Posts tagged with: culture

The secularized West is experiencing a growing disaffection with both militant atheism and traditional Christian faith. The Vatican recently addressed this issue in a study published by the Pontifical Council for Culture. It is more than interesting to me to see how this document begins to address this problem. It suggests that any effective pastoral strategy must begin with seeing “the importance of witnessing the beauty of being a person loved by God.”

This document, titled “The Christian Faith at the Dawn of the New Millennium and the Challenge of Unbelief and Religious Indifference” draws several key conclusions, besides the one stated above, that are worth thinking about by all Christians in the West. These conclusions are:

  • The church needs “To renew Christian apology to give an account with gentleness and respect of the hope that animates us (1 Peter 3:15).”

  • We must “Reach ‘homo urbanus’ (urban man) through public presence in the debates of society and put the gospel in contact with the forces that shape culture.”
  • There is an “urgency of learning to think, from school to university, and to have the courage to react, faced with the tacit acceptation of a dominant culture often marked by unbelief and religious indifference by a new and joyous proposal of Christian culture.”
  • We should “show to the nonbelievers, indifferent to the question of God but open to human values, that to be truly human, is to be religious, that man finds the fullness of his humanity in Christ, true God and true man, and that Christianity is a good news for all men and women in all cultures.”

For all who take the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20), and the cultural commission (Genesis 1:28), seriously these are solid points worthy of much deeper thought and corporate application to the growing body of Western missiological material that has opened a fresh spring for the global church.

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, February 13, 2006

A brief but timely editorial appears in this month’s issue of Christianity Today, “We Are What We Behold.” Here’s a taste:

“…evangelicals have wrestled with our relationship to power. When in a position of influence (and in our better moments), we leverage power to better the lives of our neighbors. Cultural savvy enables us to successfully translate the gospel for a changing world.

But it’s a double-edged sword—influence and savvy can also dull the gospel’s transcendence. We achieve a royal position, but soon we are using a worship service to Almighty God to hawk Justice Sunday III. We worry that the culture has forgotten the meaning of Christmas, but we cancel Sunday worship because it’s Christmas. We fret because of our culture’s biblical illiteracy, but sign up for the Sunday school class on our pet social-justice cause rather than the Bible or theology track. In short, we complain that the church has sold out to culture, but we subconsciously give our allegiance to a political or social subculture and champion its agenda.”

For a quick overview of the current state of appreciation for economics and capitalism among various ‘academics,’ see the newly inaugurated e-journal Fast Capitalism. It might as well be subtitled: Marxism, Alive and Well. Most of the contributors to the first issue are in sociology, communications, or political science. Here’s a sampling:

In “Beyond Beltway and Bible Belt: Re-imagining the Democratic Party and the American Left,” Ben Agger, who teaches sociology and humanities at the University of Texas at Arlington, writes, “Electoral politics now matter. George W. Bush, Jr. and his evangelical-Christian supporters have seen to that. Bush threatens to undo the welfare state, roll back civil liberties (and block new ones), and isolate the United States from the rest of the world. His foreign policy is an admixture of isolationism and unilateral adventurism. Homeland Security, his contribution to our political lexicon, has a Nazi-era resonance. Gays, lesbians, foreigners, liberals, the left have been demonized by a supposedly literal interpretation of the Bible, which drives the Christian right, Bush’s base of support. This has the makings of fascism.” One other tidbit: “FDR’s welfare state, while not perfect, significantly buffered the ravages of capitalism for those without jobs and without hope.” Also check out the planks in his “agenda for American social democracy,” which include “economic restructuring,” in which “the Democratic Party must take the lead in reconceptualizing the United Nations not only as an international police force but as an agent of the redistribution of capital.”

See also Charles Lemert, Andrus Professor of Sociology at Wesleyan University, who is self-described as “once a minister, still a student of theology, seldom a church-goer.” He writes an encomium to Reinhold Neibuhr, praising him for, among other things, opposing the Ford auto company in the early 20th century. “Though called to serve a traditional, declining urban congregation, Niebuhr, still in his twenties, quickly engaged himself on the side of industrial workers in a city where automobile manufacturing ruled by the hand of Henry Ford who presented himself as the patron saint of economic justice in the offer of then higher wages. Thus began Fordism, born not of fairness, but of greed for efficient production. The higher wages famously broke Marx’s rule on the suppression of labor costs as the key to the extraction of surplus value. But the break was only apparent. The wages were taken back in the purchase of the automobiles labor produced—thereby doubly exploiting the laborer,” he writes.

And don’t miss “Politics and Self in the Age of Digital Re(pro)ducibility,” by Robert W. Williams, who teaches Political Science at Bennett College in North Carolina. His claim, explicitly made within “the Marxist tradition,” is that “there is a dialectic of in/dividuality present in the conjuncture of globalizing capitalism and liberal-democratic policies. The relationships that reduce us as separate selves to digitally mediated signifiers and that “reproduce” those signifiers as dividuals also provide the potential for resistance against the oppressions resulting from digital re(pro)ducibility.”

HT: The Blogora

Blog author: mvandermaas
posted by on Thursday, February 9, 2006

Kishore Jayalaban, Director of Acton’s Rome office, appeared on Kresta in the Afternoon yesterday to discuss a number of topics relating to religious freedom in the European Union, including abortion, homosexuality, “retrograde” Poland, and the troubles in Slovakia relating to the approval of a concordat with the Vatican.

To listen to the interview, click here (3.1 mb mp3 file). It will also be available on Acton’s podcast, which is available for free through the iTunes Music Store.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Check out this challenging essay on Spiked by Frank Furedi, “The curious rise of anti-religious hysteria.” His main point is that while religious belief is misplaced, it shouldn’t be replaced with another sort of secular fundamentalism.

It turns out Furedi himself is just a believer in rationalism: “Superstition and prejudice should continually be countered by rational argument. But the vitriolic invective hurled at Christian believers today is symptomatic of the passions normally associated with a fanatical Inquisitor.” Of course “superstition” happens to be anything that is believed not on the basis of some sort of rational foundationalism.

On secular reactions to The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe and The Passion of the Christ: “As a secular humanist who is instinctively uncomfortable with zealot-like moralism, I am suspicious of the motives behind these doctrinaire denunciations of films with a religious message.”

On expressions of faith: “Until recently, cultural expressions of religious faith were simply considered old-fashioned and gauche. But over the past decade, scorn has turned into bigotry and hatred.”

On Intelligent Design: “Many see only the danger of superstition in Intelligent Design, describing it as a new form of Creationism on the march. They overlook the remarkable concession that Intelligent Design makes to the authority of science.”

On Jim Wallis: “When it comes to banality, Jim Wallis’ God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It beats his competitors to the post.”

Perhaps the right reaction toward religious belief, according to Furedi, is not hatred but rather self-assured patronizing.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, January 19, 2006

Mark your calendars: The Institute for the Study of Christianity and Culture at Michigan State University is hosting a conference on April 7-8 with the keynote address to be given by Dr. Randall Balmer, Ann Whitney Olin Professor, Barnard College, Columbia University.

From the conference site: “Dr. Balmer will be giving a lecture and a panel discussion on the topic of his upcoming book Taking the Country Back: How the Religious Right is Winning the Culture Wars.”

There will also be a Saturday morning roundtable on the topic, “Politics, Culture Wars, and the Soul of American Evangelicalism,” featuring Dr. Balmer as well as Dr. Corwin Schmidt, Professor of Political Science and as Director of the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics at Calvin College.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, January 13, 2006

Many of you may have already heard of the new line of Levi’s jeans due out later this year, the iPod compatible RedWire DLX jeans: “With a joystick remote control built into the watch pocket, the new jeans will allow wearers to play, pause, track forward or back and adjust the volume on their iPods without having to take them out of their pockets.” There is also a built-in pocket designed to “conceal the bulge of the iPod.”

But Levi Strauss is a bit late to the concealment racket, at least as far as the iPod is concerned, since iPod-friendly underwear produced by Play, wittily named the iBoxer, is currently ready to ship. These boxer-briefs come in three standard colors (turquoise, black, and orange) with other print patterns available.

Worried about concealing the bulge? The iBoxer promises “a discrete front pocket.” FreshPair.com, a distributor of undergarments, also assures us that for every 2 iBoxers purchased, we’ll get 3 Free iTunes (Coupon Included in Order). Top sellers include Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” and The Black Eyed Peas’ “My Humps” (iTunes required).

I’ve resisted the urge to pain you, dear readers, by posting a picture of the iBoxer, but for those of you who are gluttons for punishment, click here.

On a more serious note, Apple should perhaps be concerned about market saturation. The typical cycle for pop culture rotations is the move from popularity in an underground sub-culture to the broader marketing and popularization of the movement. This is followed by backlash from the sub-culture and the accusation of “selling out” to corporate interests. We’ve yet to see whether such a backlash will occur from the tech-savvy (much like what has occurred against Microsoft).

And while Pat Buchanan recommends buying up gold reserves, I for one am waiting for the day when the currency switches over from dollars to iPods. Here’s a sample conversation:

Buyer: “How much is that 60 GB iPod?”

Seller: “3 iPod Shuffles.”

Buyer (crestfallen): “But I only have 1 iPod Shuffle and 1 iPod Nano!”

Check out this interview with Acton senior fellow in economics Jennifer Roback Morse from the Zenit News Agency, “Righting the Wrongs in Modern Sex and Marriage.”

She talks about writing her recent book, Smart Sex: Finding Life-Long Love in a Hook-Up World (Spence) and says, “I wanted to write a book for the ordinary person who wants to get married and stay married. Most readers are not economists or theologians, so I wanted to convey to the public that this book is meant for them.”

Blog author: mvandermaas
posted by on Friday, January 6, 2006
George Weigel

Acton President Rev. Robert A. Sirico appeared today at the January Series of Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan to introduce a lecture by theologian and author George Weigel. In his address, entitled “Revolutionary Papacies: John Paul II, Benedict XVI,

Rev. Robert A. Sirico

and the Future of the Catholic Church,” Weigel touched on 10 areas in which Pope John Paul II made important contributions to Catholic teaching, ecumenism, and world politics, and also described some of the major challenges facing Pope Benedict XVI, especially relating to the cultural and demographic decline of Europe.

Audio of Weigel’s January Series address will be available online at Calvin’s website. If you’re interested in hearing more from Mr. Weigel, you can purchase a copy of his biography of Pope John Paul II, Witness to Hope, along with a recording of his Lord Action Lecture Series address from 1999 on his experiences writing that book, by visiting the Acton Bookshoppe.

Topping today’s Science/Nature section at BBC News, “Population size ‘green priority’”, by Richard Black. The article focuses on the thoughts of Professor Chris Rapley, Director of the British Antarctic Survey, who contends that the “current global population of six billion is unsustainably high.” This is to say nothing of the growth rate and future generations.

Based on a column Rapley wrote for a new BBC feature, The Green Room, the article presents the view that “humankind is consuming the Earth’s resources at an unsustainably fast rate,” based on “a number of studies.”

The basis for Rapley’s concern, as you might expect, is carbon emissions, but he writes, “Although reducing human emissions to the atmosphere is undoubtedly of critical importance, as are any and all measures to reduce the human environmental ‘footprint’, the truth is that the contribution of each individual cannot be reduced to zero.”

He concludes, “Only the lack of the individual can bring it down to nothing.”

Rapley laments that there is a paucity of opportunities to discuss population growth, since it is not often discussed at global environmental summits. “Rare indeed are the opportunities for religious leaders, philosophers, moralists, policymakers, politicians and indeed the “global public” to debate the trajectory of the world’s human population in the context of its stress on the Earth system, and to decide what might be done,” he writes.

Rapley does seem to overlook the UN’s World Population Day, which is little more than a campaign for population controls. And the myth of humanity as a plague species has been fodder for London’s “The Human Zoo,” as well as happening to be the view of Agent Smith in the Matrix movies.

As we saw in a recent commentary by Acton research fellow Jay Richards, Rapley is certainly not alone in his concern. A letter to Richards about his book on intelligent design from a prominent scientist read in part: “Still, adding over seventy million new humans to the planet each year, the future looks pretty bleak to me. Surely, the Black Death was one of the best things that ever happened to Europe: elevating the worth of human labor, reducing environmental degradation, and, rather promptly, producing the Renaissance. From where I sit, Planet Earth could use another major human pandemic, and pronto!”

Perhaps some individuals have imbibed such a view, as birth rates in the developed world are not growing. A 2004 UN report showed that “because of its low and declining rate of population growth, the population of developed countries as a whole is expected to remain virtually unchanged between 2005 and 2050.” Most of the countries in the developed world which will account for the decline in birth rates belong to the EU. The US, on the other hand, is one of the eight nations that will “account for half of the world’s projected population increase.”

But part of the reason that Rapley’s concerns aren’t getting much attention beyond pop culture phenomena and some macabre colleagues is that the population explosion myth has been rather thoroughly debunked. The case of carbon emissions is simply the latest hook for population control advocates. For more on population and the environment, check out Acton’s policy section, which links to a number of helpful resources.