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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Countering the Culture

T. S. Eliot, in an essay entitled Religion and Literature notes that “the author of a work of imagination is trying to affect us wholly, as human beings…. and we are affected by it, whether we intend to be or not.” He continues to say that most of the reading material written by contemporary authors with whom we come in contact is written by people who have no belief in the supernatural. Their worldview contains no place for God. God is not even considered to be on their horizon. Their worldview is often foreign to most Christians. Still, Eliot believes that benefit can be found in reading such literature, as long as we recognize the vast gulf that exists between our Christian frame of reference and that of these contemporary authors.

Looking at the problem of worldview from another perspective, the Russian writer Anatoly Kuznetsof was asked how he obtained a Christian worldview growing up in Communist Russia without access to a Bible. He stated that Russia’s refusal to ban the works of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky allowed Christianity to continue, even while the government tried to stamp it out. These two writer’s exposition of sin, failure and redemption, written from a thoroughly Christian worldview, had a profound influence upon him and the Russian people.

Today we live in what is called a post modernist, post Christian culture. There is a vast gulf between this cultural worldview and that of a Christian worldview. The prevailing culture will have an effect upon us whether we want it to or not. As examples, the moral permissiveness seen on most sit-coms will impact us. What we read in the newspaper and see on the evening news will affect our thinking. The books and magazines we read will affect our thought process. Therefore, it is important that we be aware of their potential impact on our lives. But how conscious are we of the gulf that exists between these competing worldviews as we live our daily lives? Through the mass media and the printed word we are constantly bombarded, as Eliot says, by writers who “are really all working together in the same direction.” And this direction doesn’t include God. Unless we are acutely aware of the tension between the Christian and the non-Christian worldviews, we are in danger of being sucked in by the prevailing culture that surrounds us.

How can we solve this dilemma? Some people have tried to avoid the culture that surrounds them. They isolate themselves in “Christian ghettos”. They often end up being marginalized, having little impact on the society around them. Others have embraced it lock, stock and barrel. They become assimilated in the culture and lose their distinctiveness. Totally avoiding the culture is not the answer. Neither is a whole hearted embrace. Eliot suggests that we must know what we believe and why. We must also know the areas where we are most likely to fail. Knowing that we could easily become part of the prevailing culture around us helps to keep us alert to the danger. Eliot says we have “the duty of consciously maintaining certain standards and criteria of criticism over and above those applied by the rest of the world; and that by these criteria and standards everything that we read must be tested.” Having a thought out standard allows us to effectively critique our secular culture. We can then accept the positive aspects and reject the negative ones. But I wonder how often do we evaluate what we read, hear, and see? Two questions come to mind. What standards and criteria have I developed in my life that I use to evaluate the worldviews around me? How effectively am I using them in everything I see and hear and read as I intersect with the culture in which I live?

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