Before we get into preparing to celebrate Christmas and herald the New Year, let us reflect on a revolution that we have remembered this year. In recent weeks we have been reminded of the 16th Century Reformation, prompted by the thinking and actions of Martin Luther and others, which paved the way for the Anglican church of which we are a part. Today the world may dismiss this as a purely religious matter, an Internal church revolution. And yet It had a profound effect on the lives of everyone from the Monarch downwards. But there was another, and in many ways more profound, revolution that was concurrent with these ‘church’ events — and that was the Invention of the printing press, and the consequent availability of the Bible, and other literature, in English for everyone, not just the educated elite (mainly clergy), to read. This combination of the reformation’s ideas and a major technological advance led to a society strongly based on the ethic of the Christian faith, its world view, its rich spirituality and its clear moral code. The church had a powerful and influential say in our land. At times its attitude was harsh and hypocritical, but mostly admirable. It strengthened the bonds of family and community, encouraged personal responsibility, virtue, fidelity and service to others. People found that the story the Bible told made sense of our place in the universe. The church embraced a new zeal to communicate its message of redemption, forgiveness, love and hope.
Today, if you are a parent, grandparent, great grandparent or Godparent, take a moment to observe the lives of anyone you know born since about 1997. Many of us are becoming acutely aware of another technological revolution that is already having a profound effect on our society. Growing evidence indicates that teenagers are spending five or six hours a day looking at a screen. They are going out with friends less and texting more. The result is that many young people are dissatisfied with life, they feel lonely and anxious, and depressive Illness has rocketed. Worse still, their daily news and opinions are formed through an easily manipulated social media, and they end up with the news they want to hear, rather than the truth, and with opinions formed only by those with whom they agree.
I do not believe it is an exaggeration to suggest that this technological revolution threatens a sense of belonging to a community because it cultivates a philosophy that amounts to “do whatever you want and get away with it”. Someone has called it ‘hyper-individualism’. Of course, this is not to deny that the new information technology revolution is a significant force for good in our society; but there are signs that it is harming us. Availability of information is clearly no guarantee that the next generation will use that information wisely. What we need is a new reformation based on the ideal that the Christian faith can be the source of a sense of collective belonging. The church is at its best when it is being and behaving as a community that really does care for the common good.
Perhaps this new reformation can begin with you and me and what we give our young people at this Christmas time. Will it be another smartphone or an electronic game? Or will it be to encourage an interest or a hobby, or to give them a new experience that will deepen a sense of ‘collective belonging’? Or will it be simply an action or a conversation that demonstrates the gift that Christmas is all about, the gift of love. And when that gift is received, and responded to, people care more deeply and more wisely for one another and for the whole of creation.