I love beginning a discussion, not ending one. And I love it when I meet other curious people. One of my readers recently asked a question with regards to this post. I titled it “Killing Gods In The Desert,” and sought to wrestle with a bit of imagery I believed to best describe the cultural milieu. I’m clearly not the first, nor the last, to say such things. I also have a reputation for being a bit of a firebrand, something I’ve learned to accept about myself!
Here is what my friend Lauren asked:
“So I read your last post and really liked it, especially the quote by Jon Levenson. Can you explain in a short version what you meant by the last line you wrote though? Specifically, about being careful to not kill ourselves? Thanks!”
Of course she liked Dr. Levenson, he rules! I’m arguing (from the side) that we are living in an era that resembles a cultural wasteland. This means that the first thing to go is any stable identity, with the only stability being instability itself. I’m simply saying, hey guys, don’t lose yourself in the cause/ideology of the present.
I think the “ourselves” in the final statement is meant to be two-fold. Folk in the church believe I’m talking about them, and they are right. But I am also talking about humanity as a whole. I believe that politics is downstream from culture, and culture is downstream from the church. The church-as-culture is a foreign concept to most Protestants only because we have thrown out the catholic (universal) baby with the roman catholic bathwater.
We often believe we are the invaders of culture and not the one’s contributing to it, and in this sense, meant to actually renew. Therefore, film, art, the great books, free speech, and all of the other values we love about the west should be participated in, and championed by the church. The cultural wasteland seeks to create people in its own image, and the cultural effect is to strip those of an identity (or at least of any authority – whether political or otherwise) of those we deem unworthy for any perceived lack of cultural intelligence.
I forget who said it originally, but they were right: culture is always defined by what it rejects. I think it’s true to believe that those who claim to be inclusive find themselves in the awkward position of defending what they are “for” as a justification. Those who claim to stand for an identity other than the cultural orthodoxy have to spend time defending their very being.
I suppose those who really want to be “countercultural” need to salvage what is worth retaining when the cultural moment suddenly shifts into heresy, the only kind I personally approve of.
If anyone is interested in exploring these ideas further, they should reckon with two books: After Virtue by Alisdair MacIntyre, and The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher. The Philosopher and the Journalist have something deeply meaningful to say to all of us.