Posts Tagged ‘Culture Wars’
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:
- 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
- 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.
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 Belief – WSJ 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.
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
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
“The Supreme Courts Back Alley Runs Through Philadelphia.” A story on how Roe v. Wade makes regulating abortion clinics exceedingly difficult and opens the doors for the horrific squalor and infanticide of the clinic in Philadelphia.
Billy Graham regrets not steering clear of politics and regrets not spending more time with family.
Consumer Watchdog and privacy group is raising concerns over close ties between Google, the NSA, and the present federal government.
Christian Astronomy Professor successfully sues the University of Kentucky for religious discrimination against him.
Iran has cleared a major hurdle in the uranium enrichment process.
Solid WSJ report on their murdered reporter Daniel Pearl.
U.S. Taxpayers have footed the $160 million legal bill for the executives of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Unbelievable and unconscionable.
Government Unions are trying to court the TSA to join their ranks.
Chuck DeGroat continues his series on dealing with difficult people with an excellent piece on dealing with the borderline (passive-aggressive).
A fairly thorough dossier on the American mafia.
Check your Munis as a bunch of states are quietly looking at bankruptcy.
Donald Trump has some harsh words on the pomp and show put on for the Chinese president.
Two Italian scientists (with suspect pasts) claim they have successfully found cold fusion. No offense to my Italian friends, but this is very doubtful.
Double dip in the housing market.
UPDATE: The appalling story of the Philadelphia abortion doctor who was charged with eight counts of murder, who had squalid conditions and random baby parts in jars… women are coming forward saying that he left them sterile. Also in this vein, Al Mohler had a good piece on the President’s comments on the Roe v. Wade anniversary speech.
“People are Awesome”:
Adding a third dimension to the debate over video venue churches is hologram technology. The technology now exists and is being marketed to the 3000+ video venue churches so that the Pastor can preach at other venues in 3D. Your thoughts?
New Military underwear to monitor heart rate/vitals and administer drugs/pain meds.
A 52 year old California construction worker was arrested in Northern Pakistan on one man mission to kill Osama bin Laden. He had a 40″ sword, night vision goggles, and a pistol. He was confident of the success of his mission because, “God is with him.”
Some interesting scenarios of the coming mega-conferences in NCAA sports.
Here are some wordles for common church names in the U.S.
The U.S. finds $1,000,000,000,000 worth of metals in Afghanistan. This substantially complicates the future of Afghanistan.
Some interesting thoughts on the impact of technology on missions.
Some thoughts on God and Soccer.
Nice interview with Stephen Prothero on Religion and Pluralism.
Saudi Arabia gives green light to Israel to use airspace in strike against Iranian nuclear facilities.
Publishing company places disclaimer on the U.S. Constitution saying, “might wish to discuss with their children how views on race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and interpersonal relations have changed since this book was written before allowing them to read this classic work.”
Some amazing photos of baby animals inside the womb.
Please don’t ever do this at your church:
HT: A Little Leaven
Al Mohler reflects on the life and death of former atheist turned theist, Anthony Flew.
Norway makes “Most Humane Prison.” Flat screen TVs. High end design…
22-week Italian baby survives abortion and lives for two days.
Christian preacher arrested for saying that homosexuality is a sin.
Inflation up 2% in March 2010.
Fascinating BBC reader write-in article on 40 ways people still use 3.5″ floppy disks (including the Mexican, Romanian, Panamanian, and British governments).
Ligon Duncan’s 6 exhortations to the pastors of the next generation. (HT: JT)
All of the audio from last weeks Advance 2010 conference.
The Supreme Court might be “Protestant-less” for the first time ever.
Dollar re-designed by a graphic designer… its pretty awesome.
Find out how wealthy you are compared to the rest of the world.
“We are Wall Street and We are More Vicious Than Dinosaurs.” Well-written, pardon the authors triumphalism.
Infographic about where all our tax dollars go.
12 most awkward family photos Mother’s Day edition. 5, 6, 8, and 9 are particularly awkward… and what is that animal in #8?
Here is an excellent article from a pro-choice journalist providing some fresh air to the whole Superbowl commercial debate. The article argues persuasively that Tim Tebow is good for women and not the other way around.
On a sidenote, I have never understood why liberals are big government on everything except abortion. For whatever reason, they appeal to small government and personal liberty when it comes to this issue. I suppose logical consistency can be sacrificed for rationalizing sin.
1. Why Pro-Life Presidents Matter (First Things): what influence does the President have on abortion beyond Supreme Court appointments…
2. Overturning and Undermining Roe v. Wade: An Interview with Clarke Forsythe: If you think overturning Roe v. Wade will make abortion illegal in the U.S., you are wrong. It would still be legal in 43 states. Please read this as it is one of the most even-handed, cogent, clear, and concise explanations of what the pro-life game plan should be. Strategic and tactical.
To any of my pro-choice friends, I would challenge you to search Google Images for “abortion,” (WARNING: extremely graphic – I nearly vomitted and am not trying to be sadistic here). Detachment is dangerous: Out of sight… out of mind…
This was worth watching. Hume is correct on hitting a nerve in our culture. The divisive reaction speaks both to the explosiveness of the culture war in America, as well as, the reality of opposition to the Gospel of Christ.
Update: Justin Taylor has a few brief insights into Hume’s own conversion to Christianity that are worth reading.
Also, here is an interview with Christianity Today.