Thursday, May 11, 2006

Loving Our Cultures

Wednesday morning on the Laura Ingram Show, Laura interviewed Melanie Phillips, the new author of a book entitled Londonistan. Londonistan is a book detailing the British attitude toward the war on terror and the sociological factors that have put England in the situation it is currently in vis-à-vis the war on terror. Phillips details how the English have come to hate their own culture. They have been educated to believe that England is a racist, sexist, oppressive country that enslaved the rest of the world and was only getting what it deserved when terrorists struck in the 2005 tube bombings. A majority of Englishmen continue to believe as a result that the only way to deal with Islamo-Fascist terror is through appeasement. They genuinely believe that they created Islamo-Fascism through their past colonial policy and sustain it because of their sufficient deference to the Muslim world. Melanie Phillips rejects this description of the situation.

There are a variety of interesting dimensions to this problem. Here in the United States we face the same thing. Our own schools—especially colleges and universities—are producing graduates who’ve been taught that the United States is an evil place that oppresses the rest of the world and is responsible for all sorts of moral ills. We are being taught that we must hate our own culture and that we must love the very lifestyles and ideas that we had rejected in the past, such as homosexuality and Marxism.

It is also interesting to me because for most of my life I have been an ardent Anglophile. I have a deep love for English culture and English history. This is not to say that England is by any means perfect or innocent. All cultures have their strong points. Every culture has something that it does right and that is admirable and worthy of emulation. Every culture has things within it that are glorious, wonderful, colorful, fun, etc. It is also true that every culture has within it errors, sins, self-deception, pride and improper attitudes toward others. This is true regardless of what culture you’re talking about because all cultures are the result of human interaction, and human beings are sinful. As a result, all cultures are contaminated by our own human sin.

From a Christian standpoint, the whole trick is to take our lives, our society, our communities, and our institutions and bring them into submission to Christ. The end result should be a pervasively Christian culture. Christians have never done this perfectly. All of the cultures of predominantly Christian countries have been wanting in one way or another due to human sinfulness. But many of the wonderful things about cultures in predominantly Christian countries have come from Christianity and its foundational effect on those cultures. And it also should be recognized that for a culture to be transformed by its Christian beliefs takes time. After the Germanic tribesman began to accept Christianity, it still took hundreds of years for them to give up their violence, looting and pillaging. The desire of those with Norse blood to “go Viking” and the desire of Celts for interminable clan feuding died hard and took a lot of time to extinguish in the light of the cross. And sometimes the adopted ideals of Rome and Greece have had a stronger effect than Christian beliefs in molding the culture of the West.

There are some people who believe that having a “Christian culture” is even inherently impossible. They see culture as identical to “the world” as discussed in scripture. They could never bring themselves to believe that a majority of influential people in a society were actually significantly committed to Christ. While this may be rare, I do not believe that a “Christian culture” is impossible. Christianity is at times more successful and pervasive than many people want to think, even though it does not result in the perfection of society due to inherent human sinfulness. And, there is a difference between the human world system and a predominantly Christian culture – though such a culture is still not the kingdom of God.

I think it is possible to justifiably “love” cultures in the sense of admire, enjoy and in some ways copy, despite imperfections. That love, like all love, should motivate us to want to change and improve the culture rather than merely accepting it as is. C.S. Lewis talks about this transformative aspect of love in his book The Four Loves. It may not be wrong to love (in the above sense) British culture or Scottish culture or American culture while at the same time recognizing that there have been some historical misdeeds and some sinful aspects to those cultures since all human cultures involve sinful human beings and their practices. We seek to bring culture to the feet of Christ. Loving so in this way may not be “loving the world” as condemned in the Bible.

Another interesting problem of the love/hate relationship of culture is the difficulty that today some of the things people are criticizing about culture are the very aspects of culture that were in fact correct. For a culture to be opposed to sexual immorality is currently thought to be in some way inappropriate. But it is appropriate for us to discourage sexual immorality as a society.

I hope that both England and America learn to love the good things in their culture, to admire the good things in the cultures of others, and to be willing to submit culture to Christ and transform culture when it comes to the things that are immoral or unethical. For example, we should not discriminate against people because of their religions. Religious discrimination is wrong. On the other hand, we should recognize that some religions are true and some are false, that all religions teach some good things, but some religions teach some very bad things. And while we tolerate the people who hold to the religions that we consider false or disagree with, there is nothing wrong with having a society that is unabashedly predominantly Christian in its principles and ethics. There is nothing wrong with sharing Christianity with others and trying to encourage people to understand the Christian heritage and culture of the West. And there is nothing wrong with applying gentle social pressure to try to get people to live lives consistent with Christian principles and not consistent with Islamo-Fascism. Our desire to be tolerant of Muslins should in no way lead us to allow enclaves of Sharia law within the United States or England. Surely there is nothing wrong with saying in our motion pictures, our books and our schools that blowing up women, children and non-combatants is an unacceptable way of seeking political change. Nor is it improper for us to assert that we do not believe a global Muslim caliphate is a desirable political change.

In the end, I really hope that people in England can continue to love and cherish the writings of C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Milton, Shakespeare, Spencer and Wordsworth, the speeches of Winston Churchill, the music of Vaughan Williams, Elgar and Thomas Tallis, the architecture of the Middle Ages, the Tutor period and Christopher Wren, to love the black umbrella and the stiff upper lip, the academic worlds of Oxford and Cambridge, the little rivers of the Cotswolds, the open vistas of the lake country, the moors of Cornwall, the waterways of Norfolk and the green fields of Kent; and even the political kingdom that through force of arms and strength of will and answered prayer brought the stop to the expansion of the Spanish empire and its inquisition, the demagoguery of Napoleon, the 19th century Islamo-Fascism of the Mahdi of Sudan, the mechanistic will of the Kaiser, the unspeakable evil of Nazism, and now the depredations of the tyrant Saddam Hussein. In some of these wars England was partnered with America; in others she stood alone. For all her faults and sins, including the failure to allow missionaries throughout India, the oppression of colonial peoples, and her wrongs to the early citizens of the 13 colonies, God used England to help stop the oppressive evils listed above and to spread Christianity throughout the world. She has also supplied the world with the most versatile, flexible and useful of international languages known to mankind. And on top of all that I wish for England, I hope that Americans will not follow in the footsteps of the English in continuing in the path of self hatred and self destruction. I hope that we can change the bad things about the United States and love the good things about the United States rather than trying to subvert our country.

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