Just say no?

It’s probably because of the Oscar season, but John Fitzgerald grouses about the Evangelical approach to culture.

It’s foolish to imagine everything is equal when it comes to pop culture. But evangelicals have to stop stunting their intellectual and spiritual maturity by sheltering themselves from bad words, fake blood, and the tantalizing sight of skin.

It is perhaps unfair to park this solely at the feet of the evangelical, though, inviting targets that they sometimes can be. Christian practice through the ages has shown a fairly consistent theme of suspicion about popular entertainments, from the early church’s rejection of the circuses to the Puritan rejection of Christmas, to the very sober-mindedness of the 19th C Presbyterians and Methodists. This is not a new thing.

That said, Evangelicals today often have a more ambiguous relationship to pop or mass culture, generally a “cultural-lite” sort of approach. Like the easy embrace of pop culture, this approach still accepts the fundamentals of the cultural context. This is a kind of Constantinianism. What we could use more of is the nurturing of alternate viewpoints, coupled with the robust interrogation of culture in our theology and our practice.


Who’s Telling the Story?

Patrol asks,

Are gay parents worse for kids than straight parents, or is Mark Regnerus, as some LGBT groups claim, a “right-wing ideologue”? David Sessions on the controversy over his explosive new study.

Sessions does a good job summarizing the controversy (who knew that Regnerus was an old Calvin prof?), its limits and the attendant controversy.

As the report notes, the data is old. As Regnerus admits, he didn’t have enough to look at intact same sex households, and that would be crucial. As a matter of public policy, the establishment of legal status of same-sex relationships would seem to support the maintenance of intact households. This conservative view has been well-known for years, and is attested to elsewhere in surveys of gay attitudes to marriage generally.

So oddly, our friend Rod Dreher is not that far off the mark, traditional is best. (And same-sex households can be very traditional.)

Cultural War or Boomer Politics?

David Sessions wonders if “cultural wars” is simply a slipping sideways by liberals, afraid of conflict.

I think most of us loosely think of culture warring as a special class of ressentiment, combat driven by a mentality of besiegement, symbolic struggle, and supposed existential threat to a cultural identity. But I’m not so sure we can make a clean separation between that and good old democratic disagreement. Democracy as we generally conceive it is a structure for managing and containing conflict, a framework for legitimate political struggle. There will always be factions, sides, particular interests, etc, and those imply we will have political friends and enemies. Deep down, I think describing serious political conflict as a “culture war” is part of the liberal allergy to vigorous debate


As received language or rhetoric, “cultural war” has a more specific, defined meaning. It’s not just simply politics, but the organized, political organization of (initially) conservative Protestant constituencies by para-political bodies. It begins with Falwell’s Moral Majority in the 80s, continues through Focus on the Family, and the more current iterations. We also know that this organization was not organic, rising from below, from the outrage of the people (the basic <i>ressentiment</i> you noted), but this was a planned mobilization by activists on the Right.

The hallmark of this mobilization was the shaping of a set of moral and cultural issues as a central motivator for voter behavior.  It quickly moved beyond the banks of the fundamentalists and the original nativist wing in the Republican right, to sweep up conservative Catholics and other traditionalists. Although its religious roots were plain, its breadth and scope ask for more — thus we now speak of “social conservatives” instead of the religious right.

And in practice, there was something stronger at work than the usual political horsetrading. In making moral issues a voting matter, the advocates created a more Manichean frame, one that easily leads to demonization of opponents and a kind of scorched earth partisan politics. And like other wars, there has been collateral damage, not least being the pushing away of young people. Not surprisingly, the introduction of such moral certitude has also produced a counterforce, now seen in a sort of vehement secular stance on the left, and to a lesser extent in the rise of gay politics.

So given the specificity of its origins, its backers, the distinct cluster of issues and its hard edged agenda-driven approach to politics, thinking of cultural wars as “good old democratic disagreement” seems limited. Tucked in Evans’ essay and noted elsewhere, this political phenomenon we term “cultural wars” is perhaps best understood generationally (as J A K Smith has noted elsewhere), the product of Boomers and our (I’m one) milennialism.