Do you even want to win the culture war?

Christians occasionally daydream about winning the culture over for Christ. But this would mean that belief in Christ would be policed and encouraged in the same way that our current cultural beliefs are: by manipulation of the levers of power to control spoils, intimidate dissent, and coin new taboo words and thoughtcrimes that can immediately condemn without argument and persuade without reason. Any teacher is impressed by the degree to which cultural doctrines are thoroughly and universally believed and flawlessly applied in all particular situations; and they are not merely mouthed by children who, though really skeptical of what they are saying, mouth the words anyway. They really believe all that stuff – they even see it as self-evident.  Is that how I want someone to believe in Christ? Would I feel better if I could just silence dissent with a taboo word or the confidence that the thoughtcriminal would lose his job?

Objection: Someone has to control the levers of power, and so if we see something as true, don’t we want it to rule the culture? Response: The closest idea of “culture” in Christ is “the world”, which persuades not by reason and freedom but taboo, intimidation, usurping parental education, control over the principles of discourse, etc. Seen from this angle, the bright side of the persecution that a Christian can expect in this life is that his doctrine, though it will always continue to exist, nevertheless will never be enforced by the levers of worldly power. This might even be the greatest testimony to its divine origin – how can Christ always be present in the world without being parasitic on it? (and note that even revolutionary doctrines are parasitic on the states they rebel against)

Perhaps the church had its run of control over the world, but it’s better off now that its lines of evangelization are characterized by freedom, reason, and legitimate parental authority. As the last of those cultural supports fall, it’s not impossible to see it as providential.

About these ads

15 Comments

  1. thenyssan said,

    December 24, 2013 at 10:50 am

    But isn’t all that talk of hating the world just a tacky medievalism that has run its course? I mean, who really thinks that Christianity should be about hating the world? Only a Dark Ages Puritan could have come up with that. The world is holy–heaven and earth are full of its glory.

    Ahem.

  2. Crude said,

    December 25, 2013 at 3:25 am

    Christians occasionally daydream about winning the culture over for Christ. But this would mean that belief in Christ would be policed and encouraged in the same way that our current cultural beliefs are: by manipulation of the levers of power to control spoils, intimidate dissent, and coin new taboo words and thoughtcrimes that can immediately condemn without argument and persuade without reason.

    Respectfully, I think this is insane. Okay, perhaps that can only be so respectful.

    We are hot off the heels of a century where ‘losing the culture war’ in some parts of the world led to mass murders, state re-education, religious belief being treated as a literal psychological disease, and more – with quite a lot of people thinking of some of that situation as ‘progressive.’ We live in a world where the slaughter of Christians in the middle east, and their persecution elsewhere, barely registers as news, and where Christianity is repeatedly insulted and mocked during prime time while a sizable portion of the country laughs.

    Perhaps some Christians daydream about better cultural treatment. Are we crossing a line by desiring that? Should we be pining for the days of Stalin, he who was sent by God to loose the bonds of those who didn’t REALLY want to to mass on Sunday? I wonder why he’s not been canonized yet, for all the good he did us.

    Perhaps the church had its run of control over the world, but it’s better off now that its lines of evangelization are characterized by freedom, reason, and legitimate parental authority. As the last of those cultural supports fall, it’s not impossible to see it as providential.

    Freedom? Reason? Since when? Your reasoning assumes that we’ve advanced into an age of open-minded, unbiased reason, at least in large part – and what’s the evidence we’ve done anything like that? The culture war is not ‘Christians versus people who value open-mindedness and honest reflection.’ It’s a social and political conflict fought against people, many of whom want to ‘manipulate the levers of power to control spoils, intimidate dissent, and coin new taboo words and thoughtcrimes that can immediately condemn without argument and persuade without reason.’ Nor is the goal necessarily complete or even major cultural domination. Some of us would be quite content with eliminating some of those levers of power altogether, removing the intimidation of dissent, removing the ‘thoughtcrimes’ in various areas.

    But, I’m ignoring the silver lining. Someone should tell the Christians in Egypt they don’t realize how good they have it. And in North Korea, for that matter.

    • December 25, 2013 at 9:10 am

      Those are the choices then? Either control the levers of power or be subject to religious persecution? Either we have state churches or North Korea? The secular state seems like a clear third option, and it’s more common in the west than either the confessional state or the tyrannical one. At any rate, the concern here is not with states as such but with a feature common to all states: the gatekeepers of cultural belief.

      True, we’ve spent the last century finding various progressive and scientific ways to kill each other. But this is only after we developed nation states and Enlightened philosophy (a term, not a description) in response to our finding confessional-state ways to kill each other.

      Your suggestion of eliminating all the levers of power would be the best one, but I don’t see it as happening. Resources pool with an elite, taboo words and thoughts always regulate discourse, the unreflective intellectual fads of the gatekeepers always set the boundaries of what is socially reasonable, people hire those who think like them and will always tend to collectively treat dissenters as witches or arch-heresiarchs, etc. I’ve seen these trends in every community I’ve ever been a part of and I never expect them to change. The rot sets in as soon as there is a significant amount of worldly goods in play. It’s precisely this rot that I’m focusing on as an aspect of “culture”, and I’m taking it as a common feature of the cultural gatekeepers, regardless of what sort of state one has. The only question is what relation you want the Church to have to this party or interest.

      • December 25, 2013 at 11:43 am

        I have a deeper motivation behind all this, though: I’ve struggled for a very long time to understand what wisdom there could possibly be in Christ’s fascination with and insistence upon poverty. What’s so great about being poor? It doesn’t seem to make people essentially more virtuous, more Christian, etc. But Christ’s command makes perfect sense to me as a command to renounce the levers of power and aspirations to be a cultural gatekeeper, which can only be done by those who bend their wills toward poverty.

      • December 25, 2013 at 6:59 pm

        I’m with you on the secular state. The bigger danger, perhaps, is that it degenerate into an early modern state-church or 20th century state-atheism model. On that account perhaps there is a “culture war” to fight, but in most cases it would look much different than the way it is often framed and fought today.

        RE: “Blessed are the poor,” etc. I think that is a great insight. On a more ascetic/ethical note, we could also view poverty as a preferred indifferent (though the fathers also view riches the same way, and I’m not precisely sure how/if to harmonize the two). Basically, poverty is not per se more virtuous, but it can be conducive to virtue, not only in freedom from temptations to powers you highlighted, but, I would add, from something far more basic: ungratefulness. When life is comfortable, it is difficult to live truly eucharistically. Paradoxically, when well-cared for, we too often tend to ascribe our daily bread to our own providence.

      • Crude said,

        December 25, 2013 at 10:19 pm

        Those are the choices then? Either control the levers of power or be subject to religious persecution? Either we have state churches or North Korea? The secular state seems like a clear third option, and it’s more common in the west than either the confessional state or the tyrannical one.

        For one thing, let’s be clear – North Korea IS a secular state. So was Mao’s China, so have been various other states with religious persecution. ‘Secular’ does not mean ‘cozy, nice and pleasant’. Slavery was a secular institution every bit as much as an institution can be so.

        Second – ‘religious persecution’ is still present even in the idealized countries you’re talking about. Granted, persecution in the US is vastly different from persecution in China. But you seem to be advancing ‘the secular state’ as some kind of third option that removes the need to fight a culture war at all just by the nature of it so existing, or – even more bizarrely – the far more principled alternative to what Christians are fighting for. In reality, it’s easy to construe what many, possibly most Christians in the culture war want AS just another ‘secular state’.

        A secular state does not end culture wars. It promises the perpetual fighting of them. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

        True, we’ve spent the last century finding various progressive and scientific ways to kill each other.

        No, we’ve spent the last century wiping out Christians and religious believers in particular in grand numbers, and finding new ways to persecute them – and in secular governments, no less. In America, Christians have been subjected to what amounts to cultural genocide in media – airbrushed out almost altogether in some quarters, except as the butt of jokes, or worse, contempt.

        Your suggestion of eliminating all the levers of power would be the best one, but I don’t see it as happening.

        Since when is a clear and attainable end required for a Christian to do something? Feeding and clothing all of the poor and hungry looks impossible on most days, but show me the person who takes that as a reason to not bother trying.

        Nor is having an elite necessarily a problem. But in that case, once again, you’re not giving a way out of the culture war – you are acknowledging that there IS no way out, and the most ideal situation is a constant fight. Again, not exactly something new to Christian belief – there’s always been the image of a perpetual fight going on in the lives of Christians and Christian communities. This fits right in.

      • Crude said,

        December 25, 2013 at 10:23 pm

        I have a deeper motivation behind all this, though: I’ve struggled for a very long time to understand what wisdom there could possibly be in Christ’s fascination with and insistence upon poverty. What’s so great about being poor?

        And I see it as the opposite. What’s so great about being poor? Freedom. A lack of attachments to wealth and, at times, one particular kind of power – which means that you are no longer going to sacrifice God or your (moral) self for those things, and therefore are likely to give them up. Notice that Christ’s emphasis on poverty wasn’t that of someone avoiding money like a hermit – it was a situation where, if it was had, it was spent immediately where it was needed. That is, as I see it, precisely the willful poverty Christ envisions. Not ‘It sure is great that I’m poor and I never have money’ but ‘It sure is great that my attachment to wealth is so non-existent that I can use it immediately in the ideal way and I won’t miss it’.

        Also notice that Christian poverty was not at all a state of irrelevance, a lack of responsibilities, or a lack of fighting.

    • December 28, 2013 at 6:51 pm

      I don’t see how “cultural war” (a term of art that emerged in the American context in the 1980’s / 1990’s) at all applies to the state of affairs in totalitarian states. And to treat said states as exemplars of contemporary secularism is beyond ridiculous. Why not cite, say, France and the veil?

  3. Woody said,

    December 26, 2013 at 12:05 pm

    You will want to read Cardinal Danielou’s “Prayer as a Political Problem”.

  4. sancrucensis said,

    December 27, 2013 at 12:18 pm

    The problem that I see here is that you make no distinction between culture imposing falsehood (which is per se violent) and culture making it easy to see certain truths. Foucault of course thinks that the later can be reduced to the former, but that is because he doesn’t believe in truth. There are lots of examples in our culture of falsehood being forced on people through subtle violence, but there are also (I think) examples of culture making it easier to see certain truths. This is (I guess) what is meant by civilization. Recall Plutarch in the Moralia:

    “take a view of Alexander’s discipline, and you shall see how he taught the Hyrcanians the conveniency of wedlock, introduced husbandry among the Arachosians, persuaded the Sogdians to preserve and cherish—not to kill—their aged parents; the Persians to reverence and honor—not to marry—their mothers. Most admirable philosophy! which induced the Indians to worship the Grecian Deities, and wrought upon the Scythians to bury their deceased friends, not to feed upon their carcasses. We admire the power of Carneades’s eloquence, for forcing the Carthaginian Clitomachus, called Asdrubal before, to embrace the Grecian customs. No less we wonder at the prevailing reason of Zeno, by whom the Babylonian Diogenes was charmed into the love of philosophy. Yet no sooner had Alexander subdued Asia, than Homer became an author in high esteem, and the Persian, Susian, and Gedrosian youth sang the tragedies of Euripides and Sophocles. Among the Athenians, Socrates, introducing foreign Deities, was condemned to death at the prosecution of his accusers. But Alexander engaged both Bactria and Caucasus to worship the Grecian Gods, which they had never known before. Lastly, Plato, though he proposed but one single form of a commonwealth, could never persuade any people to make use of it, by reason of the austerity of his government. But Alexander, building above seventy cities among the barbarous nations, and as it were sowing the Grecian customs and constitutions all over Asia, quite weaned them from their former wild and savage manner of living.”

    It seems to me that Greek culture was not being violent in helping the sogdians et al. to see certain things. And nor would a Christian culture necessary be so if it helped people to see the truth of Christianity.

    • December 27, 2013 at 12:51 pm

      While there is a role for poetics (taken in a broad sense as persuasion by images) in leading people to truth, the power that comes from cultural gatekeepers seems to involve something other than this, namely taboo control, spoils, and the threat to cut off livelihoods. Even if there might be some place for taboo thinking, for example, a doctrine would be better off if it could persuade people without it; and even if a spoils system might be used to promote truth and right thinking, in my experience it is more likely to tarnish the truth and lead it into disrepute. Foucault’s idea that truth is just power relation seems to make a lot more sense when one sees truth as cozied up with the gatekeeper power.

      • sancrucensis said,

        December 28, 2013 at 3:57 am

        I like what you wrote about this a while back: “Taboos are the human law at its most powerful – they are the most perfect and powerful tool for what St. Thomas calls the power of law to lead to virtue. Mere statutory laws bridle behavior; taboos actually restructure thought and form the will.”

        There must be some criterion for judging what sort of exercise of cultural influence tarnishes truth, and what sort leads to virtue. I suppose the problem is that the powerful tend to do a lot of bad things and so anything they are for gets tarnished by association with their sins.

      • December 28, 2013 at 9:29 am

        Ha! I knew I wrote something like that, but I didn’t remember that I wrote it about taboos. But the point is obscure and deserves to be defended on both sides.

      • sancrucensis said,

        January 2, 2014 at 9:24 am

        Yeah, it’s a difficult question. I’ve posted some (inconclusive) thoughts here: http://sancrucensis.wordpress.com/2014/01/02/tarnishing-the-splendor-of-truth/

  5. Martin said,

    January 1, 2014 at 1:46 am

    This really is strange James. You deliberately curate an apolitical blog and it today it really shows how rusty you are.

    Winning and losing in our case means not establishing a Catholic monarchy or something, it means Chesterton high school doesn’t find itself outside law for um teaching the moral law under a Christian light. Fighting so that you aren’t seen by your children as bigoted as say a member of the KKK (As Justice Kennedy would paint you) for believing marriage is conjugal and children deserve a mom and a dad. Or bigoted because you think men and women are different and seperate bathrooms and changerooms a good idea.

    We’re talking about resisting tyranny. With same sex marriage the law undermines your biological connection to your children, who become more wards of the state ceded to you – http://www.ruthblog.org/2013/11/27/slavery-and-gay-marriage-frightening-parallels/

    We’re not talking about Christian establishment but Christian principles alive in the heart of leaders, we talking about religious freedom because if you give up God, we see that we don’t go back to pagan moral law we lose reason too, we get tyranny.

    Blessed are those who cultivate a spirit of poverty for theirs is the Kingdom of God, a kingdom of justice, love and peace. And if power and authority sits lightly on our rulers shoulders isn’t that exactly what Christ the King wants? “you know how the rulers of the pagans lord it over those under them . . .”

    This is a really strange post James.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 155 other followers

%d bloggers like this: