Bells and Wells
Many years ago Professor Len Sweet spoke of a theory he called ‘the collapsing centre’, which he described as a ‘well’ curve as opposed to a ‘bell’ curve. He believed that society, technology, politics, and so on were polarising and becoming more extreme. Now, a bell curve is a graph depicting a distribution of samples where the majority gravitate around the average in the centre. For instance, most men are roughly as tall as the average in their population. Here is an example of a Bell Curve.
If we turn this graph on its head, we get a Well Curve where the greatest number of readings are found at the extremes of the curve. In the above example, this would occur if most men in a population were either very tall or very short. But, this article is not a probability statistics lesson, so let me rather discuss some more important examples of Well Curves in our world.
From Bell to Well
Gradually, over a couple of decades, well-stocked local general dealers have become overwhelmed by supermarkets and megastores. These commercial behemoths provide a wide range of goods at favourable prices, but they fail at offering specialist items and expertise. As a result, small operations have emerged to meet the demand for hard to come by items and professional knowledge. The Bell Curve has been replaced by a Well Curve. Monstrously big and influential corporations have arisen, particularly in the IT and social media space, the rich have become obscenely richer, the poor even poorer, and the middle-class almost non-existent. Even LED/LCD screens have grown big enough to fill a wall and small enough to be carried on the wrist. Churches have gone through a similar transformation with millions flocking to mega-churches in every Christian country. The initial counter to this was an upsurge of interest in house church movements and, once again, the Well Curve emerged. We have seen the same sort of phenomena in national political life with extremist parties and movements gaining ground on both ends of a Well Curve.
Time to Ring the Bell Again
Things are changing now, though, as people of influence are identifying and experiencing the problems caused by the Well Curve mentality.
The family-owned stores that all but disappeared when the superstores muscled into their neighbourhoods are re-emerging and growing in popularity. Mega Churches are facing difficult times in the face of authoritarian government policies and COVID-19 regulations. The small house churches are struggling for a lack of financial support, member participation, and societal influence. And as these two ends of the Bell Curve reduce in size we are seeing the re-emergence of medium-sized local churches In politics, we are observing the rise of centralist parties and the negative effects of extremist movements.
The Truth of the Matter
Not too many people in any country would want any form of political consensus if those elected consisted of thugs, murderers, crooks, and rapists! Democracies, of any sort, only work to benefit society when the ‘centre’ stands on good and true values and where its leaders are men and women of intelligence, honour, and goodness.
John Adams, the 2nd president of the United States of America and one of the founding fathers stated the case this way: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other”.
I used the word ‘truth’ in the previously because how we understand truth determines our value judgments concerning government, economics, and so on. It should not surprise us then that the concept of truth is the most polarised domain of all. (I go into this more in my book Truth is the Word which can be found HERE if you are interested in more on Truth). Liberal theologians, politicians, and social thinkers have arrived at a compromised ‘negotiated’ idea of truth. So now truth tends to be determined by the consensus of any group of people. Extreme right-wing dogmatism is their ‘truth’ and anything-goes laissez-faire is the extreme left-wing’s ‘truth’. However, we cannot establish absolute truth by compromising or adopting all competing ideas of what truth is.
‘My truth’ is Christocentric and I hold that this view of truth is the biblical and enduring historical Christian position. The Lord Jesus made an extremely dogmatic statement when he said “I am the way, and the truth and the life” (John 14:6).
This means that if we accept his divinity and the validity of the biblical record then we are compelled to understand truth in terms of who Jesus is, what he said and did, and what he revealed of the nature, character, and purpose of the triune Godhead. A centralist political party that stands primarily on this truth, irrespective of whether it calls itself ‘Christian’, will present a strong central pillar for society. A Church centred on this will bless its members and its community. The same goes for theology, business, government, business and so on.
I am glad to see the return of the Bell Curve to the various aspects of our national lives, but if it does not reflect Christicentric truth then it will surely be little better than extremism. For instance, a democratic government is not necessarily any better than a dictatorship if it is led by God-dishonoring and self-serving men and women. Singapore is essentially a benign dictatorship yet it is peaceful, prosperous and non-prejudicial. South Africa is a democracy governed, by and large, by incompetents and even criminals and is divided, violent, and spiralling downward. In which state would most people choose to live if given the choice?
Time to Ring my Bell
Now all of this, although it may be food for thought, is of little personal value unless you and I seek to live in a Bell Curve sort of way.
- ‘Do I have a central pillar at all or do I stand at an extreme in this area (A Well Curve sort of person)?
- Does my central pillar stand on biblical Jesus-centred truth or on something relative or socially conditioned?
Bell Curve people with Jesus at the centre can, over time, change the state of a nation, a business, or a church. Time to ring our little bells folks!
In the eighties, an advertisement for a certain type of processed meat became very popular here in South Africa. It was a sort of fillet with cheese inserted into its middle, much like chicken Cordon Bleu. The TV advert showed a man at a restaurant table with his fork in one of these steaks saying “Check the cheese china!” (very South African) and the waiter then responding by cutting the meat and saying “In the centre mister Venter”. Well, when it comes to most aspects of our lives it is all about what is in the centre, but that centre must stand on biblical Christocentric truth.