Keep the Faith...The Origin of Species...Desperate Housewives...Reality TV...Left Behind...CyberSex...Miracle Crusades...The Da Vinci Code...Casino...The Prayer of Jabez...All of this, all of this could be yours...
In Douglas Coupland's, Life After God, he correctly observes how the Generation X is the first to be raised without religion. Culture, even in its schizophrenic breakdown, has replaced man's space for God. Yet today's culture is driven by the vice-grip of consumerism and entertainment. Like the daily schlock of marketing ads that assail us, contemporary culture is fleeting, plastic, and dehumanizing. Even religion is Disney-fied to please everyone and transform no one. There has been a tectonic shift in our culture that mimics so much of everything else in our society. We want it cheap, fast, and super-sized. Substance is as lasting as our need to experiment with the latest Yoga technique. As a result, our culture has become confused and impoverished. Pope John Paul II described our culture as the "culture of death," devoid of any humanity. I believe we are now on the fast track to becoming a "culture of evil," devoid of any sanctity. A steady staple of heinous crimes and rapacious sexual acts, intermingled with unrelenting hedonism is what defines contemporary culture.
Malcolm Muggeridge, in his classic book Christ and the Media, commented that television is "becoming the greatest fabricator and conveyor of fantasy that has ever existed.... It is almost invariably eros rather than agape that provides all the excitement; celebrity and success rather than a broken and contrite heart that are held up as being permanently desirable; Jesus Christ in lights on Broadway rather that Jesus Christ on the cross who gets a folk hero's billing.... The transposition of good and evil in the world of fantasy created by the media leaves us with no sense of any moral order in the universe, and without this, no order whatsoever, social, political, economic or any other is ultimately attainable." The tailspin toward our own Sodom will, at last, lead us to self-destruction.
Christian culture has failed miserably to pickup the shattered pieces of post-modern man. Gone is a sense of duty for cultural stewardship. Either we're rejecting culture or being swallowed up by it. What we are not doing is transforming it, because the contemporary Christian is hanging onto this world for dear life. Like Lot in the days of Sodom, we have become of no benefit to the world. Though greatly distressed at the societal depravity, Lot never boldly proclaimed an alternative. Sodom's culture had such a profound influence on Lot and his family that his own wife could not detach herself from it.
Today, we absorb the violence, immodesty, and sexual decadence of contemporary culture so casually we can't even recognize it's desecrating effect on our lives. Though grievously troubled by the pornographic and vile nature of fashion and movies, magazines and books, and songs and dance, we too seem to have become captivated with our culture. We are "hesitating" like Lot did, refusing to give up our quiet, comfortable lifestyle to exert the sacrifice, money and work required to redeem the destructive and tragic character of modern culture. We have become modern day Demas' (2 Timothy 4:9), lovers of this present world and deserters of the truth.
As a result, a disconnection between the Biblical message and our lifestyle has emerged. Christian culture is ephemeral because it is no longer incarnational. The culture embodies the lifestyle, but the lifestyle does not embody the message. Faith too has become so nakedly and shamelessly commercialized and gaudy it is no wonder people are shying away. Christian culture merely mirrors its secular counterpart. Even a trip to a monastic community will yield its requisite bazaar-type cornucopia of decorative plates, cookbooks, greeting cards and icon mugs. Lost is the culture of prayer, silence, and ministry.
We are the consummate narcissists hungry for the instant gratification of feel-good religion. God is only good so long as He conforms to our image and serves as our genie, granting us the health, wealth and comfort we demand. Social historian Dr. Stan Mattson reminds us "There was a time when vital Christian faith and a passionate love for learning and the arts were viewed as being wholly compatible. In stark contrast, Christians now find themselves largely isolated from the cultural mainstream and hard-pressed to envision, let alone fulfill, any meaningful role within a society that increasingly presses for the privatization of faith. The consequences have been devastating not only for Christian scholars and artists, but equally important, for all Christians and Society."
If Church attendance throughout the western world is hemorrhaging it is because the Church has ceased being a counter-culture. She no longer vigorously engages culture in the radically transforming way of the New Testament, and as a result, the Church stopped trying to share some of the Kingdom come, now and here. In The Princeton Theological Review, almost a century ago, J. Gresham Machen lamented, "the Church is puzzled by the world's indifference. She is trying to overcome it by adapting her message to the fashions of the day. But if, instead, before the conflict, she would descend into the secret place of meditation, if by the clear light of the gospel she would seek an answer not merely to the questions of the hour but, first of all, to the eternal problems of the spiritual world, then perhaps, by God's grace, through His good Spirit, in His good time, she might issue forth once more with power, and an age of doubt might be followed by the dawn of an era of faith."
Christians need to return to their foreigner status among the world (1 Peter 1:1). We are sojourners in a foreign land sent to transform it, not fall in love with it. Our calling is not one of inertia or of personalized private faith. When we stop living like carbon copies of the world and set our whole lives apart from its ways, then our influence and our culture will act as salt for the world, preserving it from its rotting nature. C. S Lewis, in Mere Christianity, suggests that a "Christian society is not going to arrive until most of us really want it: and we are not going to want it until we become fully Christian."
We need to be more like Daniel and his three friends. Though immersed in the pagan culture of ancient Babylon, Daniel "made up his mind" not to take part. Because Daniel stayed close to God and His commandments, he was a visibly different influence on the king. Father Alexander Elchaninov writes, "our young people today make a great mistake in thinking that Christianity is a system of philosophy.... No, Christianity is life." Only when we fully comprehend what it means to be a Christian can we share the truth to others. Only when we anxiously anticipate the glorious hope of life eternal will our light shine differently. And only when we live in obedience will a radically different culture emerge. At last all things will be made new.
John Kapsalis has an M.T.S from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology.