Friday, October 09, 2009

Culture War

Was anyone aware there was some sort of culture war going on?


Or so I hear.

I seem to always be reading something or other about differing sides on particular social issues battling each other tooth and nail so that their ideal can win widespread acceptance.

And most of it gets wedded together with religious language.

Let's try a game.

I'll put forth an excerpt that I happened upon yesterday about a recent cultural issue, and we'll see if you can isolate what the issue is talking about. See if you can read the excerpt and take a guess in your head about who 'x' and 'y' are in this quote.


The parties in this conflict are not merely "x" and "y"; they are Atheists, Socialists, Communists, and Marxists on the one side, and the friends of order and regulated freedom on the other. In one word, the world is the battleground--Christianity and atheism the combatants, and the progress of humanity the stake.

So, any thoughts on what 'x' and 'y' could be?

I'll give you some time...



Well, that's enough, time to let you know. This is a quote from theologian, pastor, professor of didactic and polemic theology at a prominent American seminary, and college president James Henley Thornwell.

James Thornwell died in 1862.

The 'x' and 'y' in his quote were 'abolitionists' and 'slaveholders' respectively.

He was not some nutjob off to the fringe of religious thought. He was a leading theologian in his time, and the majority of American churches at large agreed with him. This was the dominant Christian response and reaction to slavery at the time.

Abolitionists were atheists, communists, socialists, and a variety of other terms used interchangeably to mean the same thing. Christians were those who backed slavery. Who owned slaves. They knew that slavery was part of God's ordained order for life, and used the Bible religiously (get it?) to back their claims.

I like this quote because I hear it all the time. The only words that change are the 'x' and 'y.' But they are always meant to convey the same meaning. That Christians are serving God by fighting against these horrible practices that 'atheists, communists and socialists' are trying to push on us. That we as Christians know what God's will is and what his order for life is, and those who don't agree with our views are wrong.

Today it's usually wrapped around:
  • Pro-life, pro-choice
  • Free market economists, controlled market economists
  • Capitalists, statists
  • Americans, terrorists
  • Heterosexuals, homosexuals
  • Conservatives, liberals
  • Plenty of other issues
And in the past 200+ years in America it's been wrapped around:

  • Arguing against businesses being open on Sunday. Any of them.
  • Arguing for slavery
  • Fighting against women's rights
  • Keeping people who have been through a divorce out of church leadership
  • Keeping people who use tobacco out of church leadership
  • And plenty of other issues

Unfortunately, though much of society has gotten past those above listed issues, there are many many places where that is still a problem.

Some of us can't imagine that Christians can believe those things; that women shouldn't have rights, that God has ordained African Americans to be slaves to white people, that being through a divorce disqualifies you from being involved in ministry, etc.

But Christians did believe them. And fought very very hard. Perhaps you heard about some kind of civil war occurring at one point. Christians fully convinced that they were fighting for God's ordained order of life were on both sides in great numbers.

Eventually the prevailing mentality shifted, people started to interpret scripture 'through' God's love for humanity as displayed in Jesus; as opposed to interpreting it 'through' their own own beliefs and prejudices. At least we started to. We're still working on it. We're not great at it yet either.

But our interpretations are constantly changing and evolving. As time passes, more and more of those items on the first list will shift down onto the second list; as more of us recognize our own issues, beliefs, prejudices, and cultural ideals that we have 'read into' scripture and made it mean what it does not.