Do you belong to the mainstream

It can sometimes be useful to ask yourself what is mainstream in our society: what is common, normal and widely believed, and what is not. This can be particularly useful when considering such questions as the response to corona, climate change or how to vote in elections. For example, not so long ago, a large minority of people denied climate change was even happening. Luckily the penny seems to have dropped in recent years and there is a general mainstream belief that something urgently needs to be done about it. There are still small numbers of corona deniers, who believe that the whole corona crisis is simply an invention. The vast majority – the mainstream – believe it is real and that we need to protect ou rselves against it.

     On the other hand, it would be a mistake to assume that the majority, the mainstream, get it right all the time. Beliefs and practices become outdated. Sometimes it is simply time for the mainstream to change. Once, supporting slavery was a widespread, mainstream belief. Or restricting the vote to men only. Or occupying less developed countries for their own good. In more recent years rampant economic growth and consumerism were mainstream. Only now are more and more people talking about sustainable growth and a reduction in consumerism. Maybe in one generation’s time consumerism will no longer be mainstream at all.

     In the Lutheran Church a small radical minority stood up for women for the priesthood some decades ago. They were far from the mainstream then, but are the mainstream now, while opponents of women priests form an increasingly small minority. This of course is not true of the whole worldwide Church; plenty of Catholics and Orthodox (a majority?) oppose women priests, not to mention of course the hierarchy of those churches. To take some more examples, priestly celibacy may seem rather exotic to many Lutheran Finns, but actually there are apperoximately as many celibate priests in the world as married ones. I find the idea of believer’s baptism unusual, and have to remind myself that in fact hundreds of millions of Christians hold this belief (and therefore oppose infant baptism.) in other words, many beliefs that might seem strange to me or you are in fact just as mainstream as my or your beliefs.

     Jesus and the apostles were outside the mainstream. They fearlessly opposed the status quo in Judaism. Christianity didn’t become a mainstream religion until 300 years later. Much later Martin Luther bravely opposed the mainstream and the status quo in his time. The result was a draw: ever since then there have been Protestants and Catholics, too. Only part of the Western Church experienced a Reformation. Both can consider themselves to be mainstream, Orthodoxy too. It would be wrong to label any of them as radical, although centuries ago they considered each other to be downright heretical.  

     Whatever one’s beliefs, the truth is the truth, whether millions or hundreds believe it.  Mainstream or not, one must stand up for what one believes in, but also be open to other ideas. Sometimes, perhaps just occasionally, we can be wrong and others right.  

Chris Montgomery

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