I’m reading a book by J.P. Moreland on the role of the mind in Christian education. This book is not hot off the press. It was originally published in 1997, almost twenty years ago. I want to share a lengthy quote from his work. He’s writing about a troubled culture. He writes:
“As we approach the twenty-first century, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that our entire culture is in trouble. We are staring down the barrel of a loaded gun, and we can no longer afford to act like it’s loaded with blanks. Recently, the guidance counselor at a local public high school near my home confessed to a parents’ group that the teenagers that have attended the school during the last ten years are the most dysfunctional, illiterate group he has witnessed in close to forty years at the same school. Our society has replaced heroes with celebrities, the quest for a well-informed character with the search for a flat stomach, substance and depth with image and personality. In the political process, the makeup man is more important than the speech writer, and we approach the voting booth, not on the basis of a well-developed philosophy of what the state should be, but with a heart full of images, emotions, and slogans all packed into thirty-second sound bites. The mind-numbing, irrational tripe that fills TV talk shows is digested by millions of bored, lonely Americans hungry for that sort of stuff. What is going on here? What has happened to us?” (1997:21)
That was in 1997!
The world is drastically different than it was in 1997. Socially, the world is more connected than ever before. This book came before Facebook (2004) or Twitter (2006). This book appeared even before Xanga (1999; none of my students would have a clue about Xanga). These technological advances offer immense benefits. They also contribute to an exponential increase in “irrational tripe.”
Celebrities remain people’s heroes, and the flat stomach and perfect physique are even more central to the Western human experience. Humans are nothing more than what meets the eye.
In many of the categories Moreland laments in 1997 have continued their gradual descent. Entertainment is a major driving force of our culture, but this shouldn’t be shocking. If you actually had to dwell on the reality of our brief lives on earth for long, I believe people would either become further entrenched in a hateful cynicism, or they would begin asking the much bigger questions of life like, “Is this really all there is?” Entertainment helps get your mind of what is true.
Like the high school counselor referenced, I too work among high school students. While these young minds are a great deal more tech savvy, they are far less understanding of reality. Their reality consists of a device they carry which suggests to them whatever they want is at their fingertips, and much of what they want can be had now. Their handheld universes implicitly teach them they are sovereigns.
Christians, culture is in trouble. But, I wonder if the trouble culture is in is largely due to the fact Christians no longer know what it really means to be Christian. A quick scan of the Christian landscape might suggest being Christian is being a western American, wealthy, independent, etc., only busy a few hours a week. I don’t think that sounds much like Jesus’ kingdom as he described it (see Mt. 5-7).
At some point I think the church may be sifted. Such a sifting would be a good thing. After all, right now there are too many competing versions of the Christian faith being offered. Yet, a time may well come where the sifting causes the pseudo-faiths to fall flat allowing genuine Christian communities to thrive. I personally think the church has enjoyed a status in the West that while beneficial in areas, has been detrimental in many. It seems we have forgotten the truth church has always been on the margins of society. We seem to be moving that direction again.
What Moreland describes is culture in general. The downward slide has continued these last two decades. But, Christian culture need not slide with its’ secular counterpart. It is imperative we read and reread Matthew 5-7, watch the life of Christ, and live his gospel boldly in a world desperate for substance.
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