The Meaning of Culture War
One of my Evangelical blogging friends frequently brings up things relating to the ‘culture war.’ On Facebook, he posts several articles about the biblical illiteracy of the rising generation of Christians as being tantamount to the current generation of Christians ill-preparing that rising generation to fight in such a war.
He has a vested interest in seeing this trend reversed, because what will win if Christians and traditionalists don’t?
And so on. But these things come with their own pitfalls. “Tolerance” is decidedly intolerant when it wants to be (intolerant of those who do not fit within the tolerance umbrella.) Subjectivism has its own objective claims, they say. Secularism enshrines its own religion.
…I generally don’t get these sentiments, and as a result, the idea of “culture war” doesn’t make a lot of sense. Sure, sure, I enjoy culture bombs in Civilization IV, and I enjoyed watching cities flip as early as Civ III. Getting new cities without firing a single bullet? Si, me gusta! …but this doesn’t seem like a real life phenomenon.
Today, Times and Seasons had an article (yes, yes, they usually do that every day). But with a title like, “There could not have been saints in Ancient Greece,” I just couldn’t avoid reading that! You can read in depth about the passage from which that title comes (it made sense to me), but what I was more interested in was the relation to modern struggles.
What took place was the squaring off of two different cultural paradigms, wherein proponents of the opposing paradigm couldn’t show up as what they were…On the one hand, there was a cultural paradigm with no room for the LGBT community. Within this paradigm there were no loving, committed, homosexual couples seeking to build a life together in a way that is recognized by and contributes to society. Rather, there were a host of other possibilities—from the APA’s diagnosis of mental derangement to healthy repugnance at perverse behavior to righteous condemnation of those who live in willful rebellion of the decrees of God and nature. On the other hand, there was a cultural paradigm with no room for proponents of a traditional understanding of marriage. That is, there were no humble, God-fearing, defenders of a mode of family organization that has embodied and propagated a set of remarkably resilient values and been conducive to one of history’s significant forms of human flourishing. Rather, there were ignorant zealots, groundless conservatives, and thinly veiled or downright flagrant bigots. These weren’t rhetorical shots across the bow. From within their respective cultural paradigms, this is how the other actually showed up. The problem here is the inability of the one to show up as what they are from within the cultural paradigm of the other.
Again, it makes sense to me at least.
But James continues to strike even closer to home.
These mutually exclusive paradigms continue to operate, and one doesn’t have to look far to see their articulation (or accusation). There is also at work a sort of astonished, wresting attempt to make sense of things—where certain lifestyles show up as something foreign, something that resists our understanding (I believe that this is manifest in Pres. Packer’s infamous question this last General Conference, and Rosalynde’s articulation of a contemporary Mormon theodicy in response; I also see it registered in those outside and critical of Mormonism who nonetheless manifest a hesitant and genuine bafflement at the potent and meaningful way this religion plays out in its members’ lives). (emphasis added)
and it doesn’t stop there.
Not that every political and cultural compromise is a genuine fusion. Particularly in our pluralistic society, we’ve grown accustomed to accepting the “right” of someone to adopt what we can only see as an eccentric and unfathomable lifestyle or position. Nor does conversion automatically grant one dualistic vision or understanding—I regularly read former Mormons who have entirely lost their ability to grasp what is going on within Mormon religious life and experience (assuming they originally had such an understanding). And even when there is a genuine fusion, it’s not always readily apparent as a fusion to those observing the actions and articulations that constitute it. Firmly entrenched within their respective paradigms, many claim the fusion of horizons that is manifest in certain political actions to be nothing but a betrayal, an apostasy or acquiescence, a slouching step toward Gomorrah or oppression, a coerced concession, meaningless gesture, or a halting and superficial step toward justice whose real aim is merely to relieve societal pressure.
Sometimes I wonder if it’s even possible…I wonder if instead we aren’t just “accepting the ‘right’ of someone to adopt what we can see only as an eccentric and unfathomable lifestyle or position.” That’s ultimately the way it seems to be — and quite frankly, that just doesn’t seem like a satisfying goal (which is why I’m glad it is not true “fusion of horizons”). I wonder too if we’ve lost our ability to grasp what is going on within Mormon religious life (the possibility that becomes stronger upon reading so many articles — at least for me — is that I never originally had such an understanding. While I feel there is so much I share with Mormons, believing and nonbelieving, there is a shocking amount that seems totally foreign to me.)
The worst thing about the article is its ultimate hopelessness. For all that James talks about a fusion of horizons, in the end what rings louder is his comments on what possibilities will be closed off. His final lines seem to be damage control:
Some closures would obviously be welcomed. Others would be a wrenching and regrettable loss. Just what we end up with is by no means clear at present.
Compromise so often seems like a loss for everyone. Everyone simply reasons which of the once non-negotiable treasures really can be sacrificed after all…