Trueman On Apathy (If You Care)

This book brings me back around: Carl Trueman’s Minority Report. I’m really enjoying it – and that’s a big understatement.  Here’s a great summary of his chapter (2.1) on apathy.  He gives and explains four reasons why so many people today are apathetic.

“First, there is materialistic comfort.”  Trueman says that people who have tons of stuff are much more prone to apathy than those who have little and have to struggle for what they have.  “One of the unfortunate side effects” of our wealth is that we are “complacent and apathetic.”

“At least, complacent and apathetic about things that matter; our material prosperity and security does free up time and money for us to be passionate about insignificant trivia – sporting fixtures, television programs and such….”

The second reason for our apathy, writes Trueman, is “pervasive cynicism.”  “The more we know about the world, the more we realize how difficult, if not impossible, it is for us as individuals or even as nations to make a great difference in the way the world is.”

“Third, the very form of mass media – whether television or the internet – militates against passionate engagement.  The form is simply too egalitarian, too democratic, too incapable of presenting the kind of hierarchy of values which would lead away from apathy and towards activism about important matters.”  Also what comes with this is “a strong gravitational pull” towards a “total trivialization of the serious.”  (And if I can add, a seriousness about the trivial.)

The fourth reason for our apathy has to do with how cynicism and trivialization (mentioned in #2 & #3) find their height in postmodernism (the logical fruition of Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche’s teaching).  All public truths (as Newbigin wrote about) have become private values that are matters of personal taste.  And if this is true, “then there is little point about being too passionate about them in the public sphere – what’s the point?  Such would be at best misguided and patronizing, at worst an arrogant attempt to impose our will upon another.” 

This is an amazing chapter – brief, clear, to the point, and penetrating.  We see this kind of apathy in all spheres of life: 20% of the town comes out to vote, cops stand by and watch gangs beat the snot out of a helpless man, and many Christians are fine with worshiping two, maybe three times a month with God’s people.  Football stadiums are full, churches are empty.  The trivial is serious, the serious is trivial.

Trueman is right: Christians must fight apathy at all costs.  We need to be at war with our indifference, especially in the realm of faith.

“For the Christian, neither [belief or practice] is a matter of indifference.  I believe certain things are true and certain things are right.  That places me under intellectual and moral obligation to think and to live in accordance with God’s truth and God’s morality.  If I am apathetic, what I am really saying is that God’s truth and God’s morality are matters of indifference, they are of only relative or local importance, and that God is therefore not sovereign and I am not dependent upon him for everything. Like the church in Laodicea, I am neither hot nor cold, fit only for vomiting on to the pavement.”

shane lems

sunnyside wa