Sentimentality stifles and simplifies, leaving little room for nuance, complexity, and fortitude. Our world consists of clear-cuts: good guys and bad guys, victims and perpetrators, oppressed citizens and oppressive authorities. Every situation demands an immediate answer.
Although it pretends to care for the “other,” sentimentality really only cares for the self to the detriment of the “other,” who becomes a peripheral means to an end.
Public sentimentality has a peculiar character that often accentuates these traits to monstrous proportions. If sentimentality means the need to show you really care, then in order to be publicly noticed you have to embark on a really-show-you-care one-upmanship program, which becomes more and more excessive in its expression and therefore less and less appropriate to the social situation itself. Add to this media and social media getting in on the “caring act,” and things are quickly whipped up into a care-fest frenzy.
Is there any harm in this? Yes, because very quickly it is revealed that not to play the care game is to be seen to be cold or callous.
So how can the church follow a different path when it comes to sentimentality, particularly its public expression? First, we need to confess that we have been affected. We live in cultures that shape our own ways of being. Our personal lives, corporate worship, and theology have been impacted by sentimentality. We need to be honest about that, come before God in repentance, and follow Christ in the better way he shows to us.