Where will society go in the next few years? Sure, while it’s impossible to completely predict the future, we can get a general idea based on trends. After all, if people like Warren Buffet can get rich by accurately predicting trends, wouldn’t be possible for the church to map out possible future challenges based on current events?
That’s where a really great conference I’ve been fortunate enough to attend the last couple of years come in. It’s called the the Church and Culture Conference. Hosted on the beautiful campus of the Mecklenburg Community Church (which experiences 70% of its annual growth from the unchurched — those who do not have affiliation from any church), this conference provides its attendees fresh content on the most pressing and emerging cultural trends and realities.
The main speaker is Dr. James Emery White, author of two great books on reaching younger generations: Rise of the Nones and Meet Generation Z. He also has a great Adventist name.
This past year, he shared some great information that I’m passing on to you today. These are 10 trends that we predict that we’ll be talking about in 2020. I am taking the gist of what he mentioned and including my own thoughts. Due to the length, I’ll be splitting this post up into two parts.
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Trend #1: The Daily Me
One reality that is quickly becoming obvious to more and more people is that society is turning more inward. Not only are nationalist groups gaining more support in places like Europe and the United states, individuals are seeking cultural echo chambers more and more. These echo chambers are groups or sources that say what we already think and believe.
One easy way this becomes apparent is through social media. We control what we see whenever we get on any social media site, and social media companies know that in order to get a positive interaction, it’s helpful to keep things that you like in front of your eyes. Have you ever noticed how sponsored posts or ads will be something that you recently looked at or support?
Web developers use special algorithms to filter out people, posts, or ideas that you have disliked or may be against in order to encourage a positive experience on their site. This means that we mainly engage with sources that don’t really challenge our viewpoints. This leads to the second trend.
Trend #2: The Neomedieval
Historically speaking, the Medieval period had several different periods. Using rough estimates, the middle ages lasted from about 400-1500 AD. The neomedieval period that Dr. White refers to is the early middle ages which lasted from about 400-1000 AD. This is where the real Dark Ages in Western society happened. After the fall of Rome to various barbaric tribes, there was a vacuum in Western society. Roman citizens were united mostly by name but little else. As a result, the groups that comprised the former Roman empire broke up into individual groups and tribes. There was little biblical literacy, although Christianity was still technically the “official” religion.
There are no perfect parallels, but Dr. White believes that we are slowly returning back to the early middle ages. This period in society also had parallels to the time in the book of Judges where everyone did “as they saw fit in their own eyes.”
Trend #3: Culture of Offense
Three terms that are going to be important moving forward are the following:
Microaggressions: these are words, however small, that might cause offense to any marginalized group.
Trigger warnings: a statement cautioning that content within a text, video, class, blog, etc., may upset or offend some people, especially to those who have been previously hurt.
Vindictive protectiveness: a term that has been used to describe an effort to shield people from words and ideas that make them uncomfortable.
This goes beyond the political rhetoric calling for an end to “political correctness.” This also doesn’t deny the fact that people can say offensive things, intentional or not. However, the trend that is being described is a movement happening in society where anything that anyone says that disagrees with your point of view can be labeled as “hate speech.”
In my experience, I’ve found this to be true as every topic I’ve written on, no matter how harmless it seemed, left me with a few messages from people who felt upset or offended at the content of my post. The challenge to a society that becomes offended at the prospect of challenging ideas is the undermining of solution-oriented dialogue.
Trend #4: The Age of Rage
There will be an increase in raw division among groups based on hate, anger, cut loose snarkiness, mean-edged dialogue, and general cynicism.
This was seen in the last general U.S. election. It is seen on online comment threads. I don’t think this needs an explanation or example. The point is that this trend will be more pronounced.
Trend #5: New Cultural Dictionary
Dr. White primarily referred to the redefinition of one word: tolerance.
Tolerance has several different facets, two of which he described as:
Classical tolerance: the freedom to express one’s ideas without fear of reprisal.
Legal tolerance: the concept that an idea or a belief has the right to exist and should be protected legally.
On these two points, I don’t think anyone would have a problem agreeing to and defending these ideas of tolerance. However, the challenge seems to be arising from a new, growing understanding of tolerance.
New tolerance: the concept that an idea or belief has the right to exist and that the idea must be affirmed as true. All ideas are equally true and valid.
Christian apologetics is going to have to address questions about its beliefs with new tolerance as the generally accepted definition. This goes beyond the idea that we have something to learn from everyone, no matter what walk of life they may have. The idea is that what is true for me, is true for me and what is true for you, is true for you… even if both our truths may be diametrically opposed to each other.
In the next blog, we’ll explore the next five cultural trends we’ll still be talking about in 2020.