Jim Geraghty in his Morning Jolt newsletter this past Wednesday (Sorry no link):
But in some circles on the right, Obama’s victories in the elections of 2008 and 2012 served up irrefutable evidence that the average American is an idiot. Or at least shallow, ill-informed (or uniformed) moochers eager to live off the federal teat, lazy, whiny, self-absorbed, obsessed with inane celebrities, spiritually inert, heads full of nonsense…
So would conservatives rise to defend “middlebrow” American culture today? Or would they look at the multiplex with the latest noisy Michael Bay Transformers movie depicting endless waves of flying CGI shrapnel, teenage girls dressing like hookers, teenage boys listening to Eminem and Robin Thicke, everyone staring down at their smartphones and updating their social-media statuses… and feel a similar pang of alienation and disdain as did those liberal intellectuals of the past century?
Andrew Breitbart was right that politics is downstream from culture,…
So, we see a situation where conservatives are culturally out-of-touch. I think that’s very true, but I think that has always been true. Why are we losing now when in the past we have at least held our own, or often won? Well, consider this article from the London Telegraph:
This week millions of the religious faithful in America are to be shepherded into the nation’s cinemas in order to watch ‘Son of God’, a conventional Hollywood biopic of Jesus Christ that premieres on Thursday.
Coming after last year’s HBO mini-series ‘The Bible’, which garnered 95 million viewers, it would seem a fair bet that this film is pretty much guaranteed to be another hit.
One Texas congregation alone has bought 9,000 tickets.
But such displays of mega-church muscle only serve to conceal how far and how fast the ground has shifted under America’s Religious Right over the last decade or so.
It’s not that America has suddenly abandoned its faith, but more that a large chunk of previously nominal Christians – the Christmas and wedding-only types – have become much happier to declare themselves in the religious camp marked ‘don’t really care’.
That pattern says that the church has moved from a position of being upstream of culture to also being downstream of it. That is a failure on the church’s part. It is tempting to blame it on the capitalistic culture of the church in America – that it has resulted in such a disunited cacophony that leadership has simply become impossible. But the state churches of Europe have fared no better.
Rather I think it is the result of a combination of forces. The first is the emphasis within churches at evangelism at the expense of discipleship. Evangelism is a good thing – it’s a great thing, but not at the expense of pulling at least some of those evangelized in deeper. Many churches today offer no opportunities for those that desire it to dig deeper and deeper into their faith. There is a clear-plastic wall past which the believer is sent to seminary, but what about the believer that wants to go deeper in faith, but remain where they are professionally? Does the church not have an obligation to raise them up? (This also raises a question about what it means to grow deeper in a faith, but that question is way too “religious” for this blog.)
The second trend is the fact that church itself has begun to chase culture. The in-church phenomena known as the “worship wars” in which churches have been torn asunder in battles of music styles and liturgical choices is highly indicative of this trend. Many want to “modernize” to remain appealing to the unchurched. But in doing so they concede a great deal of cultural ground, they follow instead of lead. The church, at least serious church, should be a bit anachronistic – forcing the careful examination of change, even in the small things, rather than simply embracing it – to do so is a form of leadership.
That society views the church as a specialized form of media is part of the problem because it has lead to the church to try and follow the “rules” of media. The church may use the media, but it is something quite different from media. The church should march to its own beat, especially when the media that serves it leads it in a different direction than it should be going. The church was established well before there was any media – there must be something more to it for it to have gotten this far.
I’m sure if I sat here long enough I could come up with other hypotheses about what has gone wrong, but the picture that has emerged is a clear one. Politics has always been downstream of culture. Church used to be upstream of it, but now seems to have moved downstream as well. That is why things seem so out-of-kilter.
The question is how does the church reclaim its place upstream? There have been many books written on the subject, but to date none of them seem to have struck a chord. Of this I have become convinced – the ministry of Jesus Christ came as a bolt out of the blue and completely changed the rules of the game. A sect of the oppressed Jewish people became a religion unto itself that dominated an empire. The Jews of Israel were very downstream of Rome, but 400 years later Christianity served as a pillar of what remained of the Roman empire.
It’s time to go outside-the-box. I wish I had a vision of what that looked like, and I pray that someone does. What I know is that it is important to remember that this was accomplished not by grabbing the Roman (or Jewish for that matter) culture – it was the formation of a whole new culture, not exactly underground, but certainly not on the mountaintop either. In this age do we need a new culture or do we simply need to find once again the one bequeathed to us that changed the world? I tend to think it is the later. This I also know – that old-new culture did not begin with a movement, an institution, or a media strategy. Rather it began in the lives of Jesus and his followers – good Jews all.
Sounds like a good place to start to me.