Pluralism
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  • Mid-Term Results, the Culture War, and the Kingdom of God

    Obama

    While I am admittedly relieved to see the mid-term election results this morning, I am also reluctant to feel much more than mild relief. I think much of the mid-term results are a repudiation of the last six years of the Obama-Reid-Pelosi era. However, there are several reasons why we should not be spiking the football in the endzone.

    Politics and Culture

    Politics and Culture: which is the cart and which is the horse? I would submit to you that culture is far more the horse than the cart. Certainly there is an interplay between the two but I think in our republic the culture is probably 70% horse and 30% cart.

    Ideas or Energy

    Did people in America vote for Republican Governors, congressmen, and senators because their ideas changed or because their voting base was more energized than the last election cycle? I cannot answer this question with any real data but my highly subjective opinion would be that it had much more to deal with a more motivated and energized voting base. I don’t think that Americans have all of a sudden read the Constitution, changed their mind on abortion, embraced supply-side economics, or read John Locke or the Federalist Papers. Perhaps some of those things took place in disparate circles but I am doubtful to think anything like this took place on a grand scale. I would have more cause for hope if these election results were a result in a resurgence of a Judeo-Christian worldview that provides the ideological foundations for human dignity, justice, and order.

    The Culture War and the Christian Right

    One of the big mistakes of the Christian Right is the presupposition that if you have your party in office then most things in the world will be as they ought to be. Hence, we must put a lot of faith in top down political influence. The problem with this is twofold – 1. politics follows culture more than not  2. There is no cultural center of America that all Americans can look to and identify as our common bond (perhaps with the only exception being 9/11 [for those over age 20]). I don’t mean to say that politics is irrelevant, it is relevant, but it is one piece in an incredibly complex landscape that we call “culture.” I attempt to portray the complex forces that combine to form culture here. I think in many ways the Christian Right and the Culture War has back-fired and served to exacerbate trench warfare and discourage dialogue in the few public spaces we have left. As a result, people don’t want to talk about ideas any more because ideas divide and hence should be kept private.

    Modern Day Reformation

    I have no illusion that somehow a GOP legislative majority at the federal and state levels will somehow usher in a modern day Reformation in America. There may be some dismantling of unpopular liberal policies but there will be no ushering in of golden age of American spiritual life. I am not entirely against top-down/institutional strategies – I think things like educational institutions, denominations, service organizations, the marketplace, and even political parties can make significant contributions to cultural change. That said, in an increasingly cynical, skeptical, and snarky world, we must have equal efforts from a bottom up perspective.

    Faithful Presence

    Individual humans need other individual humans who will walk humbly, lovingly, and understandingly with them. We need to be in the lives of our neighbors, co-workers, and friends. We need to be asking good questions about what they want and listening actively to what they are saying. We need to be asking them about how are the things they want working for them. Are they deeply satisfying? Are they functional? Are they just? Are they promoting human flourishing?

    As we listen to the answers to these kinds of questions, facets of the Gospel will speak to the things that are broken and in need of healing and redemption.

    Do your civic duty and vote your conscience… but…

    The kingdom of God is not ushered in through an election. The kingdom of God is ushered in as Christ’s church does her job being faithfully on mission to the corners of the Earth.

  • Evangelicals: Now is Not the Time to Spike the Football

    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.

     

  • An Attempt at How Cultural Orthodoxies (Dogmas) Form

    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

    Pensees, Blaise Pascal

    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

    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.

    Summary of a really interesting survey of evangelicals in the UK.

    Billy Graham regrets not steering clear of politics and regrets not spending more time with family.

    Mark Sanchez picks his nose and wipes it on his backup QB, video here.  (HT:  Aaron)

    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).

    Bernanke’s Rally Runs into Headwinds

    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”:

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vo0Cazxj_yc]

  • Best Links of the Week

    Stanley Hauerwas article, “America’s god is Dead

    Minority Report is not far away… iris scanners coming soon.

    Truly excellent Harvard Business Commencement speech.

    Pencil Tip Micro-Sculptures.  (HT:  Jutty)

    Matt Perman has some good quotes from Jim Collins:  “The Difference Between Working Hard and Workaholism” and “The 5 Basic Conditions People Need in Order to Execute Well

    Crazy themed hotel.

    NYT article on the end era of the middle-class using their homes as retirement accounts and ATMs is over.

    100 kilometer long traffic jam enters 10th day on the roads into Beijing.

    Canon’s 120 megapixel sensor.

    Wilhelmus a Brakel’s The Christian’s Reasonable Service 4 vols. available for free in pdf form.  Some have said that this is one of the best if not the best Systematic Theology in print.

    North Carolina Krispy Kreme owner accidentally gives away $5000 bank deposit hidden in Krispy Kreme box.

    One of the most amazing baseball catches of all-time:

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cYdpBNonxA4&feature=player_embedded]

    August 26, 2010 • Culture, Culture Wars, Evangelicalism, Interesting Article, Pluralism, Video • Views: 412

  • Best Links of the Week

    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?

    John Wooden TED Talk.

    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.”

    Rent a White Guy in China.

    The Church of Football.

    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.

    The Euro to reach parity with the Dollar in 2011.

    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.

    WSJ analysis of economic pitfalls in 2011.

    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.”

    Is the internet making us impatient and compulsive?

    Lego re-creations of famous photographs.

    114,000 Apple iPads compromised by AT&T.  (HT: Greg)

    USA Today:  “Protestant Pastor in the Job Hunt?  Good Luck in this Market

    Some amazing photos of baby animals inside the womb.

    Please don’t ever do this at your church:

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rh_nqtp3VrU&feature=player_embedded#!]

    HT:  A Little Leaven