Monday, April 23, 2012

Christians in a secular world teetering toward godlessness

First of all, many thanks to those readers who told me how to get the classic blogging template back for now. Yes, Blogger plans to take it away from me again, fairly soon, but in the meantime I will be free to explore other blogging formats and decide if I want to move. (Not kidding, Blogger: leave the classic option available, or some of us will go elsewhere.)

Yesterday Thad and I celebrated our 17th wedding anniversary by taking the girls to early Mass and then heading out for a day of total fun which included driving to a great used bookstore in Denton, heading further north to Gainesville, and then driving across the Red River into Oklahoma just to say we did. :) Many adventures, including shopping at this German bakery (inside a gas station, but truly amazing--the apricot pie is especially delicious!) and doing a bit of antiquing, were part of the program. We all had a great time! As I told the girls, while their dad and I appreciate the times we get to go have dinner or something together, we really enjoy including them in our anniversary celebration, because marriage doesn't just unite two people: it unites two families, and makes a third and new one into which children are, by the grace of God, born and cherished.

Our culture doesn't see marriage that way. From over-the-top wedding promotions which tell the bride-to-be, over and over, that it is her special day and thus she should get to have everything exactly the way she wants it, to popular culture exalting the thought that extended family and/or one's children are nuisances and that you should spend as little time with them as possible, to the commonly accepted idea that marriage isn't permanent and nobody should really ever think so, to the increasing notion that marriage can be any two people of any two (or more--the idea that there are only two is fading) genders, the deconstruction of marriage is well underway.

How does this sort of thing happen? I think that future historians will look at the ruins of what used to be Western culture and see the signs going back further than many of us do. Many of us tend to think that all of the madness and insanity we see growing around us goes back a matter of forty or fifty or sixty or even seventy years--but it may be that the future historians will see the threads of the destruction of the West and the demolition of the Western notion of marriage and the family trailing off further than that into the distant past.

But it does seem, from people I talk to who are a few decades older than I am, that the pace of the destruction has picked up quite a bit, and that some of the "movers and shakers" in the deconstruction of the family consider themselves to be Christians--yet they are comfortable agitating for LGBTQ "marriages," porn use in the home, and other things that Christians used to be pretty much universally against. I think that my question from the previous paragraph--how does this sort of thing happen?--might be a little bit easier to answer if we focus on this question: how did so many self-proclaimed Christians end up abandoning, wholesale, Christian teaching against sexual immorality?

It's pretty hard to read the New Testament and come away with the notion that God really doesn't care whom you sleep with, what you do in the sex act department, whether you are married, whether you divorce and remarry, and so on. The best a sexual libertine Christian can come up with is a sort of weak objection by negatives, a protest that Christ didn't specifically address moral question a or sex habit b. But that ignores a few important realities about Jesus and His background as an observant Jew. If He had come, for instance, to tell people that fornication, adultery, homosexual sex acts, etc. were all just fine for His followers, one would think He would have made a point of saying so, since this would be a huge departure from Jewish teaching of His day.

Instead, the few times sexual matters come up in the Bible, Jesus has a tendency to go further than the Law. A man is guilty of adultery or immorality, Christ says, not only by sleeping with a woman not his wife, but merely by having deliberate lustful thoughts about her. Moses permitted divorce, Christ says, but divorce will not be permitted for His followers, because to divorce and remarry is to commit adultery. To the woman caught in adultery He shows mercy and will not condemn her to die--but He does tell her that she must avoid this sin from now on. In no way does Christ sound as though He does not care at all what people do with their bodies in their bedrooms--He sounds like there are clear standards of right and wrong, and that if anything, His ideas are stricter than the Mosaic Law except in terms of temporal punishment for these sins.

In case any of that is unclear, though, the Holy Spirit also inspired the Epistles, in which matters of sexual morality come up so often that it's difficult to list them all. Suffice it to say that the serious Christian can come away from the Epistles with one of two beliefs: either St. Paul and the other writers, the earliest Church leaders, were already completely off the rails and untrue to Jesus' desires for His Church in their writings about sexual morality, or they were following what He taught them with the sort of specific explanations and expansions one would expect from pastors and shepherds as questions were raised among the flock. If you believe the first, there's no good reason to be a Christian at all, because if Christ's first followers were completely wrong about one very important matter then it's likely that they were wrong about others, and that nothing at all remains of Christ's intentions for His Church by this time. If you believe the second, you can't very easily justify a total tossing of about two thousand years of Christian teaching and thought about the grave evils of various sexual sins--and yet this is what far too many self-proclaimed Christians today appear to want to do.

The question is, why?

I have a theory about at least one of the many contributing factors to this. I think that as Christians started lacking discernment about their entertainment choices, allowing themselves to consume media without that Christian discernment, they began to be enticed more and more into the desire to be children of the world instead of children of God.

I need to be clear about this: I don't mean that Christians should only read Christian books, see Christian plays or movies, watch Christian TV shows, etc. It is difficult to engage the world if you don't know what's going on in it, and no one can say that the entertainment media presents a false view of what's going on. They may, and do, draw false conclusions about it all, and they may, and do, ignore the very real problems in favor of tidy "happily ever after" solutions, but the answer to those defects is not to ignore secular media altogether and pretend that the Christian novel about the nice minister and his nice family and nice church and nice community who faces a real crisis when his nice daughter wants to marry a nice boy from another nice family but a not-nice person (gasp!) in the church starts a false rumor about him that the minister sadly believes until the truth is nicely revealed actually represents the real world.

The problem, though, is that as Christians in a secular world teetering toward godlessness we can't afford to be uncritical consumers of mass media entertainment. The Bible tells us: Test all things; hold fast that which is good. (I Thessalonians 5:21) There is a reason to keep a critical distance from the worst excesses of our entertainment media: it is because our culture is not merely sick, but dying from a terminal illness which wishes to spread itself as widely as possible. The goal of much of what passes for entertainment is to titillate, to entice, to arouse on the one hand, and to dull the moral reflex, to push an agenda in which accepting all sorts of evil is good while questioning evil is bad, and to cast those who believe in truth, and in right and wrong, as rigid and frozen people who are trapped by their moral character into pathological unhappiness.

We see the fruits of this when nice, seemingly ordinary self-proclaimed Christians start arguing that perhaps sodomy isn't such an evil, and porn is fine for married couples, and threesomes might spice up a Christian marriage, and graphic sexual fiction is a good read instead of worthless filth. From there to arguing in favor of dismantling marriage and rendering the concept totally meaningless is a short step, and it's a step plenty of trendy Christians who seem to care more about what the world thinks of them than they do about Christ are all too eager to make. But as Christians in a secular world teetering toward godlessness, we need to decide which side we're on: are we going to stand firm with Christ, or deny Him in favor of a dying culture full of banal immorality?


Nick said...

A very good post! All too often I see apathetic Christians just let this type of media influence them and take up their time. I oftenget strange looks for musing aloud about very smutty tv shows or books from a Christian viewpoint. I don't let that stop me though

L. said...

Happy anniversary.

You might be surprised to hear that our 22nd "wedding" (civil, not religious) anniversary last month was a quite similar affair, consisting of a domestic day out with the kids.

Religious people don't have a monopoly on stable, loving, committed domesticity. Some of us thoroughly enmeshed in the "dying culture full of banal immorality" enjoy it, too.

bearing said...

I don't think you can disregard, either, the influence of Christian leaders who preached that welcoming people "as they are" -- which the Church, and Christ does -- means the same as accepting that their sin is an integral part of them and therefore that their sin is part of what we welcome and celebrate.

Well-meaning Christians today feel that there is a conflict between mercy and instructing the ignorant/admonishing the sinner, rather than recognizing that these things are forms of mercy.

Charlotte said...

That argument that Jesus said nothing about homosexuality gets me in a rage every time. It totally ignores who he was, where he came from, what he believed, and it paints his immediate followers - especially Paul - as total liars. It additionally demonstrates total ignorance of the Bible, Biblical culture, and scholarly analysis. And yet I see this argument trotted out in virtually every anti-gay marriage discussion I see.

This was an excellent post and one that I, as a big time sinner, should reflect upon.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

I'm not so sure we ARE in "a secular world teetering toward godlessness." One hears now and then about churches teeming with parishioners, every year million of young couples marry, and it is a topic of concern that some Muslim organizations are demanding a holy war against godlessness.

Until about 1500, "The West" was about as attractive as Iran is today. I thank God for the Enlightenment. Where I do believe that "our modern culture" has gone wrong is in mistaking mercy for the absence of any criteria, while allowing people to make their own mistakes has morphed into glorifying whatever a modest critical mass of individuals has chosen.

We badly needed to get out of a legal and cultural mode where divorced women were ostracized, children born outside of marriage were marked for life as bastards, women were expected to stay with their lawful wedded husband no matter how brutal or perverse he was, and one busybody's objections to a given novel became the grounds for a mob crusade to close down a book store.

But God seldom issues a command for arbitrary reasons, as simply a test of obedience. Generally, following those commands leaves us in better shape, at least in the long run, albeit in the short run, "sinning is fun" (sometimes).

Our culture may be a filthy mess, in the manner the the flood waters of a river passing through a heavily populated and industrialized area is, awash with everything, good, bad and ugly, but I doubt that it is dying. Pundits may pontificate, but we don't have to choose to be banal, nor allow banality to become mandatory, no matter what may be taught in social work school this year.

Red Cardigan said...

To the anonymous commenter behind the scenes: thanks for the info. I'd rather keep that discussion offline--but will continue to pray about that situation.