King's Evangelical Divinity School

24 May 2016

Diversity's Inexorable Journey Toward Homogeneity

Currently in Italy with the missus (Pisa to be precise, Lucca tomorrow). Lovely place, great ice cream, lots of tourists, and street vendors selling the same things they sell as in Rome, London, New York, indeed any major tourist area. And hot dogs, hamburgers and Coke pretty much everywhere.

Relaxing in our room tonight, perusing hundreds of Italian TV channels, I stumbled upon the Italian version of MTV. I was struck by how similar the acts were to those on other versions of the channel. Indeed, mute the sound and watching it, it could easily be the UK or US version: same dances, gangster hand gestures, caps worn at jaunty angles, chunky gold earrings worn by burly blokes, the inevitable crotch-grabbing, etc etc. All in all, the world is shrinking, local popular cultures are gradually but inexorably being replaced by a global and homogenous popular culture, and many aspects of popular culture today all look pretty much the same. I remember in the 1970s how travelling from country to country, even within Europe alone, yielded considerable diversity from country to country. Much, much less of that now.

Naturally, new tools like the Internet have shrunk the world. But arguably it goes further than that. Western  liberalism has, in the past two or three decades, become obsessed with the cult of diversity, while popular culture icons have emulated this value to the extent that, ironically, diversity is increasingly leading to a global homogenous popular culture where everyone seeks to act the same in the name of coolness. Thus it seems if you emphasise differences enough, everyone jumps on the bandwagon so that end result is most of us act the same. 

What has this to do with Christians? Well, consider, for example, worship. In the name of diversity traditional worship styles have been challenged and replaced by soft rock version. Now, I'm not saying anything against this rather archaic (from a popular culture perspective) form of worship (OK, maybe I am being a tiny bit critical). The problem is, when everyone does it the end result is not only that local expressions of worship are no different from elsewhere, but indeed that the "new way of doing things" becomes the norm.

The liberal West's cult of diversity is, ironically, watering down diversity and inexorably leading to a global heterogeneity. For its part, the Church too often emulates the world in a bid to remain culturally relevant. Unfortunately, local and distinct expressions of Christianity are subsequently being swallowed up by an increasingly homogenously global expression of Christian  faith, so that when I recently visited a Latin American church it was like being in Australia. And we are all the poorer for it.