So there definitely is a culture war. It doesn’t take much reading through academic literature and the press to see that discussions of reason and revelation, faith and science, social freedoms, public morality, and sexual identity all attract attention and all cut to the deepest convictions and principles of American society. And it doesn’t take long to see that America is unsettled on those convictions and principles. The problem is that this culture war is often pretty mixed up, with participants shooting themselves in the foot as often as anything else.
They say that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. This is true. People learn a couple of talking points and a few intellectual formulas, and suddenly they think they have profound weaponry for social regeneration. One example is a billboard on Interstate 55 here in Jackson. It’s advertising a school which, I’m told, actually does do a good job at placing students into colleges and preparing them for high-paying jobs. Still, the sign’s faux intellectualism is unnerving. It advertises that the school will “Teach you how to think, not what to think.” Now that certainly sounds pious. This school, unique among all others, will avoid brainwashing its students with socio-political bias and will instead impart to them a view-from-nowhere objectivity that will allow these students to discover the best world and life for each of them, as they freely realize it on their own, with no intrusion from the principalities and powers.
It really isn’t the case that social and political phenomena, particularly in non-establishment forms, can be explained fully by pointing out basic religious and philosophical principles. Those are important, but they never tell the whole story. We have to look at a bit of psychology, as well as noting wider trends among similar groups of people. I tried to do this in my first lecture on religious converts at the Bucer Institute (mp3s here). I found that I got two primary reactions. One said that it was totally unscientific and therefore of no use, and the other said my description was precisely what had occurred in their own experience and was among the most valuable insights in the whole lecture series. So I suppose I will confess to being unscientific in this regard while continuing to insist that certain psychological and personal issues are real. Pastors and politicians especially need to understand this.
This definitely applies to certain personalities that are attracted to religious extremism. It really isn’t even correct to call it religious extremism, because, as we saw in the case of Breivik, they can routinely admit to not being very religious at all. So let’s call it cultural extremism. Continue reading →
As a young pastor and writer who has often defended the notion of “Christendom” and even advocated for something of a recovery of it in our current day, I was particularly alarmed when the ideology of Anders Behring Breivik came out. The murders in Norway were a tragedy in their own right and we shouldn’t fail to mourn them before rushing to “the big picture” significance, but it is still the case that Breivik is now a symbol for the right wing and perhaps even “Christian” equivalent of Islamic terror. Correctly or not, he will always play that role in the public discourse and his use of “Christendom” will have to be accounted for before anyone can speak positively of that term again. Continue reading →