“When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, the people groan.”
Every week I talk to people (especially Christians) who are very confused and even more frustrated about what is happening in American society. It is now crystal clear that the basic foundations and framework of our society are being dismantled and replaced with a radically secular, leftist ideology.
Which leads to the questions: Where did all these crazy ideas come from? How did they gain popularity so quickly? How did they gain power so quickly? Is there anything we can do to reverse the trend and get back to the basic principles of objective truth, ordered liberty, and personal responsibility? Is there anything we can do to recover and restore common sense?
The first step is to understand the four key elements of national culture: ideas, individuals, images, and institutions.
Ideas. The dominant ideas of a nation are its belief system about how society should function. Ideas are the worldview — the core concepts and guiding principles — that shape a national culture. A nation’s prevailing ideas and worldview define what is acceptable and what is not acceptable in society.
Throughout history, every society has experienced intense competition for the ideas that will govern the way it operates personally, morally, socially, and politically. Consider some of the ideas that have competed for dominance in the United States: Monarchy vs constitutional republic. Theism vs atheism. Intelligent design vs Darwinism. Free enterprise vs Marxism. Right-to-life vs abortion. Two genders vs gender fluidity. Small government vs big government. Etc.
J. Gresham Machen, the great Presbyterian, understood the profound impact of ideas in national culture. He wrote this in 1929: “False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the gospel. We may preach with all the fervor of a reformer and yet succeed only in winning a straggler here or there, if we permit the whole collective thought of a nation or of the world to be controlled by ideas which by the resistless force of logic, prevent Christianity from being regarded as anything more than a harmless delusion.”
Individuals. Ideas, however, don’t happen in isolation. Ideas and belief systems are created and declared by individuals … by people. Persuasive ideas are launched by the writings of people who capture and give expression to ideas that become a powerful trend. Consider the list of competing ideas listed above. Every idea, every concept, was communicated and advocated by certain individuals seeking to persuade people and influence society. Consider, for example, the negative impact of Marx, Darwin, and Freud. Consider also the positive impact of Martin Luther, CS Lewis, and Francis Schaeffer.
Machen again: “The task of restoring truth to the culture depends largely on our laypeople. The church needs to cultivate Christian artists, musicians, novelists, filmmakers, journalists, attorneys, teachers, scientists, business executives, and the like, teaching its laypeople the sense in which every secular vocation-including, above all, the callings of husband, wife, and parent — is a sphere of Christian ministry.”
Images. With the proliferation of technology and the internet, this culture-shaping dimension is unique to our generation. There is a nonstop flow of photos and videos streaming through our TV and mobile devices, and those seeking to shape the culture are able to use and manipulate images and video to convey their ideas and narrative in a viscerally compelling way. Images and videos are powerful vehicles for promoting ideas, influencing what people believe, and shaping culture.
Institutions. An institution is a group of individuals committed to and organized around a set of shared ideas. As such, institutions establish policies that reflect their dominant belief system. This includes promoting and encouraging their preferred ideology, as well as suppressing and discouraging opposing ideas.
When the power of an institution is great enough, it mandates its belief system, which almost always includes prohibiting and punishing those who do not comply. Consider the culture-shaping institutions that have gained significant power in American society:
- Media has persuasive power.
- Social media has technical power.
- Education has ideological power.
- Business has commercial power.
- Science and medicine have the power of expertise.
- Government has economic power through taxation and coercive power through the law.
These institutions are the architecture of human culture. They are the social structures that create, shape, and transmit the beliefs and behavior patterns of human society. They are the institutions that create and shape the ideas that create culture.
The Christian community must awaken to the fact that whoever controls these institutions controls the ideas that shape American society. Currently, the radical left controls the institutions and wields their power to promote and mandate adherence to leftist ideology and policies, which includes severely restricting and, where possible, prohibiting the inclusion and influence of Judeo-Christian principles.
Another indication of the church’s cultural abdication is that no conservative, Christ-centered universities are doing original research in the hard sciences. Indeed, bible-based universities and colleges do virtually no original research of any kind. This has far-reaching cultural implications, evidenced by the fact that the professing church has no credible voice, and thus no significant impact in the world of academia, science, and communication and media.
Still, the call remains. “Have dominion” the Lord commands in Genesis. “Be salt and light” Jesus tells us in the sermon on the mount.
Here, then, is the great question: In our generation, what is the role of the Christian community in each of these social structures? What is the impact of the body of Christ on the core institutions of our society? Are we “having dominion” in each area? Are we salt and light? Are we fulfilling our mandate and bringing the image of God to bear on each structure?
The church and the family are institutions, as well, and they have relational, spiritual, and moral power. However, the impact of the secular institutions in our time is so great that the influence of the church and family are being severely diminished and weakened. Many Christian parents have sent their children off to college only to watch in heart-broken dismay as their children reject the faith and embrace leftist ideology under the withering influence of the woke culture on campus.
The great question: How will we respond?
More next week …