Several weeks ago, blog commenter extraordinaire Luke Breuer posed the following question to me in a discussion thread:
“What are some of the ways you think Christianity [strongly?] contrasts with contemporary culture?”
It’s an interesting question, not least because I spend a lot of my time emphasizing the points of continuity between Christianity and contemporary culture. But there is also value in highlighting the points of discontinuity, and so I’m devoting a brief series to that topic.
For starters, I think the starkest contrast is likely centered on the question: who owns my body (or my person or my life)? In contemporary culture there is a very strong emphasis on individualism and individual bodily autonomy. I own my body, and it is offensive and all but inconceivable that one might suggest otherwise. This belief often expresses itself in the sentiment that I can do what I want with myself so long as I do not hurt others.
But in a Judeo-Christian picture of the world, you do not have that kind of autonomy because you do not own your own life and you are not the master of your own destiny. Indeed, if I may put this bluntly, your life is on loan, a gift from your creator, a bequeathal to which you’ve been called to be a good steward.
Picture, for a moment, the hobo who pitches a tent on the estate of a rich landowner. A few hours later, a tap comes on the door of his tent. It’s the landowner’s security detail. “Leave me alone!” the hobo snaps. “I ain’t hurting nobody!” But the hobo has missed the point: whether or not he is hurting anybody is not the issue. The point is that he is on the landowner’s property. And thus, it is to the landowner that he is accountable.
That analogy captures something of the sense of dependence of which we speak. But it doesn’t go far enough. The issue is not merely the land on which one pitches one’s tent. The Christian perspective is more radical still: your very body, your very life, is owned by God. So when his security detail taps on your tent, you have no ground to snap back “Leave me alone!”
You are his, whether you like it or not.