Modern Pensées

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Archive for the ‘Culture Wars’ Category

Evangelicals: Now is Not the Time to Spike the Football

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David Green, Hobby Lobby CEO, David Green with Bible in warehouse, Culture Wars, Abortifacients, Obamacare, Affordable Care Act

I was as happy as you were that the Supreme Court upheld the closely held corporation, Hobby Lobby’s, right to not provide coverage for the 4 abortifacients in the Affordable Care Act.  While in no way do I pretend to understand the field of law, the argumentation that closely held corporations appear, function, and act more like individuals than they do corporations made common sense to me – and hence, applying the Constitutional right to dissent to the mandatory coverage of the 4 abortifacients in Affordable Care Act seemed appropriate.

All of that said, now is not the time to spike the football.  Evangelicals cannot rely on the Supreme Court, Congress, the Senate, nor the Executive branches to make America a “Christian nation” once again.  I am pretty confident that I love America as much as you do, but the reality is that we are a post-Christian nation that is growing increasingly undiscerning.  The people/culture(s) of America lack the worldview needed to understand the logical consequences of the breakdown of gender, marriage, and the family (the most fundamental unit of society).  The people/culture(s) of America have created a Swiss cheese patchwork quilt from a variety of different worldviews to piecemeal together sets of ideas that justify their behaviors, lifestyles, sin patterns, and addictions.

In other words, we cannot rely on the federal government to be a positive agent of cultural change in America.  Cultural change happens at a wide variety of levels but politicians and bureaucrats are chameleons which change their skin color based on the popular opinion – this is why politics is more of a reflection of the culture(s) rather than the driver of the culture(s).   Evangelicals have a Herculean task ahead of them to engage the drifting, aimless, and anesthetized conglomeration of sub-cultures that comprise this thing we call the United States of America.

Culture flows out of people’s wants and desires.  People’s wants and desires flow out of their hearts.  If you want cultural change then you have to see changed hearts.  If you want changed hearts then you must see the Holy Spirit remove the heart of stone and replace it with the heart of flesh.  If you want the Spirit to move then you must pray for Him to move and you must be faithful to share the Gospel winsomely, clearly, and boldly.  I am not saying don’t vote, or don’t engage politically; however, we cannot lobby or legislate people into the Kingdom of God.

 

What Racism, Human Trafficking, and Abortion All Have in Common

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Creation of Adam, Michelangelo, Sistene Chapel

Racism, human trafficking, and abortion all share a common source to their evil – the fundamental denial of human dignity – more specifically the creator endowed dignity of being made in the image of God.  This is unilaterally accomplished by carving out groups of people (by ethnicity, gender, vulnerability, or age) who are classified as sub-human and therefore not treated as equal human beings.

Racism
Racism denies the image of God in a particular ethnicity, people group, or tribal affiliation.  It seeks to make the persons of such groups or affiliations lesser than your group or affiliation. In doing so it assails the inherent worth endowed by God.  There are several idols at work in racism – power, control, pride, and ironically likely both self-love and self-hatred.

Human Trafficking
Human trafficking denies the image of God in humanity by treating certain humans as not being human at all, but rather property.  All sense of dignity and worth must be deconstructed in order to justify the human as property.  There are several idols at work in human trafficking, most notably, greed, power, control, and lust.

Abortion
Abortion denies the image of God in those of a certain size, age, gestation, or relative level of “wantedness.”  The human is made to be sub-human because it is small, young, not yet viable, and has not travelled the magical 6″ journey down the birth canal that suddenly and mysteriously imbues it with life, human rights, and legal status.  Their are several idols at work here, most notably, lust, selfishness, comfort, and escape.

While perhaps difficult to personally engage heavily on all three fronts, I find it ironic that my own age demographic seem inclined to care about the first 2 of these 3 and not the third.  I don’t know if this is for reasons of ignorance, idolatry, apathy, or all of the above.  It will be interesting how history plays itself out on this particular issue… but I am willing to wager that our grand children will think of abortion with a similar disdain that our generation holds toward the Holocaust.  

The Banality of Evil and Our Cultural Morass

I hope we would see ourselves as being more dignified than to cut up our children for the pursuit of the ideal body, the next ladder rung of the career, or the perfect orgasm.  I hope we would see ourselves as being more dignified than to allow persons to be treated as property for sex or for unpaid work for the pursuit of cheaper goods, uncommitted and intimacy-less sex (rape).  I hope we would see ourselves as being more dignified than to allow other ethnicities to be treated as less worthwhile, less valuable, and sub-human for the pursuit of feeling good about one’s own tribe at the expense of another tribe.

There is a certain banality to evil that lulls us into going along and getting along. It was the same banality that anesthetized the very bright German people into the wholesale slaughter of persons categorized as sub-human.

What we want is what we worship and what we worship controls us.  This is true if we are pagans, atheists, agnostics, or Christians. We are all slaves to our wants.  Those wants drive our ideas… And ideas have consequences… Often dire ones.  

What the heart loves, the will chooses, the mind justifies – Thomas Cranmer

An Attempt at How Cultural Orthodoxies (Dogmas) Form

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Cogs and Gears

I’ve been pretty surprised at the rate at which new cultural orthodoxies have been formed over the course of my lifetime but particularly the last decade.  This post serves as an attempt at dissecting how cultural orthodoxies form and serves to appreciate the complexity of their genesis.  There is too much reductionistic thought out there about how cultural shifts occur and most of it centers on just one or two cultural factors and fails to take into account the massive web of multiple reciprocities that is this thing we call culture. Most of the current cultural commentary picks two or three sources as the root causes.  Typically the cited sources are institutional – the (liberal) media, corporations, the current political milieu, or highly organized elite power brokers.  I think these things have certainly played a role, even key roles, into the cultural shifts that we have seen.  That said, I think these views are pretty reductionistic and fail to understand the complexities the constitute culture.  As Justin Holcomb has said, “The most powerful aspect of culture is that which we do not think or reason about.” My main point in this piece is that the forces, elements, and ingredients that cause cultural change are very complicated and cannot be boiled down to just a few people, tribes, or institutions.

 First, we need to understand what elements of culture are at work, both conscious and unconscious:

 There is a constellation of at least 8 things that add to the formulation of cultural dogma – NOTE:  5 of these 8 are directly taken from a presentation delivered by Justin Holcomb and represent heavily thoughts from UVA’s department of Sociology (particularly that of James Davison Hunter) and also that of Christian Smith (Notre Dame)).

1.  Artifacts:  iPhones, iPads, or other iDevices that unconsciously reorder how we interact with stimuli or information.  Artifacts can also be cultural icons such as the Cowboy, Bald Eagle, or Coca-Cola.  Artifacts unconsciously impact how we think and interact about our world.

2.  Language:  Language is the carrier of culture… this is why terminology, accents, vocabularies, technical terms, pronunciations, and word meanings can very heavily geographically even within the same linguistic system.  The use of the various aspects of language heavily determines tribal identity.

3.  Beliefs, Symbols, or Ideas:  these comprise some of the commonly held notions, brand identities, or thoughts of a people group or tribal faction.

4.  Social Forces (aka Deep Structures) – Note the first 6 are from Justin Holcomb:

  • Individualism
  • The Therapeutic – the making of everything as not anyone’s own ultimate responsibility and the centrality of personal happiness of the goal of the individual
  • Consumerism – the commodification of things that should not be commodified
  • Pluralism – the acceptance of mutually exclusive systems of thought as being equally valued and/or true
  • Secularism – the intentional lessening of religious authority in a culture
  • Technology
  • Democritization of knowledge – consensus is king and if the consensus doesn’t agree with you, bludgeon them until they do
  • Post-Modern-Pragmatism – this is my own personal soap box on the mis-labeling of all things post-modern and what we really mean when we say the term “post-modernism”
  • Globalism/Mobility – this also relates closely to the rapid rise of urbanization, the velocity of ideas, the fluidity with which people change geographic location, and the role of the worldwide marketplace and supply chain

5.  Institutions:  politics, education, economic, spiritual, media… etc.

6.  Practices or Rituals:  these are the conscious (places of worship) or unconscious (shopping, sports, entertainment) liturgies of a culture – more on that here, and here.

7.  Elites:  these can be media, political, athletic, celebrity, or other cultural curators and definers.  One could categorize these as being the heads of various institutions (#5 above), but elites are more individuals than groups and seem to transcend even the institutions that gave them their platforms.

8.  The Marketplace:  dollars (or perceived dollars) can be the most significant voters of cultural change and this can happen on both the macro (Mozilla) and micro levels (Worldvision).

 Second, we need to understand what some of our cultural orthodoxies (dogmas) happen to be:

(Note – I have in view here principally the West and specifically the American cultural context)

-“The highest moral good lay[s] in personal self-fulfillment” – see George Marsden’s book, The Twilight of the American Enlightenment:  the 1950s and the Crisis of Liberal BeliefWSJ review here

-Public conversation (or dialogue or discourse) is only to be about facts and not beliefs – in other words it is taboo to talk about God

-Marriage is fundamentally about (romantic) love

-Homosexual behavior is to be accepted at least as non-abnormal and in some instances as normative

-What doesn’t hurt other people is morally permissible

Authenticity to self and personal happiness are very important virtues and perhaps the highest of all the virtues

-Personal happiness is ultimate

-Sex is principally intended for pleasure

-Be good (in your own eyes) in order to be self-actualized (happy)

-The subjective individual self, in combination with the herd (read: democritization of knowledge), is the greatest interpreter, curator, and judge of what is true, good, and beautiful (over against history, data, or external authority)

Third, we need to understand the interplay of the cultural elements with the culture, our tribal faction, and ourselves

Velocity of ideas:  

Before movable typeset, ideas and culture were principally only shared along trade routes.   Those trade routes which were often roads or nautical routes were the only means by which one culture (or tribe) might cross-polinate another group.  This made the velocity of ideas was much slower than in post-industrial and pre-internet age.  Another complexity to the transmission of ideas dealt with low levels of literacy and significant linguistic barriers that existed for millennia.  Oral traditions can travel remarkably quick yet must gain certain thresholds of cultural penetration in order to take route and multiple through generations.  The paradigm shifts in the transmission of ideas were principally the Gutenberg printing press, transportation advances (cars, planes… etc.), and communication revolutions (radio, television, satellite, internet, web 2.0).  These paradigm shifts in transmission of ideas has radically increased the velocity of ideas.  In the modern era, ideas can travel at nearly limitless speed, spread through thousands of seemingly disparate and unconnected networks or tribes, and reach saturation levels significant enough to change public opinion, shape political policy, or even to overthrow governments (ie. Twitter and the Arab Spring).

Cultural Interaction is Determinative of Belief:

Humans naturally gravitate toward like kind and like minded.  That said, there is significant interplay between what we believe and how you come up with what you believe.  Orthodoxy (right beliefs) affects orthopathos, (right emotions) affects orthopraxis (right practice), affect orthodoxy, affects orthopraxis, affects orthodoxy… ad infinitum.  So how we interact with culture – whether we engage it, critique it, or embrace it will impact consciously or unconsciously what we believe.  You can evidence this very clearly with radically undercontextualized and/or cultish groups like the FLDS or the Westboro Baptist folks.

Unconscious Cultural Elements:

The seven cultural elements listed above are constantly influencing our lives in good ways, bad ways, and every shade of grey in-between.  Most of this influence is unconscious, subconscious, selectively ignored, or down played as not playing a role in what we believe.  I have had several hundred conversations with people about what they believe.  In an overwhelming number of such instances, people believe the set of ideas that justify their wants, desires, and passions.  In these instances the horse was the wants, desires, and passions of the heart that drove the cart of the justifications, rationalizations, and knowledge of the head.  In other words, people seek evidence, truth, arguments, facts, and knowledge about their beliefs after those beliefs are formed by their belief system (secular, religious, philosophical, or other).  There are notable exceptions, but this seems to be more normative than not.  Most folks could not even name a single thinker, writer, philosopher, sacred text, or cultural element that was the genesis of their most central tenets, dogmas, orthodoxies, or beliefs.

Conscious Elements:  

That said, some of these cultural elements above are very conscious.  These elements are the ones that tend to get the most ink spilled about them.  It is usually institutions and elites that get the most attention and the usual scapegoats for when their is some rising cultural dogma that is contrary to our own tribal orthodoxy.  I do not wish to downplay the role of celebrity, elites, the marketplace, and institutions of all kinds in the formulation of new cultural dogmas.  The role of these conscious elements has been well noted in the sexual revolution, the rise of feminism, the rise of fundamentalism and evangelicalism, and have shaped the battle lines on other issues like abortion, gender, and sexuality.

Concluding thoughts:  If you have bought into the idea that the contours of the cultural landscape are complex and inter-related, then I hope that you might be willing to think and interact on those contours with more deftness and in a manner than is more winsome.  I would hope that you would be able to identify more readily some of unconscious elements that comprise the invisible hand of culture.  Be patient with people who do not understand or do not care that they hold numerous mutually exclusive ideas in their worldview.  Have compassion on the culture for it is harassed and helpless:

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Matthew 9:36

 

For further reading:

Culture Wars, James Davison Hunter

Intellectuals, Paul Johnson

Total Truth, Nancy Pearcey

The Twilight of the American Enlightenment:  the 1950s and the Crisis of Liberal Belief, George Marsden

Social and Cultural Dynamics, Pitirim Sorokin

To Change the World, James Davison Hunter

Desiring the Kingdom, James K. A. Smith

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, John Frame

Best Links of the Week

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Ronnie Smith

Anita Smith, widow of Ronnie Smith, wrote a brief yet beautiful letter to the people of Libya

Brilliant, snarky, and scathing OP-ED from David Brooks in NYT entitled, “The Thought Leader

Barna research supports evangelism on dramatic rise among millennials and in decline among boomers and busters.  If true this flies in the face of a lot of the sound bites regarding “millennials.”

Dalrock on the economic fallout of a culture that is hostile to husbands and fathers, “Progress

Washington Times – “Half of America Strips Religion From Christmas

Apparently researchers in the Pacific Northwest have figured out how to quasi-efficiently produce crude oil from algae

Some really helpful infographics on the state of religions in the U.S.

Francis Chan in a brutally honest piece, “Why It’s So Easy for Leaders to Fake It

Camille Paglia’s piece, “It’s a Man’s World, and it Always Will Be

Interesting interview with Ethan Hawke in Esquire, “What I’ve Learned

I am a sucker for amazing time-lapse:

 

Best Links of the Week

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The Shire - Lord of the Rings Fake Travel Poster

Great fake travel posters made by artist Ali Xenos.  There are some great ones of Rivendell, Tatooine, Dagobah, and Winterfell.

Kevin DeYoung on the New-Calvinism

‘Gravity’ Spinoff: Watch the Other Side of Sandra Bullock’s Distress Call – Jonas Cuaron’s seven-minute companion short, filmed in Greenland and featuring Bullock’s voice

Brutal personal piece on about one young man’s battle with our present culture of death – “I Lost My Daughter to the Culture of Death

Modalimy – Co-parenting for those that want children but not a relationship or marriage.  You really cannot make this stuff up.

Nelson Mandela:  A Candid Assessment” – from Catholic site Crisis Magazine

Interesting piece from personal finance blog Mr. Money Mustache entitled, “Get Rich With:  The Position of Strength.”  Makes some salient points.

Woofmaker.com – just click on it, especially if you are a Home Alone fan.

Interesting piece in the Atlantic dealing with Clickbait and UpWorthy’s game changing headlines

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1E-9Z8sFyRs#t=303

Best Links of the Week

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Best Links of the Week

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Love, Forgiveness and Basketball – some backstory on Chris Paul and his relationship with his grandfather

How Taxpayers Subsidize March Madness – pretty fascinating article

Dissension growing between Putin and Medvedev as Medvedev wants to stay on as President in Russia.  This is a more important story than meets the eye.  Most Americans think Russia is irrelevant but they really ought to pay attention to what is going on there.  In my estimation, Russia is making a major comeback and is completely flying underneath the radar in the shadow of India, China, and the usual Mid East drama.

Kevin DeYoung has a nice piece on, Money and Possessions in Proverbs

The Coming Physician Shortage

21 Disturbing Statistics Regarding Student Loans

Seth Godin on the difference between hard work and long work – definitely a helpful distinction

WSJ Article, 1 in 7 americans on food stamps

Feds suing more anti-abortion activists

Osama Bin Laden articles:

Dalai Lama reaction

Gave rabbits to 12 year old neighbor (kinda creepy and reminds me a bit of Benjamin Linus)

Some breakdown of the compound and some more here

Probably the best write-up of the raid I’ve seen yet is from NPR

Bin Laden compound gets bad reviews on Google Places

Part Two of the Keynes vs. Hayek Rap Videos:

Purdue’s record setting Rude Goldberg machine:

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