I was raised during the height of the culture wars. Grandiose visions of battle were painted for me. I saw myself riding into the battlefield of society. My sword flashing. I was a generation raised up for this fight. I would combat secular lies and bring America back to God.
But I was wholly unprepared for the reality. When I arrived on the field of battle, armed to the teeth, I found no opponents. I was prepared for a battle but I found an empty wasteland. The war had been fought long before, and there was no one left to fight.
Why? Because, As Carl Trueman explains in his article “The Rise of the Anti-Culture,” “to engage a culture there must first be a culture to engage… [and] we no longer have a culture. What we really have is an anti-culture.”
What is an anti-culture?
“Culture” may be defined as “the elaborate structures and materials built into the very fabric of society for the refinement and transmission of its beliefs and its forms of life from generation to generation, connecting past, present, and future.” Clearly then, America has no culture. We no longer hold to common beliefs, values, or institutions which unite and connect us. Instead, we ridicule all these things.
We no longer hold to common beliefs, values, or institutions which unite and connect us. Instead, we ridicule all these things.
Reflect on this for a moment. The essence of our comedy is to mock our lack of culture. The biggest laughs are earned when our late night hosts ridicule the possibility of commitment to a cause bigger than ourselves. Note, they do not ridicule those who are committed, they are far too cynical for that. No, the joke is the very notion that anyone ever could be committed to anything important. Because we all know that’s just silly! “As if…” “#ICan’tEven.”
So the “culture war” image is wrong. There are not two cultures locked on the field of battle. All that remains are the shattered pieces of a culture strewn on the sand—like the statue of Ozymandius. Instead of facing the united front of “Secularism,” we find ourselves wandering in a barren wasteland of HD cynicism and LED illuminated pornograhy.
It’s time to build seed banks
The picture is dark, I admit. But hope remains! First, let’s not forget that America is not the whole world. The flame of truth may be growing dim in our corner, but it is starting wildfires in the rest of the world (See Additional Resources 1, 2, & 3, below).
The flame of truth may be growing dim in our corner, but it is starting wildfires in the rest of the world.
Nor are we the only Christians to live through darkness. God will not let His Word be lost or fail to bear fruit. He has never failed in the past and He will not fail now.
But what are we to do? If we cannot fight an enemy that does not exist, where does that leave you and me?
Instead of picking up arms only to flail them at the void, let’s pick up the shattered pieces and rebuild the statue. Instead of reburning our enemies’ already scorched fields, let’s gather the seeds left in ours. Then let’s build seed banks to preserve the sources of culture for a future time when they can again bear fruit.
This is a far better image to paint for our youth. They are seed vaults, and we must fill and fortify them. Here are three things you can do toward that end:
1: Teach your children piety.
Piety is respect born from humility and meekness. Piety accepts its place and receives its identity from God. Piety begins when we repent and believe.
Richard Weaver says in his book, Ideas Have Consequences, that:
For centuries now we have been told that our happiness requires an unrelenting assault upon [the order of nature]; dominion, conquest, triumph—all these names have been used as if it were a military campaign. Somehow the notion has been loosed that nature is hostile to man or that her ways are offensive or slovenly, so that every step of progress is measured by how far we have altered these. Nothing short of a recovery of the ancient virtue of pietas can absolve man from this sin (54).
Simply put, piety not pugilism, is the order of the day. Piety is respect. Respect for God, and respect for the natural order he has created. Piety is respect born from humility and meekness. Piety accepts its place and receives its identity from God. Piety begins when we repent and believe.
This does not come easily to fallen humans. Piety begins at the end of a stern rod that does not spoil. Parents, we must learn to say that loving word, “No.” We must have the fortitude to give our children ownership of—and thus responsibility for—themselves. Do not coddle them. Ensure that their choices have consequences. Do this now, while the consequences are instructive, or God will do it later and the consequences will be destructive.
Cynicism is one of the great evils of our age. A dragon born from the ashes of a cultural wasteland.
2: Train their hearts before their heads.
Parents, we must teach our children that things have objective value, that things are more than mere atoms, and that they merit—indeed require—our love. We must show them that it is shameful—sinful—to despise things that are good and true and beautiful. Cynicism is one of the great evils of our age. A dragon born from the ashes of a cultural wasteland.
Cynicism murders piety. When everything, from a symphony to a sunset is snidely pushed aside without wonder and humble reflection, then we have lost our status as homo sapiens and become senseless brutes. This is a great tragedy that we must avoid.
How? This is the crucial question! Teach them by doing it yourself. You must cultivate your own love for that which is beautiful and good.
Let me give you one simple example: be less involved in the world’s busyness. Preserve time for contemplation and veneration. Stop being too busy to sit and read, to play the piano, to garden, to memorize a poem, to play a game. Do not allow your kids to be so involved in sports, the arts, youth group, or whatever, that they have no time to be bored.
“Boredom” is a sacred space where we learn to be quiet. It is not a “safe space” but it is a good place that is necessary for the health of a soul.
“Boredom” is a sacred space where we learn to be quiet. It is not a “safe space” but it is a good place that is necessary for the health of a soul. You must allow your children time to explore the world as it is. You must actively fight to create time for “boredom” to exist. You must turn off the electronics, say “no” to all the events, and then give your children a rich environment of books, art, and music to explore in their boredom.
This is not the place to argue for physical—not digital—books and games and pictures. Simply consider that all these artifacts are like oxygen to an asphyxiated soul. They are fixed points upon which a mind buffeted by the dry wind of the desert can rest.
3: Teach them the value of words and ideas.
Our ability to reason defines us as human beings. It separates us from the animals. And reason is incarnated in words. It is only in words that we can think and speak and pray. So one can gage the loss of culture by the extent our society does not speak but instead emotes 😧. If pictures ever fully replace words, humanity will cease.
It is not enough to teach our children to point their cameras away from themselves, we must teach them to turn them off.
So we must teach our children to put down their blinking image boxes. It is not enough to teach our children to point their cameras away from themselves, we must teach them to turn them off. We must re-engage them in conversation and question asking.
As before, the best way to teach this is to do it yourself. Read more. Yes, read more and read better things. Read C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton. Read Plato and Aristotle, Athanasius and Augustine, Aquinas and Luther and Calvin. Read Shakespeare and Milton. Read Dickens and Keats.
Do these things and you will be gathering seeds and storing them in the vaults of your children. And they can perhaps store them in theirs, and they theirs. And then someday, if the Lord tarries, the soil will become fertile again and those seeds will take root and flourish once again.