Cultural Changes and Their Causes

Mike D’Virgilio of MDV Outlook has referred to this author’s Washington Examiner article on religion in popular culture, in his excellent blog. MDV points out,

“Christians have always had an ambivalent relationship to culture. Throughout the history of the Church you can see the way Christians in the variety of traditions sought to relate to the culture they lived in. The classic study of this is “Christ and Culture” by H. Richard Neibuhr. This is required reading if you are interested in this sort of thing.”

As it happens, I read Christ and Culture a while ago, on Mike’s recommendation. It is indeed an excellent book. Though I do not fully agree with all of the author’s conclusions, I think it a brilliantly insightful and knowledgable book and an excellent analysis of how people relate to their surrounding culture.

Mike believes that a prominent cause of the changes some of us see in American culture was 9/11:

“At the top of my list would be 9/11. As problematic as the idea of evil is, when we look into the face of it we cannot deny it exists. And if evil exists so does good, and if good and evil exist there is probably more to the universe than matter-plus-time-plus chance. Madilyn Murray O’Hare, the infamous atheist who disappeared some years ago, groomed her son to take over the crusade, but something happened on the way to this atheistic nirvana. The son became a Christian. The reason, he said, was because he saw in his mother evil (she was not a pleasant women, in case you don’t know the story), and if evil really did exist, so did good and so did God. As Augustine said, evil is the absence of Good, the privation of goodness.”

(Regarding the O’Hair case, I acknowledge, of course, that many people who claim to be Christians have lived evil lives, and that atheists can be quite benevolent. What Mike is pointing out is what one particular person saw and how he reacted.)

I have written elsewhere that “Even an event as riveting as the September 11 atrocities, however, can only do so much to change underlying social attitudes, and one would be wise to expect any changes based solely on such a phenomenon to have a very limited shelf life, however intense the immediate effects.” I perceive that there has been a gradual change in the American culture, and that people are only now really beginning to notice it. However, I think that Mike may be correct in observing that 9/11 accelerated or added some definition to the process.

Mike points out that 9/11 made the existence of evil quite vivid:

“So Americans after that horrific day were forced to confront a reality that had been easily ignored.”

That seems to me quite true.

There can be no question that most Americans saw the 9/11 attacks and their perpetrators as evil. Most social changes, however, have multiple, intertwining causes, as Mike notes. And as I wrote in the aftemath of that event, “If they are to last, however, such changes must have a solid foundation in the nation’s values and ideals. Fortunately, there is positive news here, too. As author Colleen Carroll noted in the December 3, 2001, issue of The Weekly Standard, ‘evidence abounds that a growing interest in religion-especially traditional religion-among the young antedates September 11 by several years. It seems to be a trend that springs from deeper roots and thus may prove to be enduring.’ Her observations accord with other poll information and cultural evidence, suggesting a possible base for a sustained social reformation.”

Hence, “The heroes of September 11 were there on September 10, but it took a crisis to call them forth. Just so, the American people may well have been calling for a new culture that would reflect their essential decency, and there are distinct signs that artists, producers, and the like are beginning to listen. The new million dollar question is whether this process will continue. But one thing is clear. If there is to be a real cultural change in the wake of September 11, it will be because there was already one in progress before that.”

I believe that these changes are indeed real and likely to last. As Mike points out in his article, however, the nature of our culture depends on how we choose to engage it. And sometimes our actions have unexpected consequences.

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3 thoughts on “Cultural Changes and Their Causes

  1. “There can be no question that most Americans saw the 9/11 attacks and their perpetrators as evil.”

    While you are most likely correct that the majority of americans SAW it that way it is of course a grotesque oversimplification. To see 9/11 as Evil (with a capital E) one must of course be willfully ignorant of it’s causes and history. One must choose to engage in a historical myopia so that it seems as if we, innocent children playing freely, were attacked without provocation by Them, goddless hostile heathens who hate our freedom.

    Reality of course shows the situation to be much more gray. We were attacked because we’d engaged in decades of oppression and manipulation of others. Does that Justify an attack upon civilians? no. But when 9/11 is put into a context of our own assaults upon the societies overseas it becomes much more understandable and less evil. It is a reaction, an all too human reaction to outside aggression.

  2. Sam,

    I’ll keep a lookout for the book, Christ and Culture. It sounds interesting.

    As for Tlaloc, I have a question for you: Do you live in San Diego? Be honest! (You sound like a friend of mine who lives out there on the Left Coast.)

  3. “As for Tlaloc, I have a question for you: Do you live in San Diego? Be honest! (You sound like a friend of mine who lives out there on the Left Coast.)”

    I live in the Pacific Northwest so you got the correct coast but wrong state.

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