Cultural and Moral Instability

Man does not live on bread alone; man is, as the ancients knew, a social animal. However, the great revelation of Christian anthropology is that man is also a cultural animal.

The word culture is rooted in the Latin word cultus, which means life. Cultus embodies the two great principles of life – care and praise. A culture that abandons care also abandons praise. Conversely, a culture that abandons praise will abandon care. As a result, the slow march toward nihilism and nothingness, which is death, commences.

It should not be a surprise to Christians that we live in precarious times. The culture of death is all around us. What is worse, our culture, if we can even call it a culture, celebrates death over life, it celebrates nihilism over truth, and it celebrates destruction over care and stewardship.

Something is happening in Western culture. Something is different, both “out there” and maybe even deep within ourselves. There is indeed a sense of cultural disquiet. We have a sinking feeling that we don’t really understand what is going on, but we know that the changes taking place around us affect both what we believe and the way in which we believe it.  For the majority there are no fixed anchors.  Society is characterized by a profound moral instability.  

Modern man uses the term culture frequently even though he does not know culture, least of all its very nature. Modern man praises nothing and seeks after nothing. As such, the decrepit culture of modernity is a culture of death because the only thing modern man seems to praise is death itself. Assisted suicide, abortion, and human sterilization are all promoted and defended, with vigor, as the crowning achievement of our “compassionate” and “free” culture. Oh, the irony! The greatest liberty in the West is the liberty to kill. For the negation of the good, true, and beautiful is the taking of life. And our culture is adamant about calling this privation of the good a good in itself. Woe to us who call evil good and good evil.

St. Augustine articulated the harsh truth that no culture will flourish without true religion, that is, true and rightful praise. The elimination of religion by modernity’s obsessive pursuit of the gods of capital, technology, science, and “progress,” have left man metaphysically and ontologically impoverished. Man has not only been cut off from the God in whose image he is made, he is also cut off from his own inheritance, the inheritance of his ancestors including all that was good, true, and beautiful in those ancient ways; and now cut off from those stories, traditions, and insights that bind people together in love and praise.

Modern culture is one long and painful rush to the abyss. It is a culture that encourages Dido and Lucretia to thrust the blade of suicide into their breast and praises them for having done so. It is unsurprising that liberals, in particular, are okay with “pulling the plug” on children because they, after all, are completely fine with killing children in the name of liberty.

Without God pagan cultures were simply shells of their ultimate desires. Without God our culture, which once nurtured in the wellspring of love, will continue its fall into the pits of hell and will not stop until it arrives at nothingness. For without anything to praise, without anything to care and tend, and without life and love in our sights (though many of the prophets of death will use those words to mask their cruel and empty intentions), our culture will praise nothing and wither away and die.

Christianity reaches down and touches the root and vine of culture because Christianity is the true religion of care and praise. It plants the seed of life into the soil, nurtures it and cares for it, until it sprouts and blossoms into a life-giving tree that brings man to it in awe and wonder. Our heart is restless until it finds rest in God, the God of love and truth, the God who is the wellspring of praise and life, the only summit from which true culture flows and gives life to all.

“How do we as Christians live and flourish in this contemporary culture? We recognize that God has placed us in this place and at this time to be his ambassadors. We live with the recognition that this culture, or any culture, is the soil from with the gospel grows and produces fruit that glorifies God. And we look for ways to produce culture, confront certain aspects of culture and leverage culture to point people to the truth.” Scott Hildreth, Assistant Professor of Global Studies at Southeastern Seminary.

Source: Christianity and the Radical Transformation of Culture by Paul Krause, Crisis Magazine.


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