There are times when I look up from what I’m doing and wonder how I ended up in this alternate reality. Admittedly, some of that disorientation comes from the fact that I’m about to enter the upper middle of middle age, and taking inventory is becoming reflexive almost to the point of obsessive. When a man sees the finish line beginning to crest the distant horizon (no matter how far distant that horizon may be), the cadence of his race is inevitably effected, and so it is with me. Well, the thing is, the landmarks we as a culture once depended on to mark the trail for those who will follow after us have been torn down for firewood by a generation that has difficulty seeing past it’s latest inconvenience. Historically speaking, there’s nothing new about the spirit of immediacy that accompanies a perceived lack in the heart of man. While some speak hopefully of a “Jeremiah Generation” rising up, I’m more inclined to believe that the proper monicker would be an “Esau Generation” (Genesis 25:29-34) – willing to do whatever, pay whatever, change whatever, forfeit whatever, and embrace whatever it takes to dull the sting of their most immediate perceived pain and deal with the consequences later. It is understandable how we got here as a culture. Since the end of the Cold War in 1991, the hawks have been scrambling to find an existential threat to replace the looming spectre of the Red Menace, largely to cartoonishly transparent effect. The systematic dismantling of our social and cultural framework in favor of the pandemonium of unrestrained personal license has brought us closer to the brink of irrelevancy than most want to envision. As we drift farther and farther from being a nation ‘under God’, the incubator of enduring liberty is converted increasingly into a garish nursery for rootlessness and inculcated self absorption. The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence read as follows…
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Even written in 241 year old English, this simple statement that survived the input of Deists, Heathens, a few actual Christians, and the politics of open rebellion to be become part of our most cherished founding document still to this day defines those sign posts that I mentioned – those that today are all too often found smoldering in the ashen firepits of self-serving choices. These three legs of our culture have been systematically and intentionally subverted and redefined by a culture that is more familiar with Homer Simpson than the Holy God, and that insists that the arbiter of all truth is their own personal experience, opinion, and desire rather than objective input from the Creator whom they increasingly dismiss.
- LIFE – this has been re-interpreted to mean ‘MY life’ instead of an embrace of the sanctity of ALL life, and has been used as a cudgel to shame otherwise compassionate neighbors into accepting the concept that life is a possession rather than a gift from God. Once that devious lie has been accepted as true, it’s not much of a stretch to begin to devalue other lives when they begin to infringe upon enjoyment of their own. The fatal flaw in the attempt to value human life comparatively is in the imperfection of the one doing the evaluation. As such, it is far above the paygrade of any mortal soul. Life is sacred – a gift from God – and our culture that once embraced that truth is in the death throes of trying to reconcile something less absolute in the name of protecting the lives presumptuously deemed more worthy. Abortion on demand, euthanasia, assisted suicide, and a host of other abominations are the natural step-children of such disregard of inherent human worth. These are quickly eroding our cultural understanding of what our founding fathers sought to provide as an alternative in a world with no sense of it’s true purpose.
- LIBERTY – this has been re-interpreted to mean total lack of societal constraint – what everyone from biblical days through the days of our nation’s founding would have referred to licentiousness and moral turpitude. The problem with everyone chasing their own whims with no cultural mores or restraints is that there would be no one left to fix the toilet or sweep the street. Society places certain minimal demands on it’s citizens, and those demands ebb and flow with the times. John Adams rightly said “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” There is never a time when our obligations can be completely usurped by our desires…the result would be anarchy and chaos. While that concept is easy enough to embrace, what seems to be overlooked today in favor of the demand to ‘live and let live’ is the effect your ‘living’ has on others. Therein is the nuanced difference between ‘liberty’ and ‘freedom’. The term liberty carries with it the connotation of being ‘free to choose’, whereas freedom intimates ‘free to do’. It may seem subtle, but the application can be starkly evident. Liberty implies responsibility, whereas freedom implies opportunity. The first casualties of this redefinition are the erosion of the institutions of civilization such as family, faith, and fidelity to country. The natural step-children of this redefinition are rampant divorce, the redefinition of marriage in perverse ways, single parents abandoned to raise their children alone, children with identity crises, disrespect for the law, and presumptuous disregard for patriotic obligations. In short, did you ever wonder why it’s called the Statue of LIBERTY and not the Statue of FREEDOM? Choices and opportunities in a free and prosperous society come with obligations and duties, and to embrace the former and avoid the latter is to simply seek a change of venue for your own personal chaos.
- …the pursuit of HAPPINESS – this has been reinterpreted to mean the pursuit of ‘HAPPY-NESS’, and has made the state of a man’s individual mood and self image the concern of everyone else around them. It was not so when this document was written (nor when the scripture was written upon which the concept was based). As originally intended, this happiness was to thrive, prosper, and be in health (St. John would have added ‘even as your soul prospers’, but I digress). It would have been unimaginable in civilized society, no matter how unsophisticated, to remove consideration of the effect of our personal behavior on those with whom we come into contact. The pathway from living in dugout huts, treating women as property and clawing out a meager subsistence to living in a functioning, mutually beneficial society is marked by the realization that we do indeed have an obligation to consider those around us and live in a consensual, respectful way. A culture that has forgotten that simple fundamental obligation is marked by a citizenry with unrestrained tongues, undignified presentation, impulsivity and unreflective choices. The step-children of such a philosophy are foul mouthed, vulgar, insensitive, and crude conversation and art, bodies dishonored as personal artistic canvas instead of honored as the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, flesh more festooned than Christmas trees, pornographic imagery brought into the mainstream, and a perpetual pursuit of recreation and stimulation instead of productive enterprise. Generations have numbed themselves to their obligation to build a durable cultural framework in favor of instant and uninterrupted gratification and self satisfaction. The price has been that people know exactly what they enjoy but they have absolutely no idea who they are (bathroom controversy? you’re kidding, right?).
With all of that in mind, the solution is readily at hand. Unfortunately, it has historically taken a crisis in order to change the trajectory of a culture. The ‘Roaring Twenties’ needed the Great Depression to induce a correction, not the 18th and 21st amendments The cultural chaos that was the 60’s was tempered by Vietnam. History is replete with examples of crisis induced correction, but that’s not the only path. There have also been sporadic examples of revival that changed the course of culture with redemptive lift. Manners, Morals, and Maturation – intentionality in these areas are the promised children of an authentic move of God’s redemptive power. The church is called to be the clarion of those arcane concepts that draw men to redeemed living, but unfortunately much modern preaching is focused on responding to the new definition of the terms above rather than a calling to their original intent. Those who speak of living Christlike, purposeful lives of evident discipleship run the risk of being called fossils by those who continue to throw off such inconveniences to their self absorption. What they forget is that fossils leave something behind for ensuing generations to benefit from (ever hear of OIL?), unlike those whose unmanaged appetites consume everything upon themselves (James 4:3 et al) with no thought of those who will come after. This world needs more spiritual fossils!