Here we find ourselves in ‘No Man’s Land.’ It is no longer an active battlefield. The war is over, but I am not sure if anyone ever really won or if It was all lost. And, perhaps it is because we are now a bit removed from much of the fighting (though there is still fighting, perhaps not for this war, however), but I’m not really convinced there ever was a war at all. We talked about it then as if it was a war, and we still refer to it as such, but I think we might have been wrong about that. We have been wrong about so much.
I’m referring to the “Culture War.” I’m not really sure how to characterize this War, but to frame it as its framers framed it.
The phrase, itself, is borrowed from the 19th century struggles of European empires against the role of the Roman Catholic Church in the formation of new constitutional and democratic nation states, preceding the first World War. Economist Iván Berend said of this Kulturkampf, the appropriation by the secular government to include the moralization of the governed away from the Church, “the struggle against the ancien régime, its remnants, or its restoration was necessarily a struggle against the church.”
In its more modern context, it isn’t much differently described, though it is subtly and insidiously and truly different in an important way. The so-called ‘Evangelicals’ are now often the warriors against the Social Progressives. The difference here is that these are purely political categories (much to my small-e-evangelical dismay).
Perhaps, then, if the modern ‘Culture Wars’ ever were a war to begin with, they were more of a civil war: insider factions of the same monolith fighting for fame, though all the time marching toward the same inevitable conclusion.
That left the rest of us much like sports fans who cheer on “our” victory and “our” team without ever setting foot on the field. “We” lost or “we” won, they say, when their greatest contribution to the victory was the uninterrupted stream of dollars at the merchandise counters.
Some of the best spectators helped turn us onto the ‘War.’
Kirkegaard in, “The Present Age.” And Spengler in, “The Decline of the West.” And G. K. Chesterton, who wrote almost 100 years ago that, “The next great heresy is going to be simply an attack on morality, and especially on sexual morality. And the madness of tomorrow will come not from Moscow but from Manhattan.”
And Aldous Huxley in, “Brave New World.” And C. S. Lewis in, “The Abolition of Man.” And David Reisman in, “The Lonely Crowd.” And Alexander Solzhenitsyn in 1978 in his Harvard commencement address titled, “ A World Split Apart.”
But, it was the return of the Catholic empire under John Paul the Great who put the title to the Culture in which we live; the punch that stuck. He condemned the American “Culture of Death” in his 1995 papal encyclical.
But, Culture and even American Culture didn’t blink and the wheel of time ground on and, now, over 20 years on, we absolve ourselves and do that great American thing that, along with death, gilded the 20th century as “The American Century.”
We commoditized culture. It is no longer a sobering reflection of the huddled masses and their warts and spirit. Instead, it is something packaged and sold.
At my office, ‘culture’ dominates the executive discussion. It is a ‘thing’ to be marketed to the staff, as though it is not a reflection of us as people, but instead the fuel for our work output; the gasoline of productivity. It not only shapes our work, but our interactions with one another and somehow aligns with the expectations of our ownership.
“We have a culture of humility,” yet we “crush” our competition and seek to outpace our year over year earnings and we crow about our wins and extoll our operational excellence.
We are being sold that culture isn’t a product of us, but a product we consume. It even comes with packaging and buzzwords.
The same seems to be true of our national Culture.
It is peddled by talking heads that just won’t shut up and now, they have found new spectators to ‘fight’ in this ‘field of battle,’ while never setting foot on the ground, but still calling it “our” team and glowing over “our” wins and “our” losses. And yes, the merchandise tables are still flush with cash.
But here’s the sober truth:
America has the most just and most moral and most wise and most Biblical historical and constitutional foundation in the world. Yes. The same was true of ancient Israel. And America is one of the most religious countries in the world. Yes, just like ancient Israel. And the Church is big and rich and free in America. Yes, just like ancient Israel.
And if God still loves His church in America, he will soon make it small and poor and persecuted just as He did to ancient Israel—so that He can keep it alive by pruning it. If He loves us, He will cut the dead wood away. And we will bleed. And the blood of the martyrs will be the seed of the Church again and a second spring will come and new buds—but not without blood. It never happens without blood, without sacrifice, without suffering. Christ’s work, if it is really Christ’s work and not a comfortable counterfeit, never happens without the cross. Whatever happens without the cross may be good work, but it is not Christ’s work. For Christ’s work is bloody. Christ’s work is a blood transfusion. That is how salvation happens.
That is our Culture, and only because He invites us to be a part of it. Without his extended hand and the grace of His offering, we’re just spectators.
I’ll leave you with these words from an American cultural icon, who doesn’t get enough respect these days. He walked onto a battlefield once and gave his most famous speech, the “Gettysburg Address.” This speech isn’t that. This speech is the one he gave when the war was over; when the war was won. Just as ours has been, for us, by the bloody Son of God.
“Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’
“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”