Hopefully this particular decade in Christianity will be remembered as “The Culture Wars”. Then people will talk about what was taught, what battles were fought, and what the fall-out was. Ultimately, people might come to realize that more harm than good was done in His name and decide not to make the same mistakes. As it is right now, the church can do no wrong, so obviously we’re doing the right thing.
So let’s talk about what culture is first: the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively; the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group; and the attitudes and behavior characteristic of a particular social group.
In other words, our culture is made up of the books, magazines, graphic novels, comic books, songs, albums, television shows, movies, youtube clips, clothing styles, elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, colleges, universities, technical schools, politics, brand name products, fast food, and well, everything that makes us who we are – including religion, faith, spirituality and not necessarily limited to Christianity.
So when Christianity takes it upon itself to fight against culture, it is also fighting against itself in some ways. But the solution to that problem is to create two sides. We are the sacred, the holy, the set-apart, we are Christianity. They are the secular, unholy, separate, they are the world-dominated culture. But the problem is that it’s not just us vs them, we are them! We have been on both sides from the beginning and fighting our brothers and sisters from the beginning.
Christianity has two examples when it comes to historically fighting culture. The more recent example set in the middle ages was to align religion with government and declare all heresy to be punishable by death. That’s obviously not an option. As to the other example – Jesus gave these principle in the Sermon on the Mount: “Do not resist an evil person, if you’re hit on the cheek, turn the other cheek toward them, if someones sues you for your shirt, give them your coat as well, if you are forced to walk one mile, walk two miles instead, give to the one who asks you and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:39-42) Then he ups the stakes and adds a little later on: “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
I wonder how the Culture Wars would turn out differently if Christians spent more time following Jesus’ words and less time condemning their own culture. What if Christianity accepted it’s role in culture and humbled itself accordingly? You see, if Christianity completely separates from culture, then it has no say in what the world does because they are at odds. They would give up the very thing that permits them to be a good influence by completely removing themselves from the world. And with no good influence, what is the natural result? Things getting worse for lack of good example having been set or held as a standard of culturally-accepted behavior. (That is not to say that I consider all Christian examples set to be the best possible example, there have been occasions when worldly individuals out-gave, out-helped, out-did, and out-Christianed Christians and managed to be pretty humble about it. And there have been just as many examples that Christians set that were really worldly.)
“9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world.” – 1 Corinthians 5:9-10
That’s why I think we’re doing so much more harm than good. Yes, we can speak out against secular developments that are not a good influence in the sacred halls of Christianity, but we can’t really apply our sacred rule book as the standard of being for the entire world because the secular world never agreed to abide by it. The truth is that nobody has ever won the Culture Wars. Not even the overzealous use of the sword by Christians past won them the Culture Wars that they were fighting in their day, it just made their opponents dead, desperate to flee to the other side of the world, or wise enough to keep their opinions to themselves and to lie about their beliefs when the occasion called upon it for them to do so.
We might not live in the culture that Jesus knew, where various cults excellent in creating diverse methods of sexual sins in the name of worshiping their particular god, where part of being a good citizen was honoring Nero’s image in the temple, where our faith was seen as a small sect broken off of another faith – one of countless philosophies that weren’t worth noticing. Jesus never asked his followers to fight against the culture they lived in, but he asked them to give a reason for their faith, so should we.
Our culture was not developed without Christianity’s influence, it’s part of it’s make-up. It is why the West used to be pretty good about holding itself up to a higher standard; partially because that’s just what Christians did. It seems that we have forgotten that and fallen very far indeed, especially within the Church.