Culture Before Politics

John Stonestreet | BreakPoint | Thursday, August 30, 2012

Culture Before Politics

When Hillary Clinton claimed there was a “vast right-wing conspiracy” against her husband, many conservatives just laughed. “Work together?” many of us thought. “She apparently doesn’t know conservatives as well as she thinks she does.”

But Jonathan Chait, writing last week in the left-leaning New York magazine claims there’s actually a vast left-wing conspiracy, but this conspiracy isn’t located in Washington, D.C. This conspiracy, Chait argues, comes from Hollywood, which is “mainly transmitting an ethos in which greed is not only bad but the main wellspring of evil, authority figures of all kinds are often untrustworthy, sexual freedom is absolute, and social equality of all kinds is paramount.”

Chait goes on: “You don’t have to be an especially devoted consumer of film or television to detect a pervasive, if not total, liberalism.” He then points to “the modern family in 'Modern Family,' not to mention the girls of 'Girls' and the gays of 'Glee'…” as evidence.

In the end, Chait concludes that “the uncomfortable reality is that the culture war is an ongoing liberal rout. Hollywood is as liberal as ever, and conservatives have simply despaired of changing it.”

This is something that all Christians concerned with the state of our culture must hear and learn. We have tended to see the culture wars as being primarily a battle of ideas, which almost exclusively takes place in the political sphere. But as we often say here on BreakPoint, politics is downstream from culture. Politics is most often a reflection of cultural values, not a source of them.

This is precisely why social liberals have been so successful in redefining cultural values. They see the battle of ideas as a battle for the imagination that takes place in all cultural spheres, especially the arts. As Rod Dreher said in response to Chait’s observations, “The Right only knows how to make arguments; the Left knows how to make art.”

Now, these articles are primarily critiquing political and philosophical conservatives, but they just as easily could apply to Christians. We’ve almost exclusively limited our cultural engagement to the level of critique. We’ve locked in on ideas, while secularism has captured the imagination of our culture by retelling our stories.

Being able to identify the ideas at the root of culture is critical, but our failure to engage and produce cultural artifacts in the arts and sciences reveals a huge blind spot. Cultural change requires more than ideas, it requires the production of cultural goods.

Our Christian forebears understood this better than we do now. Christians created cultural goods embedded with a Christian understanding of God, man, and the world. This happened in cultural areas as diverse as music and healthcare, architecture and education, arts and the sciences, exploration and government.

The Christian fear and flight from culture in our day has led to a marginalization of faith in public life and an inability to capture the imaginations of people with the compelling vision for life that is offered in the Gospel.

That’s why I’ve dedicated a four-part series on the “Two-Minute Warning” to talk about culture. Last week I examined the proper posture Christians should have toward culture, and this week I define clearly what culture is (and what it is not). This would be a great series to watch and discuss in your small groups and church education classes. Come to BreakPoint.org, click on this commentary, and we’ll link you to this “Two-Minute Warning” series.

Let’s tackle this. Let’s figure out how we might begin reclaiming the cultural imagination through a re-engagement with various areas that shape our culture. We might find the political and legal battles much easier to handle if we do.

As the host of The Point, a daily national radio program, John Stonestreet provides thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.

BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.

Publication date: August 30, 2012

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