Friday, July 9, 2010

A Culture's Blind Unbelief

This morning I listened to a few moments of PBS's Morning Edition. There was a spot about George Lucas and Steven Spielberg collecting Norman Rockwell originals. In the course of the dialogue, this statement was made:

He captured the American ideal of what we wanted to believe we were," Lucas says, finishing Spielberg's thought. "We weren't any better then than we are now, but by having the ideal out there — what we aspired to — it made it so that we could try to be more than what we were.

I was not surprised, but at the same time it seems incredulous that anyone can believe that "we weren't any better then than we are now." Rockwell's paintings appeared on the covers of Saturday Evening Post from 1916 to 1963. It should be obvious to any objective observer that our society was far better "then" than "now." Compare the number of murders in Lancaster, PA, the county seat of my home (or any other small city), during that period to today. How many babies were ripped prematurely from their mother's wombs then in contrast to our contemporary culture of death? (I know there were murders and abortions "then," but not in nearly the quantity, and in the latter case, "now" it's with with legalized approval.) "Then" it was possible to walk in almost any community after dark without fear. Try that today. "Then" (in the latter period) it was common for young men to have shotguns hanging on racks in their unlocked trucks parked at school so they could go hunting as soon as class was dismissed (no stated contrast with today is needed here!). Divorces were uncommon. Unwed motherhood was a shame. Pornography was deep "underground" (and scarce). Movies (and later, TV) instilled morals instead of tearing them down. Open homosexuality was not even a hidden thought in general society. The available illustrations of the differences are so obvious, so where is someone's brain to think "we weren't any better then than we are now"?

Two things have happened, and the second is a result of the first. The first is that society at large (and the people who shape it) have denounced the reality of Truth. The common assumption is that nothing is absolutely/objectively right or wrong; morality is "consequential" and subjective. This is because a personal God who reveals Himself to His creation (and to whom we are accountable) has been rejected. Our culture wants autonomous freedom rather than freedom to do good, and the result is self-distruction.

The second thing that has happened in the course of our enveloping darkness is that people do not see it (the analogy of developing darkness is quite apt): the nature of spiritual darkness is that the more one embraces darkness, the darker things get. St. Paul is quite specific about this as he sets forth his overview of Christian Truth in the letter to the Romans. In the very first chapter we find this diagnosis:

....they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools.... (1:21b.22a)

Three times Paul repeats the awful effect of rejecting God's truth: God gave them up (to "impurity," v24; to "dishonorable passions," v26; to "a base mind" and to "improper conduct," v28).

Take a fresh look at Norman Rockwell paintings. That is the way it used to be.... back when our society was more firmly grounded in the belief that God says some things are right and some things are wrong. It just isn't true that "we weren't any better then than we are now." There was a time when there was a general goodness throughout our society order. Today we are in grave jeopardy. What we believe makes a difference, especially what we believe about God.

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