Saturday, December 17, 2011

Change in American Culture

One of the great things about high lighting when reading a book is that a few years later you can pull that book of the shelf and see the main points of importance.  I pulled off my shelf J. Daryl Charles' Between Pacificism and Jihad: Just War and Christian Tradition (IVP, 2005) and came across these thoughts:
Most contemporary observers, and not a few Christians, assume that American Society--and, for the moment permit to write as an American--could never become "totalized" and oppressive.  After all, we convince ourselves, democratic government has built-in checks and balances.  What is more, we have never known the dark side of statist rule and oppression that have visited other societies.  While these balances do potentially retard the speed with which a society degenerates, they are foremost procedural and do not affect the moral foundations of a people.  When a whole people--and everything in that culture--is full of putrefaction and moral rot, it is only a question of time as to when the system collapses and a "new elite" must step in to fill the power vacuum that has resulted.
But my interest here is not to engage in apocalyptic gloom.  The point to be made is this: there is a qualitative difference between legality and morality.  Laws will inevitably be a reflection of the values of a particular society.  This is why Christians--religious conservatives especially, at least in the American context--need to be saved from the folly of trying to change laws and enact legislation without simultaneously seeking to change the way people think.  The laws of the land will follow the engine of values and principles that a people hold dear.  If a people's highest values are self-interest and autonomy, its laws will become utilitarian.  If  a society has a low regard for the value of human life (whether at the beginning or the end of the life spectrum), then its laws will reflect that view of human personhood.
The attempt to change culture by merely changing its laws is at best cosmetic.  Our priority is to change the hearts and minds of people.  This is slow, arduous work.  That is why evangelism proper (in the narrow use of the term), while important, is only a small part of what Pope John Paul II has called "evangelization" of culture.  That is, we must begin t reseed culture from the ground up, as it were, training and educating our own in terms of broader Christian worldview thinking so we are prepared to impart values to broader culture.  If we resist or ignore long-term efforts to educate and penetrate culture by changing the way people  think, no amount of "godly legislation"--or evangelism, for that matter--will ever be able to change culture at the root.  It will be the equivalent of pouring Roses Lime Juice on cancer.  (p. 139)