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What American sitcoms and 18th century French novels have in common: thoughts on Carl Trueman, ‘A Comedy of Moral Errors’ in First Things

http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2014/12/a-comedy-of-moral-errors

Gay marriage has not become normalized through the presentation of arguments (though that is not to deny that many of its proponents have made arguments). It has become normalized through the Will and Grace factor: The impact of comfortable, sentimentalized, middle-class sitcoms, soap operas and their like in which no-one is ever seriously hurt, no action ever has wider social ramifications, and niceness triumphs every time.

Comedy of the American sitcom kind has proved the unexpected silver bullet for changing moral perceptions. The genre is well established as a means of projecting the values and aspirations of middle America. Characters are generally harmless and likable, even sympathetic. The villains are not sinister but typically buffoons or idiots, with the result that any opinions they spout lack all plausibility. The good guys and gals are all clean, comfy, witty, and ultimately reasonable—the kind of people who would generally make good neighbors. The very bland predictability of the genre, combines with the subversive morality of the plots to prove a powerful force in reshaping public opinion.

The crux of Trueman’s article is as follows. Philosophically airtight, solid arguments are worth little in the eyes of most people if the object of them is sentimentally or morally unappealing. Hollywood, and ‘Hollywood-ised media’ by extension, is the prime moral influencer of the masses, and the morality it champions is liberal. Its arsenal of artistic weapons is trained, in the case of the American sitcom at least, to bypass the head and go straight for the heart. It does this by representing liberal political perspectives as ‘likeable’ characters or figures, and playing them off against embodiments of ‘traditional’ perspectives dramaticised as ‘unlikeable’ characters or figures – the latter perspectives usually being a product of America’s Christian heritage in one way or another. Christians who hold to things like the conservative Biblical definition of marriage and sexual ethics are at a disadvantage to those who argue for the liberal perspective no matter how sound their arguments are, because most people take their cues from the sources that cast Christianity as the ‘unlikeable’ cause. Those with conservative Biblical views simply do not have a hold on the cultural power house that drives the moral sentiment of the masses, and they do not have anything like it at their disposal to use instead. Moreover, they are the object of that powerhouse’s scorn, which is expressed by repeatedly casting those with ‘traditional’ views as the bigoted old fools and the liberal-minded who oppose them as the young, intelligent, attractive, tidy, upstanding, mild-mannered, sensible individuals. Of course in the American sitcom there are no baddies or villains, just characters that inspire a vague, fuzzy-edged feeling of disgust, dislike, ridicule or patronizing endearment. But the effect is the same. My thought is that on an artistic level, it achieves a similar impression (albeit softer) as the old films did by repeatedly painting villains as semitic figures.

Trueman writes:

Most people gain their understanding of selfhood not from reading Thomas Aquinas but from watching The Bold and the Beautiful and following the antics of the Kardashians. We who advocate for traditional marriage and sexuality are at a huge disadvantage in the public square because we simply do not have the access to the kinds of tools exemplified by Will and Grace and Transparent. As we try to argue for our position, our opponents have simply narrated theirs, identifying their revolutionary positions with the reasonable and the normal by using the most apparently harmless and familiar of cultural idioms.

A further problem that I can see, from the perspective of the art of sitcom-writing itself, is that there are so many of these stories that make liberal perspectives look appealing and conservative Biblical ones look unappealing that what has been created is not just the stories themselves, but unwritten rules formed out of the deep groove of artistic precedent that come to define the genre, determining how these stories should be configured if they are to ‘feel right’ and be thought of as ‘good’ stories. A major reason why so few of these stories are sympathetic to the cause of the conservative Biblicists is because the precedent for the conservative Biblicists to be stereotyped as emotionally unattractive, dim-witted, bigoted, mentally impaired, or ‘old fashioned’ characters is so strong that the unwritten rules of the genre won’t allow them to look like anything else.

This isn’t anything new. In the world of art, the American sitcom, in doing what it does in the way it does it, in spite of being thought of as morally progressive, is not far from the 18th century French ‘sensibilité’ novel as an art from, which also largely viewed itself as progressive in its day. If the unwritten rules of the American sitcom genre are restrictive, then the sensibilité novel subgenre became so conventionalized that it came to be parodied. Both art forms thrive on their appeal to public moral sentiment and they simultaneously strive to shape it by introducing a morally subversive element, which they strive to justify and normalize in subtle ways. The main character of the 18th century sensibilité novel, although implicated in the morally subversive element, is presented as a paragon of desirability, likeableness and good taste (or bienséance, in the French), according to the moral sympathies of the majoritarian viewer/readership culture. The sympathetic presentation of the ‘goodie’ is at the expense of those around them who cannot attain their heights of ‘goodie-ness’; the latter are cast in the role of ‘baddie’. It is important to note however that sensibilité and the American sitcom often shy away from painting outright ‘baddies’ or ‘villains’ unless these are faceless, undeveloped, scapegoated characters, and seem to prefer to point to an institution or to ‘society’ as the culprit (i.e. a constructed perception of the prevailing culture that is hostile towards the ‘goodie’). Nonetheless, characters that are not sympathetic towards the goodie character are always presented as undesirable, and this ‘undesirable character’ slot is filled by the would-be baddie and is manipulated in similar ways. Both kinds of work often provide an intrigue or sub-plot that subtly presents the ‘goodie’ as being treated unfairly by those who do not sympathise with them; the sitcom, relying on humour rather than indignation as the main vehicle of sentiment, tends to cast the non-sympathiser as a stooge. To this effect, plot events are carefully framed, characterization is carefully orchestrated and literary tropes and cultural idioms are deliberately employed in ways that will make the ‘goodie’ cause look supremely tasteful (bienséant), as well as pleasant and likeable. As a result of all of this, the entire work is drowned in such an impression of ‘harmless niceness’ that the morally subversive aspect, constituting perhaps a ‘tragic flaw’ and as the object of the ‘goodie’s’ misfortune at the hands of the undesirable characters, starts to become assimilated into the niceness as ‘excusable’, and then as ‘normal’ by the time of the subgenre’s widespread reception by the viewer/readership culture. Whereas today’s big moral subversion is gay marriage, one big moral subversion of the 18th century French novel was adultery (think Manon Lescaut). Whatever the time-bound specifics, my point is that that kind of art is orchestrated strategically to interact with the public moral tastes in such a way as to shape perceptions without the audience realising that those perceptions are being shaped. And the trajectory of these perceptions, whether the art is contemporary and American or 18th century and French, has never been towards either conservative Biblical principles or the Christian gospel itself; only away from them.

What is the conservative Christian to do about this? Well, not come up with better arguments for their points of view. Sensibilité ancient or modern is not an unstoppable force, but for the past couple of centuries I suspect that it has not been tackled in the right way. This would be understandable: tickling the media receiver’s sensibilities then gently removing the rug of moral reference out from under their feet and replacing it with your agenda while they’re too entertained to notice, is fundamentally manipulative and seems underhand. The logocentric God, the God of light and vision, who reveals himself and his will and gives commandments openly, works by elucidating, instructing, laying bare and making visible: ‘underhand’ and ‘manipulative’ just don’t characterise the way he does things. It’s therefore not inconceivable that many Christians find it hard to know how to respond to these. What many Christians don’t realise is that elaborate philosophical arguments just don’t cut the mustard when trying to engage people on life’s big questions, when they get their definition of what life is all about from the sentimental hi-jinks that television, newspapers the internet, or, indeed, novels, can make them feel. Feeling needs to be met on its own level. What is needed to get the world feeling outside of the cloying liberal straitjacket that cossets and binds mainstream media genres unawares and subtly reinforces the suffocating ideological consensus that reigns over hot potato issues (as well as the gospel itself in many cases), by shutting down rational discussion under the weight of moral sentimental rhetoric, I think, is more art. Now don’t get me wrong. The greatest need of this world is not to affirm that marriage is between one man and one woman till death doth them part. Nor is it to outlaw and prevent abortion in every country in the world. The greatest need of this world is to be reconciled to God by the blood of Jesus Christ and to start a new life with him. And that is never going to happen unless they hear the Word of God. Art will never be a substitute for that Word and sentiment will never shatter the Logos; the worst sentiment can do is dissimulate it, influence attitudes towards it or distort perceptions of it. But whether conservative Christians are occupied with preaching the gospel or safeguarding the things that God holds dear in the public square, art can lay grounds by which the blinding prejudices and misconceptions of this age can be stripped away and the Word of God can be heard for what it is. What the conservative Christian can do is create stories that their perspective and message can inhabit sympathetically, and hope that these stories will somehow occupy a positive space in the public consciousness that they can use in their interactions with people, so that there can be a cultural point of contact for the Christian to draw on that dissipates their interlocutors’ disgust rather than exacerbating it. As Professor Louis Markos puts it:

We are, in many ways, a civilization adrift on the stormy seas of relativism and existentialism. … Our compass is broken and the stars obliterated, and we are left with nothing to navigate by but a vague faith in the modern triad of progress, consumerism, and egalitarianism. They are not enough. . . . What we need, in short, are stories. (On the Shoulders of Hobbits, 10–11)

I found that in a recent DesiringGod blog post on Tolkein, incidentally. Now I’m not advocating that everyone try to out-Tolkein Tolkein. Tolkein addressed a cultural climate that was different to ours: relativism and existentialism were new, not taken for granted: the existence of stories at all was something to marvel at. But now there are so many stories, so many genres and kinds of story and so many ideological forces that hold monopolies of influence and power over them (and it seems that everyone wants a slice of Middle Earth), that it is important to be mindful of what we’re dealing with as we go about writing stories.

As far as I can see, that can be done in one of three ways. Firstly, you could fight fire with fire, exploit loopholes in what kinds of stories the genre allows and what kinds it doesn’t, and potentially leave yourself open to the wrath of the developers of the genre that you’ve just hijacked, and that of those who approached your work expecting their usual fix of sentiment and sensed that something was ‘off’. Secondly, you could write a story exposing the secular liberal empire for what it is and pass your work off as ‘postmodern’ and ‘a critique of our times’ – although this would require your approach to look secular and liberal at least superficially because if it doesn’t then you will look like that bigoted old fool from the sitcom. Thirdly, you could create a whole new kind of art that can only be described in its own terms. With the latter comes the risk that nobody will like it. But there may be some who do. And with those who do, there is greater protection from sabotage than either of the first two options.

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Contending for the Faith: Adjusting to a new, subtler battle tactic

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‘Faith is a virus, columnist claims’, published by The Christian Institute on 22nd July 2014.
http://www.christian.org.uk/news/faith-is-a-virus-columnist-claims/ [last accessed 23rd July 2014]

‘[A Conservative Peer and columnist for The Times] said, “Rationalists no longer expect to get rid of religion altogether by explaining life and matter: they aim only to tame it instead, and to protect children from it”‘

My initial thought and reaction to this article was the following: be taking notes, Christian people, and be using them wisely. You can see that what is being envisaged here is not a complete overthrow, and not even a displacement – or at least, not immediately. These scientistic, naturalistic Darwin aficionados believe (wrongly) that their power to win lies in their monopoly on support from the institutions that shape and dictate the lives of everyday, uneducated individuals who have not been taught to question what they are told unless it comes out of the mouth of a religious cleric, an advocate of homeopathic medicine or a telesales operative. It is little use to assert a tu quoque in response to this: if ‘brainwashing’ is the British secularists’ cry of accusation against those with any kind of Christian faith, then they should not be using it themselves. I personally take a dim view of it, whether performed by Christians or secularists, or anyone else. The Holy Spirit doesn’t need brainwashers to win people’s hearts; he only needs witnesses to speak of Jesus Christ, and he has been effective especially in places where the brainwashing powers that be have been brainwashing people to believe in other things besides him, like China. Introducing Jesus to people is Christians’ work, but changing hearts and minds is God’s work, and he does it everso well by himself.

The institutions that make up the state machine have an incredible power to influence public opinion – and that is what they are doing. Now I’m going to make a risky statement. I think that most effective influencer of public opinion  that ever lived – and I’m sorry for the cliché – was Adolf Hitler. Let us take the focus off the concentration camps and the gas chambers, the atrocities for just one moment (by all means turn back to them afterwards), and let us look at Hitler as a politician and an ideologue. I think that one of the most unbelievable feats of Adolf Hitler was the fact that he made people believe that what he was doing was okay. Why do we not study this more and learn the dangers of it so that we can expose it where it happens and defend ourselves? As far as I’m concerned the biggest feat of Hitler was the fact that, using propaganda techniques and the rudimentary media that he had at his disposal, he managed to inculcate Nazi ideology into his people at large in the short space of a generation and a half, to the extent that a significant proportion of them genuinely believed it was the truth. That is what I find astonishing. Now I’ve read snippets of quotations from his writings on propaganda – not much, I have to say, but what I read was sufficient to make me feel very uncomfortable about the present times. The   burning question in my mind as I read was, “How on this earth could we have done Nazi Germany ad nauseam all the way up secondary school, and been fed a narrative about a faceless inhuman monster every time, rather than about a very human man and the insights into social engineering that lay behind the media strategy and statecraft that he used to achieve his ideological ends, so that we might become aware of these things and recognise when they’re being used on us for the sake of other people’s ideological ends?” As I read what these philosophical reflections and tools were, sickeningly, I could not help but notice as I read them how stridently the secular ideological engine – particularly the LGBT campaign – seems to have been using much the same techniques in the media which have spilled into statecraft what with dramatic changes being made to state legislation in a short space of time, perhaps by coincidence rather than by design, but still, the patterns are there. Again, I apologise for the perceived extremism of this, and you can come back at me with another tu quoque if you want, but I couldn’t help but make the association as I read, and like everything that makes me feel sick to my stomach, I cannot help but talk about it. The fact is that even some secularists have been alarmed at the pace of the progress of the LGBT cause as a cause qua cause, at the power to stigmatize and silence non-adherents that it acquired in about two or three decades from a former position of being stigmatized itself; at its stronghold of acceptance among the cultural elites rather than the workaday people like most civil rights movements in the past, and at the speed with which it has become the only side of the law on which to be, when not long ago it was on the wrong side. Both ideologies took little more than a generation to become normative, and the lowest common denominator of them is a commitment to a deliberate cultural engineering, which history shows is bad news for human freedoms. It is here that the parallels stop, however: it is cheap to smear your opponent as being ‘Nazi’, and it’s overly disparaging to do that. My aim is not to tar with the same brush, but to point out the potency of the media propaganda machine, and to invite questioning of the rights and wrongs of using it, given that we know what it is capable of masking and distorting when we read up on the chapters of history that our schoolbooks don’t teach us, what it is capable of unearthing from the human condition and what moral freedoms it deprives people of. The secular agenda can in theory allow for freedom of speech without undermining itself, because those who naively think they are making a free choice have for the large part had their hearts and minds made up for them. This is not freedom. If people uncritically imbibe the media and the academic establishment as their highest authorities on knowledge without taking note of how repetition, posturing, brown-nosing, skewing, narrative manipulation, and stigmatizing techniques work to present things as being acceptable or unacceptable and plausible or implausible, and to play to people’s emotions and sympathies whilst shaping them, then they will be persuaded of anything. If there is a culture of acceptance of something – a culture that has built up its own rationales and philosophical arguments and historical narratives around whatever it accepts – then standing against the culture might well be akin to claiming that you believe in garden fairies, and that is what is currently being levied against Christians. If even the sources of evidence you might draw from to  prove your opponents that you are worthy of being taken seriously are produced by those who are trying to cast you in that mould and are written in a way that flatters them rather than you, then it is understandably hard to produce a credible defence for yourself: the discursive rug has been taken out from under you. There are strong secularizing elements in our BBC media, and in light of these it is not surprising that Christians look like people who believe in garden fairies to those who view the world through media-tinted glasses. The reason why this happens is that we are being made to look that way. The very nuances of our language, as it has changed to reflect the cultural usage, make us look that way. So we should not be drawn in to think that there is nothing more to faith in Christ than faith in garden fairies. The burden of proof as to whether that is actually true is on the ones who claim such things, and if they paint us in a way that doesn’t accord with our practices, experience or knowledge, then they will not effectively be engaging with what we are. And if they are not really engaging with what we are, then they are talking about their idea of us, rather than about us, and the only way they can then touch us is if we let their idea of us pass for what we really are – which we all too often do, and by the time we’ve said “You’re not painting us right”, it’s often too late. From the very first instance we are often perfectly placed to say “Actually you’ve got it wrong” and present them with the evidence; we just often don’t think on.

The Tory peer in the article at hand is treats Christianity as a scientific object: a disease. Secularism has taken science and tried to use it as a form of institutional monopoly, so it is safe terrain for him. Scientific narratives have been formed that airbrush God out the picture and have been built upon for some generations now by others who do the same, to produce the impression that ‘we don’t need God’. But Christians know that God is not absent just because he is not given a voice: UV radiation was always in the electromagnetic spectrum before it was recognised as being there. It has been largely concealed that facts, figures and ‘evidence’ are not hard proofs of sociological phenomena on their own, but need to be construed to mean something, and that that ‘something’ that they are construed to mean, and the language that is used to describe them, is subject to ideological premises and narratives. The institution of science and the language it uses to express itself are thus firmly constructs. Manufacturing an empirical or otherwise philosophically coherent defence for something is often enough to convince people who pride themselves on being too canny to go along with the beliefs endorsed by their cultural surroundings. There is a tacit assumption for such people that philosophical coherence = truth, when in fact there is no reason why the connection that we believe to exist between our manmade systems of philosophical coherence and ‘the real’ cannot be mistaken, indirect, partial or disturbed. Philosophical coherence has been exploited to defend all sorts of despicable things – eugenics, for one. John Lennox’s God’s Undertaker exposes the ideological premises of the secularist agenda in science, and even demonstrates that devoid of these premises, science supports a theistic worldview better than an atheistic one. But I digress. The important thing is that in presenting Christianity as a scientific object, the Tory Peer is arguing against it from a terrain that is favourable to his cause. Treating Christianity according to the ‘scientific’ narrative of disease and infection, what the proponents of the views presented in the article at hand seem to hoping for is to leave a weak, diluted strain of Christianity in the genetics of our cultural values, and contain it (probably using legislation) from being transferred down any more generations while they wait for it to evolve into something else through a series of subtle, near-imperceptible changes over the course of a long period of time. Of course, people like the Tory Peer don’t believe in the power of the Word of God to change the hearts of those who seek God. Moreover, they don’t realise that the propagation of evangelical faith relies on conversionism before it relies on the transmission of family values: that evangelicalism (in all of the denominations and traditions in which it may be found) is more than just a ritualized form of conservativism with the sanction of hell for disobedience. Because of this you cannot stop evangelical Christianity by bringing in legal restrictions to constrict and kill its native roots: as long as it has a Bible, it will simply sprout new ones.

Richard Dawkins undercut his own campaign in May 2012 when he wrote in the Guardian that all schools should have a copy of the King James Bible in them because it is “a great work of literature”. If he thinks that the greatest danger to schoolchildren from the Bible is that they will view it as “a moral book” if they are not actively taught to eschew the ‘evils’ that it contains, and if he thinks that that sort of teaching will prevent converts from being won, then he does not understand the transformative power of it at all. And yet, I read in my Open Doors material recently about a miracle healing Afghanistan where Christians are severely persecuted and live in secret, in which a Christian man who had just acquired his first Bible merely brought it into his house, and his disabled daughter started to move, and when he read from it, she started to walk around. The Bible is such a hated book. It is so readily available that it is looked on as something cheap, and of little consequence. It looks so unimpressive and feeble when it’s sitting on the shelf, and when it’s portrayed in all the religious caricatures. But God made the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, the weak to shame the strong, the powerless to shame the powerful, the things that are not to shame things that are. Whether the Bible is sitting in a humble school library in some deprived area, or in the hands of a persecuted Afghani family man, as long as the Word of God remains available and is read, I believe that it is very hard to kill Christianity even if you turn to massacre the believers.

All evangelicals are converts, whether they grew up with Christianity or not – and are quite different material from those who have just grown up with weak strains of ‘cultural Christianity’ and continued to propagate them down generations. These atheist belligerents cannot see that it is the conscious acquisition of active, living faith in Jesus Christ by hearing the Word of God that is giving life to this movement: many of them just regard Christianity as the sum of its practices and ethical standpoints, with faith in Jesus Christ as an adjunct – a ‘booby prize’ offered to the gullible and the uneducated – legitimizing the religious institution’s oppression of the weak. And in doing this, they severely underestimate their enemy, because these oppressive kinds of institutions are not where the heart-changing, belief-propagating power lies. It is not that Christianity is ‘becoming’ more evangelical (as if ‘evangelical’ were just a trend you could drift in and out of without noticing). It is that ‘born again’ Christianity is a completely different creature – and one that behaves very differently too. We know that ‘born againness’ is not an ‘idea’ but a spiritually transformative experience – and they can only see it as an ‘idea’ because they do not believe in spiritually transformative experiences! Rather than evangelicalism just being another modality of any other brand of Christianity as the Tory Peer seems to think, when people are born again and this manifests itself in something that looks ‘evangelical’, it means that they are becoming something palpably different from what they were before, even if they still called themselves ‘Christian’ before. This man’s sociology of religion doesn’t seem to be able to account for all of this – and consequently, I cannot imagine he will be able to grasp that ‘being born again’ is any different from ‘acquiring more conservative views, becoming more belligerent and proselytizing’. The suppression of youth work evangelism would be more of a worry to me than the curtailment of ‘cultural Christianity’ – though it’s starting to get harder to do that too.

The game of these opponents is long, and their tactics guerilla-like. Insisting on changing accepted definitions of things and influencing language use so that we imply and inculcate certain values when we speak even if we don’t mean them. Riding on the back of historical ‘liberation’ narratives such as the abolition of slavery and the right to vote, which are universally seen to be ‘good’ by anyone with a voice that matters, and fabricating reasons as to why they should be seen to be doing the same thing. Using populist tactics to rally political support and make sudden, hefty changes to the law and set up a trajectory for change, with safeguards designed to come down when popular support has increased. They realised how to play the democratic system, and they are playing it to win.

Now, the devil has just announced what he’s going to do, so use this leak to your advantage (unless he’s lying, but then we’re seeing this ‘taming’ of Christianity already, and it’s causing the ideological battle lines between evangelicalism on the one hand, and ‘soft’ anglicanism with secularism on the other, to become increasingly pronounced). My point is this: you have this Tory Peer’s admission in your hands, so be planning your counter-attacks and your preventative measures carefully. By all means be ready for a direct cavalry charge – but don’t expect that to be where the heart of the battle is. Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens tried that, and only got the opposite of what they wanted: the strengthening of evangelical faith, not many casualties if you don’t count the ‘cultural Christian’ stragglers who were not doing anything that would pose much of a threat to Christianity’s cultural ‘replacement’, and fifteen minutes of fame. Dramatic, head-on attacks like that are far too easy to spot. Western history is full of instances in which they have only made Christianity grow: that tactic has been tried and tested, our opponents know their history, and now they’re moving onto something else.

It is crucially important to know what sort of battle we are fighting, because that helps us to anticipate what sorts of gains we should be making. No longer are we dealing with a culture whose elites glory in good-versus-evil narratives filled with heroic deeds, so I stress that we will find ourselves somewhere up the garden path if we let ourselves be distracted by dramatic public theology debates in the belief that these events lie at the heart of the broader issue. Really, I feel, the gains and losses that mean anything in this kind of battle are the small and at-a-glance inconsequential ones. As I’ve already mentioned, we’re dealing with the ‘evolution’ people now. Dramatic gains and sudden losses just aren’t what wars of words, modelled on an ‘evolutionary’ kind of movement, are about, unless the Holy Spirit provides us special means. Evolution is s-l-o-w.

It might shed some light on the nature of our battle to try to understand how our opponents perceive what is happening to the culture, and how they are trying to use that understanding to drive it where they want it to go. Richard Dawkins has a pseudo-scientific term for the ‘genetics’ of beliefs – he calls them ‘memes’, and he appears to have elaborated a theory about them. According to Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene, the complex matrix of beliefs of civilizations are made up of ‘memes’ of cultural transmission, just as human beings are determined by genes of biological transmission (if, indeed, Biology is all that is transferred). For Dawkins, beliefs evolve like species of creatures. Every gain for an ideological argument, however small, is a gain because it is a push in the direction of a trajectory towards acceptance that is ideally placed to lead to another push in the same direction.

Observing the speed of cultural drift in the past ten years I would not be quick to dismiss ‘meme’ theory without trying to glean anything from it first, but I have not seen evidence of it working ‘organically’ in my lifetime, as evolution is purported to work. There has been much about the recent landslide in cultural change that has been orchestrated artificially and passed off as ‘natural’ – the introduction of  gay marriage into law as a case in point. Allowing the culture to appear to ‘evolve’ out of Christianity in a pseudo-natural, apparently inevitable way very much sits in line with Dawkins’ theory, and is what I would expect any good Dawkins-reading atheist will expect to happen and try to hurry along. In light of this, what this Times columnist is saying is hardly revolutionary: he is drawing from his own party line. Evolution or no evolution however, I maintain that the tide of cultural drift is too high and has gathered too much momentum for anyone to stem it unless there is a large-scale revival of Christian faith by the Holy Spirit. Let David Cameron say what he likes about Britain being a ‘Christian’ country as it currently stands: the locus of the people’s trust and affections does not lie with him, and our general trajectory of cultural progression is one that points away from Christ and not towards him. Attempting, in this climate, to change the general culture ‘back’ to something more genuinely Christian in one fell swoop would, I believe, be like trying to stop the momentum of a runaway steamroller while it’s careering down a hill at speed, with your bare hands. Nonetheless, with the help of God we can pray for revival, try to clear some of the stumbling blocks from people’s paths and stop ourselves from slipping if we know how to fight the downward pull.

Putting up a fight effectively requires more than partisan spirit and belligerence. To be effective in our battle to believe in truth and do righteousness we must be trained and vigilant to spot, and diligent and wise to resist, every attempt made to reshape us into what the state and surrounding culture is increasingly affirming. To do this we need suitable equipment, and the equipment I suggest is that suggested by Scripture: the belt of truth to keep everything strapped in place, the breastplate of righteousness sitting over our hearts, readiness to preach the gospel for our feet (presumably to keep them agile and to keep spiritual flabbiness at bay), the shield of faith to deflect the flaming arrows of the evil one, the helmet of salvation protecting our heads (with knowledge, hope, drive, or all of these things?), and for our only offensive weapon out of all of these, the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. If we do not avail ourselves of these provisions, I believe that we will be carried along with the momentum of this very intricately orchestrated drift that is going on inside the church as well as outside of it. Expect to see amongst the unprepared and unarmed, the conscientious objectors and the other non-combatants, a gradual, subtle softening of the gospel’s edges and ramifications, and the slow, near-imperceptible morphing of its general shape into something that you can’t tell apart from what the rest of the country is saying, except that some different words are used, along with the G-word and perhaps if they’re feeling daring, the J-word too. Expect secular values to enter the church steadily, stealthily and persistently by a guerilla-style infiltration of ‘tolerance’, ’empowerment’, ‘equality’ (so-called), and utilitarian laissez-faire masquerading as grace, as well other things you see and hear about on the BBC and in the newspapers. Don’t lose your patience. Expect skirmishes to be long, and fought over little ground – so little and for so long that you’re tempted ask yourself whether you’re just being legalistic/Puritanical/pietistic. The enemy is waging a long war, so prepare yourself for battle as for a test of endurance. Arm yourself with the Word of God daily: make sure you know it inside-out, upside-down, and double-check against it every ‘should’ that you’re presented with by church people, non-church people, your favourite TV programme, the radio, your favourite charity, and even your family and friends. Arm yourself with knowledge about the worldview that is surrounding you, because the roots of it aren’t obvious, and you need to know what forms your enemy takes if you are to fight him effectively. This will probably mean that you’ll need to do some reading, and for this, Meltdown: Making sense of a culture in crisisby Marcus Honeysett, makes for an excellent primer.

As a general piece of advice, be sure of the limits of what you’ll let yourself accept, and be sure of whom or what you’ll allow to change them, and on what grounds. Be on guard, have your Bible evidence, your knowledge and your anti-guerilla vigilance primed, and do not give up ground on Biblical mandates or orthodox doctrines, even if it makes you look like an extremist and a bigot. Because most of the time they’re really just meaningless, derogatory labels people stick on other people to try and shame them into losing their footing when they want to silence them.

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