Friends, I do not take my responsibilities as a teacher, spiritual leader or familial patriarch lightly. I feel the need to be wrestling with the short term as well as long term implications of culture and societal transformation. Lately, I have taken notice of two factors that I want to quickly highlight (and then give you an opportunity to read, discover and deliberate on your own). I have a hard time saying, “thus saith the Lord” when it comes to these issues because I feel strongly that I do not speak for God. Even so, I know and have experienced enough of theistic truth and embraced a decidedly theocentric worldview for a reason…I believe in the veracity as well as the “rightness” of the Christian story.
Religious liberty is under fire in our culture. I’m going to refer you to THIS DOCUMENT which is an article written by an outspoken, well-versed as well as intelligent commentator on all things American culture, Rod Dreher. His most recent book on Dante was a surprising delight. I recommend it highly. But the reason Dreher make sense in his article is this statement:
“The level of sheer desire to crush dissent is pretty unprecedented.”
In other words, he is alerting those of us who DO embrace a faith system that we believe not only informs but acts as a “map” to a God-honoring and pleasing lifestyle, that pressures are rising so dramatically within our culture TO CRUSH and silence any other voices but those who promote a untethered value system. You see, the ONLY choice that an individual has when it comes to morality and ethical choice outside of a faith system and communal experience of faith is that of radical individualism, altruistic humanism, or “group think.” The way “group think” changes culture at large is by mass “shaming” and threat. That is what Rod is writing about and I do believe it is worth your time to reflect on his article (as well as follow his links to other articles that expand on his perspective and observations).
Jonathan Sacks, in an important work entitled, Persistence of Faith states well:
“…it takes religious values to shape a moral frame of reference.
The enlightenment focused relentlessly on two entities – the individual, detached from historical context and the universal, politically realized in the secular state. Neither the individual NOR the state is where we discover who we are and why. The world that has emerged is that of individuals as the makers of their own meanings and the state as the perceived moral arbitrator between conflicting interests. In this environment, personal autonomy reigns supreme.
Without community and tradition, there is no self-expression beyond the inarticulate cry of a child. Individualism condemns us to the task of constructing our own morality and becomes inherently private and detached from relationships. That’s why we can have SO much “immorality” within communities of faith.
The gradual transformation by which sin becomes immorality, immorality becomes deviance, deviance becomes choice, and all choice becomes legitimate, is a profound redrawing of our moral landscapes and alters the way we see the alternatives available to us in life.
The stresses of culture without shared meanings are already mounting and we have yet to count the human costs. The move from a morality of self-imposed restraint to one in which we increasingly relay on law to protect us from ourselves leads to a society that inherently rewards lawlessness. In a vocabulary of a consumer culture, we speak only of rights and entitlements, interests and choices, self-expression and success.
We inhabit a culture in which religious teachings are marginal to many people’s moral choices. Our moral language has been effectively secularized. The orthodoxies of our time are that morality is a private affair, a matter of personal choice, and that the state must be morally neutral. Our moral imagination is bound by three central themes – autonomy, equality and rights. The central character of our moral drama is no longer the saint or the hero, but the free self, unencumbered by attachments, unobligated by circumstance, freely negotiating its temporary contracts with others. We no longer know what it is to identify a moral issue, as something distinct from personal preferences on the one hand or technique on the other. We have arrived at Nietzsche’s conviction that morality is no more than a camouflaged way of imposing our will on others. If there is no God, than all is permitted. Our loss of a shared morality has fragmented our social world and even made our most intimate of relationships seem fragile and conditional. In other words, we cannot edit God out of our language and leave our social world unchanged.
I could go on and on about this and its impact on our society (especially our faith communities). As I said, I’ll encourage you to draw your own conclusions. Dreher’s work is a call to attentiveness. By all means, I have not nor will I ever turn off the volume in contemplating and acting on what he commends to our attention. Our faith communities have “rights” in our country to be able to live without having to bow at the altar of cultural breezes and altars. Morality and ethics within the framework of faith and community are near and dear to our faith traditions. Dreher is telling us that the days are arriving where the cost is going to get higher and higher to stand within those boundaries (personally and corporately). It merits our close observance.