By Jonathon Van Maren
There are several different ways of approaching our current culture wars. There is the approach taken by Ben Shapiro and the folks at The Daily Wire—they want to take back the culture by competing in spaces where the Left traditionally rules the roost, such as social media and entertainment. There’s Rod Dreher’s now-famous Benedict Option, which amounts to a strategic withdrawal from the culture wars. And then there’s the option that most people—including those who identify as Christian—are taking, which is total apathy.
Most Christians, according to the data, watch the same films, the same sex-infused TV shows, pay money to the same streaming services, listen to the same trashy music, and worst of all, consume the same porn as everybody else. They get defensive if you condemn any of the entertainment they watch (David French, for example, published laudatory Game of Thrones reviews), and defend their video games and streaming accounts like multi-level marketers facing a skeptic.
Secular progressives successfully conquered every major cultural institution, and Christians by and large went along with it. Sure, there were angry columns, and books, and organizations. But how many people chucked their TV? Or filtered their Internet or smartphone? Or deleted a streaming service for going too far? Or simply decided that enough was enough, and a counterculture was the only feasible way of ensuring that our families were not weaned on sex-driven secularism? The simple answer is: Not many. No matter how extreme TV content gets, getting rid of the TV is always considered too extreme a response. For most people, I really don’t think there’s a red line. Game of Thrones, after all, wasn’t just justified—it was celebrated by public Christians who also wrote thousands of words bemoaning the coarsening of culture and the moral decline of the West.
We didn’t catechize the culture—the culture catechized us. We didn’t change their standards—they changed ours.
The reality is that most people simply don’t want to opt out of mainstream culture, and to build—or rebuild—an alternative. I get that. With the LGBT movement seemingly infiltrating everything, it’s hard to know how to interact with the culture these days. Businesses are in on the game, too. Every day seems to produce another “this is why we can’t have nice things” moment. I’m not saying I have the answers these questions—while I have my own views on where some of the lines should be, I get that this is complicated (albeit not as complicated as some would like to think).
But consider this recent column at The Gospel Coalition by Kevin DeYoung, titled “The World is Catechizing Us Whether We Realize It or Not.” An excerpt:
You couldn’t watch two weeks of the Olympics—or at times, even two minutes—without being catechized in the inviolable truths of the sexual revolution. Earlier in the summer, I watched parts of the Euro, and you would have thought the whole event was a commercial for rainbow flags. And yet, the packaging of the Olympics was even more deliberate. Every day we were taught to celebrate men weightlifting as women or to smile as a male diver talked about his husband. Every commercial break was sure to feature a same-sex couple, a man putting on makeup, or a generic ode to expressive individualism. And of course, Megan Rapinoe and Sue Bird were nearly ubiquitous. If America used to be about motherhood and apple pie, it’s now about birthing persons and lesbian soccer stars hawking Subway sandwiches…What NBC presented as heroic and wonderful was considered wrong and troublesome by almost everyone in the Christian West for 2,000 years.
He’s exactly right, and the Olympics is just the latest example. The pro-sports world is now also dominated by the LGBT movement—any athlete coming out is greeted by wild celebration, and the NFL literally released an ad literally declaring that “football is gay” and “transgender” and “queer” and “lesbian.” Who would have believed that was possible say, ten years ago? As DeYoung writes:
[N]o one lives in an isolated village anymore, and the wider world is not tempting young people with the blessings of chastity and church attendance. People older than me may have enough Christian maturity and cultural memory to roll their eyes at the sexual revolution’s round-the-clock bombardment. But if you are a Millennial or Gen Z (or whatever comes next) your first instinct is likely to be more upset with Christians offering criticism of Megan and Sue kissing than with the fact that their kissing is demonstrably not Christian.
It is worth remembering David Well’s famous definition: worldliness is whatever makes righteousness look strange and sin look normal. Here’s the reality facing every Christian in the West: the money, power, and prestige of the mainstream media, big time sports, big business, big tech, and almost all the institutions of education and entertainment are invested in making sin look normal. Make no mistake: no matter how good your church, no matter how strong your family, no matter how gospel-centered your Christian school or homeschool, if your children and grandchildren are even remotely engaged with contemporary culture (and they are), they are being taught by a thousand memes and messages every week to pay homage to the rainbow flag.
The Christian family, Christian church, and Christian school must not assume that the next generations will accept the conclusions that seem so obvious to older generations. We must talk about the things our kids are already talking about among themselves. We must disciple. We must be countercultural. We must prepare them to love and teach them what biblical love really means. We must pass on the right beliefs and the right reasons for those beliefs.
We must prepare our children—and be prepared ourselves—that following Christ comes with a cost (Luke 9:23). The Jesus who affirmed marriage as between a man a woman (Matt. 19:4-6), the Jesus who warned of the porneia within (Mark 7:20-23), the Jesus who warned against living to be liked by others (John 12:43), this Jesus demands our total allegiance (Matt. 28:20).
The world is already busy promoting its catechism. The only question is whether we will get busy promoting ours.
Doing that, however, may mean some tough choices. Do you watch the Olympics with your family if you are treated, as DeYoung was, to same-sex kissing and nonstop promotion of sinful lifestyles? Do you keep the TV when it is so infused with sexual content that, at this point, it’s rather like buying Playboy for the articles—you can’t get one without the other? It’s all well and good to talk about standing strong against oppression and persecution, but most can’t even give up their preferred entertainment to be counter-cultural, never mind their freedom.
In order to hold the culture to our standard—or judge when something has gone too far—we actually have to have standards to begin with. If the world catechizes our families, it is because we have decided to allow wicked storytellers telling wicked stories into our homes to share their worldview with our children. Opting out of the cultural mainstream isn’t easy. It is always, as Chesterton once noted, easier to float downstream like a dead thing. But any question regarding cultural engagement must be accompanied by a discussion concerning what a Christian standard is, to begin with.