Bono is now writing as a (regular?) columnist for the New York Times. Here’s a post-Easter piece.
Roger Scruton, philosopher and conservative thinker, contributes this piece to City Journal. Scruton freely admits that his conservativism is humanistic in character (this is the basis of his attack on Richard Dawkins and the New Atheists in other places), not religious. He essentially argues that the value of Christianity — and he wholeheartedly believes it is valuable — lies in its effect as a stabilizer of culture (a la President Eisenhower) and as something that helps to sustain civilization.
With that caveat, here’s an excerpt:
For people of my generation, it seemed, for a while, as though we could rediscover meaning through culture. The artistic, musical, literary, and philosophical traditions of our civilization bore so many traces of a world-transforming significance that it would be enough—we thought—to pass those things on. Each new generation could then inherit by means of them the spiritual resources that it needed. But we reckoned without two all-important facts: first, the second law of thermodynamics, which tells us that without an injection of energy, all order decays; and second, the rise of what I call the “culture of repudiation,” as those appointed to inject that energy have become increasingly fatigued with the task and have eventually jettisoned the cultural baggage under whose weight they staggered.
This culture of repudiation has transmitted itself, through the media and the schools, across the spiritual terrain of Western civilization, leaving behind it a sense of emptiness and defeat, a sense that nothing is left to believe in or endorse, save only the freedom to believe. And a belief in the freedom to believe is neither a belief nor a freedom. It encourages hesitation in the place of conviction and timidity in the place of choice. It is hardly surprising that so many Muslims in our cities today regard the civilization surrounding them as doomed, even if it is a civilization that has granted them something that they may be unable to find where their own religion triumphs, which is a free, tolerant, and secular rule of law. For they were brought up in a world of certainties; around them, they encounter only doubts.
If repudiation of its past and its identity is all that Western civilization can offer, it cannot survive: it will give way to whatever future civilization can offer hope and consolation to the young and fulfill their deep-rooted human need for social membership. Citizenship, as I have described it, does not fulfill that need: and that is why so many Muslims reject it, seeking instead that consoling “brotherhood” (ikhwan) that has so often been the goal of Islamic revivals. But citizenship is an achievement that we cannot forgo if the modern world is to survive: we have built our prosperity on it, our peace and our stability, and—even if it does not provide happiness—it defines us. We cannot renounce it without ceasing to be.
What is needed is not to reject citizenship as the foundation of social order but to provide it with a heart. And in seeking that heart, we should turn away from the apologetic multiculturalism that has had such a ruinous effect on Western self-confidence and return to the gifts that we have received from our Judeo-Christian tradition.
As the Church lives in the ruins of the civilization that Scruton describes, I wonder whether the repudiation of “apologetic multiculturalism” even makes sense as a “fix.”
For a bit of clarification: I understand that much of what I link from day to day is a mixed bag. None of you will agree with everything that you read in these articles. I myself don’t agree with everything I read there.
So my linking of a particular article should not be understood as an unqualified endorsement of it. Rather, I link it because something in it made me think or gave me a clearer picture of what is out there. Ed Harrell speaks frequently of “cultural separatism” as a key to understanding Churches of Christ. I think this is accurate. I also think that, to the degree that we have given up on that, we have lost a great deal. However, that sort of cultural separatism is a double-edged sword. In order to maintain it, ironically you have to know what is out there, what exists and what is going on outside of the walls, so to speak. This is especially important for the elders and evangelists among us.
We haven’t always done a very good job of this, though. Sometimes we rely on caricatures of the religious groups we disagree with (e.g. Baptists, Catholics, etc.). Sometimes we do the same thing with social trends. Paradoxically, in order to fight an adversary you have to know him (her or it) very well. Paradoxically, in order to be separate you have to be engaged. Otherwise local churches run the risk of being swamped by social forces or ideas that their leaders are ignorant of and therefore unprepared for. This is because our churches do not exist in a vacuum (socially, doctrinally, historically, etc.). Our members watch TV, they listen to talk radio, they go shopping, they are marketed to 24/7, they listen to music (country, pop, etc.) and on and on. (This is even more the case with our children.) None of these activities are morally neutral. All of these things form who we are. Moreover, they can often have a far more formative effect on the average member of a congregation than the 2-3 hours that he or she spends in Bible classes and worship each week.
For example, I’ve known people growing up who surrendered their opposition to Christian participation in politics and war because they fell under the influence of “conservative” talk radio and the cable news channels. Three hours a day of Rush Limbaugh (or Al Franken or Sean Hannity or Bill O’Reilly — my point is not to single out a particular “side”) and then a full night of CNN/Fox/MSNBC go a long way in subconsciously and consciously forming the way that people think. The services of the local congregation (2-3 hours a week) can hardly compete in terms of time. All the while, there was no statement from the pulpit or from the elders about limiting (or, better, being discerning about) one’s media intake.
Likewise, in the face of the economic boom of the past decade, how many preachers or elders made the connection between the mad rush for higher-paying jobs, bigger houses, bigger cars, bigger TVs in society at large and the condemnation of greed and materialism in the Scriptures? What does the eldership of a local church do when a member pulls up in a new Mercedes in the parking lot (I’ve seen this)? Is the suggestion ever made that the money might have been better spent or that conspicuous displays of wealth fly in the face of the simplicity of the Gospel?
I could point to other things as well. I just chose these because they come out of my own experience. What do you (all four of you, that is) think?