This blog reflects on popularity as a social phenomenon especially among the religious, specifically Christians. The inspiration from this blog came from a Facebook discussion with a dear friend on the politics of the church. Self-congratulation regarding popularity and alienation usually takes on two different ways of thinking, both of which centers on Truth.
First, some Christians think that they’re popular because they’re speaking the truth. Those who think they’re popular because they’re speaking the truth suffer from a kind of unhealthy version of the prosperity gospel or exaggerated pragmatism. They often think, “I must be doing something right. That’s why I’m so popular. Our church must be blessed by God because so many people are coming, and it’s still growing like crazy.” The problem is, many popular movements have turned out to be immoral and harmful. For instance, fascism was popular in pre-WWII Germany.
Second, those who think they’re alienated because they’re speaking the truth suffer from the opposite. They suffer from the martyr syndrome. Their logic often goes something like this, “I’m on the fringe because Jesus was also on the fringe. I am not politically correct. That’s why people hate me. Those who have the truth are always on the fringe historically. I’m cool and radical, just like Jesus. I’m hated for Jesus’ sake. The big churches [or fill in whatever you wish] have lost the tradition and catered to the society. That’s why they’re big and we’re small. We don’t compromise.” People like this also draw other malcontents who love to commiserate. The problem is, many fringe movements have also turned out to be immoral and harmful. The best example would be the Jonestown mass suicide.
Based on the discussion above, truth has nothing to do with popularity or alienation. Just because one is popular or alienated, it does not automatically make one right. Instead of petting ourselves on the back, we need to ask different set of questions. First, HOW did I end up this way? There’re many ways to achieve popularity and cause alienation. Some have achieved popularity via unethical means, kissing bottoms on the way to the top. Others have suffered alienation simply because they’re jerks, not because they speak truth. Second, WHY did I end up this way? Some have become popular because their message has mass appeal, not because their message is profound or true. Others have suffered alienation because their messages or their personalities were needlessly offensive. More often than not, we did not become popular or alienated because we speak truth. Many factors simply have nothing to do with truth because truth neither depends on a popularity contest or a pity party. These two extreme states create an opportunity not for self-glorification but for self-examination.