation to explain why.

When an inquiring mind asks an older practitioner 'why do we do this?' and the only reply is akin to 'just because, that's why', then that inquiring mind soon asks 'why do I do this?'. And soon will stop doing it.

And so, in my own narrow personal context here in Northern Ireland, I know many people from a generation of Christians whose youthful years were caught up in the busy activities of evangelical sub-culture but who can't today explain the Gospel, and perhaps have never actually believed it. Their hands were busy as that was the price of continued participation within that sub-culture. But their heads, and hearts, had never received or believed it for themselves. And so they have stopped.

The 2021 census results caused some excitement in the Northern Ireland media, and evangelical circles, with the concentration of 'no religion' in what would be regarded as traditionally culturally majority Protestant population areas, and all of the denominations have dropped in numbers. Personally I'm not overly concerned about this apparent reduction of the illusion of 'social influence' – because faith should be supernatural, individual and voluntary. A verse of a hymn by Joseph Hart (1711-1768) helps explain:

What comfort can a Saviour bring to those who never felt their woe?
A sinner is a sacred thing; the Holy Ghost hath made him so.
New life from Him we must receive, before for sin we rightly grieve.

It was once socially advantageous to participate in church culture. That is no longer the case, and in fact it might be counterproductive. The old nominalism is disappearing fast. 'My kingdom is not of this world', etc.

To take two topical NI subjects which have come up in these conversations, I know unionists who can't explain why the United Kingdom is Northern Ireland's best option. I know people who enjoy marking the events of 1688-90 but who can't explain why those are relevant today beyond the pageantry and commemorations. 

"Just because, that's why" is a verbalisation of thoughtlessness. It is no wonder that, when presented with such shallowness, those who want to think decide that there is no depth and drift away, or look elsewhere for meaning and purpose.

As Simon Sinek says in the video above, whatever you're trying to communicate to others, you need to start with why? And if you can't do that, then go away and figure it out. Now.