Fighting to legislate biblical morality in a democratic society is a backward approach, doomed from the start. It’s time for a new solution. It’s time for a cultural evolution.
So, what’s this noble sounding “culture war,” that’s been raging in America for decades, really about?
Sure, it’s about hot-button controversies (i.e., same-sex marriage, abortion rights, contraception, sex education, and the teaching of evolution in schools) usually involving other people’s genitalia and what they do with it.
And then there’s the seasonally charged conflict dubbed the “War on Christmas” provoked by the generic, apparently offensive, “Happy Holidays” meme.
But these are just the battles, from serious matters to the sublimely ridiculous.
As James Davison Hunter points out in his book, Culture Wars, the impetus this ongoing culture war lies on an entirely different level than the battles we see. Fundamentally, the culture war is about competing beliefs on how to create a moral society. More to the point, it’s about the right wing’s fight against the separation of church and state. And contrary to the propaganda deftly employed, against America’s most basic values and treasured principles.
The never spoken fact (because it would be the death of their mission) is that “culture warriors” are on a defiant march to legislate fundamentalist Christian beliefs, wrapped in a package of family values rhetoric. In their view, morality is created in an authoritarian, bible-bound state that controls and limits personal freedom.
Yep. Goodbye democracy. Hello quasi-theocracy.
Being on the shrewd side of smart, these crusaders realize that explicitly going to war against democratic values like freedom and equality wouldn’t bode well. So they have couched their cause ambiguously, as a fight against a corrosive culture that is being fought for the welfare of citizens everywhere.
They needed to come up with a good story, one that supports their mission without directly stating what it really boils down to–the dismantling of democratic values.
Here’s the narrative they came up with, and it’s a doozy:
The changes in family structure triggered during the civil rights era is The root cause of nearly every social problem in existence.
It’s a great storyline, promoting their sloganeered crusade to bring back “traditional family values,” conjuring up nostalgic images of the nuclear family ideal prominent in the 1950’s. It’s a storyline that takes full advantage of the power of rhetoric—avoiding truths and specifics (in this case, the fight to institute biblical, patriarchal values) while capitalizing on emotions and faulty premises (stoking fear about the demise of the ‘traditional’ family leading to cultural chaos).
Let’s start by acknowledging a basic principle in the pursuit of knowledge: correlation does not equal causation. Never has. Never will.
So much for that storyline.
The real truth behind their storytelling is this:
The Cultural Revolution that began in the 1960’s was a seismic shift in mores that outraged and panicked social conservatives. Their oppressive, patriarchal worldview was being kicked to the curb like a discarded tin can. They knew If they didn’t stop this ‘radical’ movement to the left, they would lose political power. So, the religious right began fighting like the devil dressed-in patriot’s clothing to convince society that progressive values would turn America into a moral cesspool.
What it Takes To Create a Moral Society
Our social problems are complex.
Yes, our culture leaves much to be desired when it comes to taste, grace and moral sensibility. And, we can all agree that morality in a democracy is crucial to its functioning.
But one thing must be made crystal clear: morality cannot be legislated. It’s a quality of being that is rooted in the soul, not in governmental controls. It’s an internalized quality involving personal responsibility, self-discipline, empathy for others, and sound judgment. Golden rule stuff.
What “culture warriors” and so-called “family values advocates” fail to see is that morality begins and ends with character, not in obedient submission to patriarchal authority figures or religious dogma dictated from on high.
Obedient submission is not character. How you behave when no one is looking is the essence of character. And standing up for “what’s right” in the face of fear, power, convention or corruption is moral internalization at its finest, the goal of most parents who aim to raise ‘great’ kids—kids who become solid individuals resilient to peer pressure and the incessant negative influences of our
spiritually devoid culture.
These are the real problems in our culture; problems that can only be solved by changing the character of our culture from the inside out.
From Culture War to Cultural Evolution
As mentioned above, true morality comes not from the imposition of rules by a higher power, but through the development of sound character, inner wisdom and soulful connection to self and others.
Of all ironies for the culture warriors of the religious right, this was Jesus’ very mission. He preached the development of self-knowledge and inner enlightenment as the path to virtue: “Let there be light.”
The ultimate progressive, Jesus was on a spiritual path challenging the conventional mores of his time—a merciless, patriarchal, punishment-based culture that was less than enlightened. He preached humanistic values over punitive, controlling, authoritarian values—new standards based on grace rather than fear, forgiveness rather than judgment, and love over law—all of which involve the development of the soul.
The problem we need to be warring against is not secularism, but the emotionally and spiritually impoverished culture in which we live.
As Martin Luther King Jr. warned in his 1964 Nobel Peace Prize address:
….if we are to survive today, our moral and spiritual ‘lag’ must be eliminated. Enlarged material powers spell enlarged peril if there is not proportionate growth of the soul. When the ‘without’ of [humanity’s] nature subjugates the ‘within,’ dark storm clouds begin to form in the world…”
“Spiritual impoverishment, coupled with capitalism, creates limitless greed and hunger. Like having a tapeworm in the soul, no matter how many things we acquire, or how much power or wealth we achieve, it will never be enough.”
As a society, we lack a connection to something greater than capitalistic standards of well-being. Meaning is no longer derived from a deeply felt spirituality (an intimate connection with self, others, nature and a sense of something greater than ourselves), but rather through the accumulation of wealth and “things.” Feeding the ego is front and center, leading to misguided purpose.
The hungry soul drives the culture of consumption. Corporate America loves it. Humanity suffers from it.
Materialism has skewed our values with perverted notions of what really matters. In our all-consuming, outer-directed world, we have lost our inner lives where sound character dwells.
How do we solve this problem?
By becoming enlightened to the depraved forces in our culture that have molded our values and defined our very identities, hollowing out the soul. With reflective awareness, we can consciously make a choice for true fulfillment through mindful living.
By depraved, I’m not talking about ‘sin’ as the problem here. I’m talking about the crude, unrefined and narcissistic climate we live in and embody. The offense is not against God, but against our true nature, and in spite of our genuine needs.
For example, artificial and superficial is what we feed upon, resulting in spiritual emptiness.
- We’re obsessed with phony people and scripted lives on “reality” T.V., living vicariously through others.
- We consume photo-shopped media, whereby unreal images become the impossible ideals we hopelessly seek.
- We admire faces stripped of any trace of age, unique character or personal story.
- We seek to “love” our bodies by surgically vacuuming out fat and implanting silicone to the point of cartoonish distortion.
- Sexuality is removed from genuine beauty of person, spirit and intimacy. Objectification is considered sexy.
- We focus on our kids doing, doing, doing rather than simply being. We care more about our kids being the best at anything and everything, than how they emotionally function in the world, whether they’re stressed out or well-adjusted, kind people.
- We watch rant and slant “news” shows filled with irrational, contemptuous sparring, with little fact or in-depth analysis.
- We care more about having the “right” labels than living within our means, or helping people in need.
“Rather than a culture war, per se, I propose a cultural evolution—a movement towards greater consciousness that involves a reconnection with things that matter, which brings a deepening of the soul.”
And, I’m just getting started.
If this doesn’t spell a disconnect from the soul, I don’t know what does.
Thomas Moore describes soul well. He states:
“Soul” is not a thing, but a quality or a dimension of experiencing life and ourselves. It has to do with depth, value, and relatedness, heart and personal substance.” (Care of the Soul)
It’s up to families to ground their children in soulfulness, but parents need to be grounded first. It involves being present, mindful and acutely aware of, and tuned in to, their children and life experiences. It involves dedication to self-knowledge and inner enlightenment. It involves mindfulness.
From this centered and aware state, parents can develop rich relationships with their children and relate to them in genuinely personal ways, discussing things that matter and why. This is how deeper meaning is created for children, and from where their unique values spring–through meaningful experiences that become part of them. This is also how children develop resilience to the superficial, artificial, and unrefined cultural influences–from the inside out.
How do we begin to shift our culture’s values?
Like any shift in our culture, whether it’s “going green,” “getting fit,” or being “smoke-free,” by first identifying negative influences and their effects. Cultural shift begins with new stories being told and conversations taking hold, paving the way for new attitudes, values and behaviors to unfold.
By stepping back and observing with perspective, there becomes space where choices can be made about whether to embrace or shun toxic cultural forces that insidiously take up residence. Awareness puts us in charge of what influences we choose, or don’t choose, to accept.
My blog, “American Culture on the Couch: Where Clear-Eyed Reality and Cultural Insanity Collide” highlights our cultural “norms” that are anything but normal, and provides a starting point for meaningful conversations , bringing soul into our souled out society, little by little.
Let the evolution begin.
Family Values – Identifying Values of Real Value
Marriage Equality – From Brazen Bigotry to Bona Fide Research
Politics – Family Values Rhetoric and the Duping of America
Let the evolution begin
What are your biggest concerns about the culture we live in?
Do you have a catchy phrase that we can use for this movement (along the lines of ‘going green,’ ‘getting fit’, being ‘smoke-free’)? Please share with us below!…