Tuesday, April 21, 2015

How do you lose a culture war you never really fought?

I don't particularly care for First Things, never have, never will. A recent article by Michael Hanby has generated a bit of a buzz lately.

The fundamental issue: is Christianity segueing into a period of social irrelevance, if not outright rejection and vilification by the larger society?

The increasing acceptance of gay marriage and of legislation in support of it appears to be the catalyst for the article.

Sexual/reproductive issues and legislation to the contrary of traditional Christian mores seems to be the evidence that Christianity has lost the culture. Without positioning either which way on these issues, I will not deny that the culture readily accepts and even demands such legislation. Is this leading us down a black hole? That depends; in the American media, there is a sudden push to envelop children into these issues. No one seems to want to call this development out as inappropriate. Then again, this is same culture that made Toddlers and Tiaras a television hit.

Where is this going? Is it getting worse? Is Christianity becoming the unwanted element in the host culture? Perhaps. This said, it seems inaccurate to say Christianity has lost the culture war. I would ask, did Christianity even engage the fight to begin with?

Conservative commentators highlight the immediate disparity between Christian morality and the change in sexual norms in the West. They at times go so far so as to argue this is a prime example of deliberate social engineering, a concentrated effort to redefine the parameters of normal and accepted behavior. I would not dispute the point. The author contends that recent years have demonstrated that the state is more than willing to breach into realms that it traditionally has no competence in. Again, I wouldn't dispute the point. The West has willfully assented to the state defining the philosophical/metaphysical aspects of the human person, largely due to the pervasive presumption of biological materialism that has largely situated itself as the hermeneutical lens through which the majority comprehends reality.

Yet, it is not the case that we've suddenly, or within the last forty or so years, found ourselves staring over the edge of the abyss. Truth be told, post-Enlightenment Western society has, from the beginning, adhered to propositions that are potentially irreconcilable to Christianity. By and large, Christianity readily acquiesced. The state's open efforts to define marriage are hardly anything new. The moment Christianity accepted the state's presumption of authority to require a marriage license was the moment Christianity accorded authority in the matter to state. When Christianity silenced itself on the subject of usury and began benefiting from lending with interest rates, it willfully abdicated its own principles. Although many Christian denominations benefit from the principle of freedom of religion, it needs to be noted that this principle cut both ways, permitting the practice of religion according to one's conscious, but also rendering religious values and morality as a private affair. Corporately, social values would be determined by the political process, and for a time Christianity benefited from this process.

Christianity, it may be argued, never engaged in a culture war over the West. At the very least, it waited until the last minute, at which point the elements it objects to (largely reproductive/sexual) were almost inevitable.

Christianity fails to offer a convincing case against the cultural shifts in the West. In large part, this is because Christianity fails to offer any genuine alternative, either in vision or in practice. Instead of emerging as a counter-cultural response to the post-modern and soon to be post-Christian culture, Christianity at best presented itself as the conservative option against a liberal proposition, both of which were formed on the overarching culture. Christianity took the easy option and exerted little to no substantial effort. It has reaped the results one should expect.

The challenge henceforth is for Christianity to find a way to be a counter-cultural alternative to the West, in both theory and practice. Contemporary trends may be un-amicable to Christianity, but there is always opportunity.

Such trends are typically generational; the zeit geist of a particular generation is in full swing, however, if the 60s are any example, when a particular generation reaches the age when it cannot avoid the fact of its own mortality, it begins to revisit religion anew (as was the case in 1990s).

Additionally, massive cultural movements tend to leave a considerable portion dejected, marginalized, or jaded. The degree to which Christianity offers a tangible alternative to a hyper-consumerist and hyper-sexualized culture (tenets that objectify and dehumanize the human person) is the degree to which it will "set the world afire."

Claiming Christianity lost the culture war is a poor excuse for an abysmal effort. Christianity was never willing to offer a real alternative. Now is the opportunity to do something amazing.

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