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Culture Wars
  • Introduction
  • Whose Values?...
  • Views of Moral Authority

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Culture Wars

Don Closson

  1. Introduction

    1. William J. Bennett

      Bennett was the Secretary of Education under President Reagan. This is how he describes the culture war:

      [The culture war is] the struggle over the principles, sentiments, ideas, and political attitudes that define the permissible and the impermissible, the acceptable and the unacceptable, the preferred and the disdained, in speech, expression, attitude, conduct, and politics. This battle is about music, art, poetry, literature, television programming, and movies; the modes of expression and conversation, official and unofficial, that express who and what we are, what we believe, and how we act.{1}

    2. James Hunter

      Hunter, a sociologist at the University of Virginia describes it this way:

      The culture war is the political and social hostility rooted in different systems of moral understandings. The ultimate purpose is the domination of one set of cultural and moral customs over all others.{2}

    3. Differing World Views

      Previously, disagreements in our culture have been within a biblical context over doctrine, ritual, or organization. Political divisions today are not theological or church related, but the result of differing world views.

    4. The Stakes

      Nothing less is at stake than a sense of justice and fair play, an assurance that life is as it should be; indeed, nothing less is at stake than a way of life.

  2. Whose values? There are two contending factions in the culture war.{3}

    1. One group is the orthodox.

      1. They have a commitment to an external, definable, and transcendent authority.

      2. From an evangelical perspective this authority is the God of Scripture. He is a consistent and unchangeable measure of value, purpose, goodness, and identity.

    2. The other group is the progressives.

      1. Progressives are defined by modernism, rationalism, and subjectivism. To these people truth is more a process than a constant authority. It is an unfolding reality rather than an unchanging revelation.

      2. Progressives often hold on to the religious heritage of the orthodox but reinterpret its meaning for modern consumption.

        1. For instance, to a gay progressive, Christ came not to free us from the penalty of sin, but to free gays from the constraints of society.

        2. Although many progressives discard religion altogether, those who do espouse the Christian tradition have turned it into a liberation theology, liberating the individual from any obligation other than to love one another in a very vague sense. To love one another seems to mean to let them do whatever they believe is expedient in their lives.

  3. Different views of moral authority are the cause of the war.

    1. The Orthodox

      1. This view of moral authority tells us that the world was created by God and has purpose and meaning.

      2. A corollary to that truth is that humanity itself was created by God in His image and thus has value from conception on. For this reason, humanity is considered to be sacred in a sense that the rest of the animal world is not.

      3. For the orthodox, the family and sexuality are defined by revealed truth as well. For instance, they hold that the differences between male and female go deeper than obvious physical distinctions and include roles within the family and church and composition of the subconscious mind.

      4. Other aspects of revealed truth include the beliefs that sexuality is legitimately expressed only within marriage and that homosexuality is a perversion of the natural, created order.

    2. The Progressives

      1. Progressives find their moral authority in the resymbolization of historic faiths and philosophical traditions. Much of this resymbolization occurs because of their view of revelation. At best this group argues that one may find a witness to revelation, that moral and spiritual truths can only come to human beings indirectly and can only be expressed within normal historical and institutional terms. What this boils down to is that moral and spiritual truth can only be conditional and relative; it is never propositional and unchanging.

        Activities as diverse as primitive human sacrifice and modern welfare programs can be seen as meaningful if not necessary within a given cultural system.{4}

      2. Where the orthodox see moral authority as unchanging and God-centered, progressives declare that it is constantly changing and man-centered.

      3. This progressive view has led some to the extreme position that there is no reality except that which science has shown to exist; no truth except that which is established by the scientific method. On another level, progressives find moral authority in the form of personal experience. As Dr. Hunter says,

        The cliché that beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder is expanded and elevated to the status of a fundamental moral principle that what people view as ultimately true, morally good, worthwhile, artistically pleasing, sensually pleasurable, and so on, resides wholly in the private whim or personal perspective of individuals.{5}

      4. As a result of this view of moral authority, the progressives hold to a set of moral rules as well. First, personhood begins at birth, until science tells us otherwise. Males and females are the same in all regards, except biologically; any perceived differences are a result of socialization. Human sexuality is biologically based. As long as it is caring and positive, any relationship that is physically gratifying is permissible. Thus it follows that marriage and family are social constructs determined by need and environment.

        We must admit that forms of life are logically and psychologically self- legitimating. There are no external or neutral vantage points from which to confirm or commend a given vision of human order and meaning.{6}

©1998 Probe Ministries
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