Saturday, January 22, 2011

Two Culture Wars

In the wake of the Tucson tragedy there were accusations that political rhetoric encouraged Jared Loughner on his murderous rampage. Of course, that was mere nonsense. “None of Aristotle's four causes -- not first, not final, not formal, not efficient -- link Loughner's rampage to political chatter.” One of the great things about Americans is that we can and do engage in rhetorical battles about politics, religion, popular mores, MTV (“Skins” – yuck!), without descending into physical violence.

Two of the most consequential culture wars in America today deal with religion and the source of authority. The “Faith Matters” survey conducted by Robert Putnam and David Campbell (see the book “American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us”) found that “Americans are increasingly concentrated at opposite ends of the spectrum – the seriously religious at one pole and the avowedly secular at the other.” The authority war faces off those who wish to conserve the culture handed down from the past and those who would radically change it.

The conservative modus operandi for cultural change is a slow series of tiny tweaks meant to improve an already magnificent tapestry. For the change agent, on the other hand, the campaign must begin with the destruction of the culture as it exists. Usually the change campaign begins with contemptuous dismissal of the past as when Marx declared that “culture is mere training to act as a machine,” or when the deconstructionists denied the validity of all culture as being the corrupt products of “dead white men.”

Tectonic cultural shifts generally originate from within a culture, motivated by the cultural elite, intellectuals and political class. The books I reviewed in my last post (by Dalrymple and Hitchens) showed the devastating effects of the cultural revolution in England since the 1960s. “To regret religion is to regret Western civilization,” said Dalrymple, summing up the British loss. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) has written passionately about how Europe’s denial of its religious and moral foundations led to the loss of faith, optimism and courage. Reflecting on the ever declining birth rate, Ratzinger noted that “Europe is infected by a strange lack of desire for the future.” (See for example, “Without Roots” by Ratzinger and Marcello Pera)

The culture wars over religion and authority are inter-related in the Putnam and Campbell data. The “Faith Matters” survey shows that religiosity is not correlated to positions on foreign or immigration policies, and the correlation is modest when the issue is the size of government (The religious like smaller). However, the statistical correlations are strong when it comes to abortion and same sex marriage. By large margins, religious people are opposed to both. Abortion and gay marriage are simply steps too far for most religious people.

Protecting the lives of the weakest humans against a culturally approved slaughter is about the clearest possible moral stand the church could hope for. Standing against gay marriage continues the church’s protection of the innocent after birth.

However, some churches (eg. the Episcopal and the United Church of Christ) have abandoned these traditional stands to their own peril; membership in such progressive churches has plummeted in the last decades. This sad story will be the subject of a future post.


Anonymous Rob said...

That's Right!

10:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bill this a really great one.I just got a new lap top and barely know how to use it so please excuse the mess if I screw upI I did want to say a couple of things.What breaks my heart is the secular side are trying to abolish God. In my opinion God should be included in the decision making of our government and our schools. How else can the young people learn if the parents don't teach them. God is for real and on the christian side Jesus is for real. This country was founded on Judea/Christian beliefs. The non believers are trying to take that away and our leaders are letting them!!!! Just about every thing in the Bible is being changed or questioned(Dear God help us! They are saying the holocaust never happened(Dear God help us). I know Christians do not believe in same sex marriage along with many others and there is a scripture about same sex togetherness BUT I read the Bible and am a Christian and the Bible says love one another NOT love one another with the exception of Gays!!!!! My younger son is Gay and he is one of the nicest, brightest,kindest persons that I have ever seen and I can't believe God doesn't love him!!!! His partner/Husband is the same way. I love my son with all my heart and soul and nothing or no one will ever change that. I love God with all my heart and soul and I pray every night that we can save our country(Dear God help us). Didn't mean to ramble so much. I have so much down deep inside me that I would like to say but just can't put it on paper. God bless you Bill and thanks for giving me the opportunity to do this. I know so many people probably think I do not believe but they would be wrong. As I said above and I repeat I love God with all my heart and soul and I know the love he feels for us!! Rose

3:05 PM  

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