Megachurches and vacations and tours offer something that most of us crave and a few of us will even admit it: Anonymity. But anonymity tears us out of our context into an easy humility that does not demand anything of us. It’s far from a Christian thought or principle or lifestyle, but it is very appealing.
Why does it appeal so much to us?
I suspect it has to do with dealing with the combinations of expectations upon us from every angle puts a huge weight on our chests, a millstone so to speak. Our own thoughts and heads demand quite a bit of our own behavior struggling to keep it within perceived social norms. Self abuse occurs more than we would like to admit, and it can be every bit as powerful as social abuse.
Anonymity looses us in the crowd and decreases the pressure upon us to have to fit in. It’s like having some really loud off key singer (me) just behind you, it makes you feel a little bit more confident to belt it out on the songs because you know no one can hear you over that racket. Getting sucked in to the crowd can also allow you to listen and think without having to speak to anyone you don’t know in anything more than the most cursory fashion.
This all sounds pretty good and very comfortable, so why do I think it is a problem?
It is a pattern of avoidance. Instead of finding ways of coping with the pressures we are under we escape from them. It is in a weird way entering a social fantasy that is self serving. It is escape from a community rather than participation with a community. And while I blast megachurches for this, I am fully aware that this escapism in worship can happen at any church.
The Screwtape Letters written by C.S. Lewis come at temptation from the angle of the tempters. A senior tempter writes to his junior tempter giving advice on how best to work out the details. At one point the senior tempter points out that you can use the prayers of your target for temptation as a way to lead them astray by keeping the prayers ‘spiritual’ and away from grounding in the hear and now. If you take your target and get them to pray for their mother but a very idealized version of the target’s mother, then when they get done praying they can snap or be angry and unkind to the real person just after praying for them.
In the same way, anonymity allows us a fantasy community. It is a community that does not allow us to have to love our neighbors in any substantive way, and because of that it is not very Christian.
On the other hand there is a place for another type of anonymity. Particularly the Christian idea of humility. In this case we slip into the crowd as part of the crowd loving our neighbors in Spirit and Truth. This is the community that Christ was working to create, it’s what happens in Sunday Schools and Small Groups and Anonymous groups.
A community of mutual support and encouragement, and accountability, is difficult and hard – it can call us out of self judgement or places us into convicted resolve to change.
It’s this community that offers us a place where we are not trying to escape but rather to embrace the hard work of being part of a group of people, the hard work of loving real people. Perhaps it’s this ability to love people we actually have around us that our culture is loosing.