In the first “We’re the Weird Ones” post, we looked at the way we tend to assume something is normal because our culture does it, and how we often think that what is “normal” is right. As we broaden our view beyond the provincial culture of our historical moment and begin to look at other places and other times, there are some temptations waiting for us.
When we realize that our culture is out of step with pretty much everybody, everywhere on an issue, most of us are easy prey for one of two temptations. Either we assume that we must be wrong, or we assume that everybody who came before us is an idiot, we got it right, and the people who are still doing it the old way are backward and behind the times. To put labels on these, the first one is simple peer pressure applied on a grand scale, and the second one is modernism.
The peer pressure temptation is familiar to all of us. We want to fit in, to do what everybody else is doing. To apply it on a grand scale, all we need is a stack of anthropological studies telling us what most of the human race does, and then follow the crowd.
On the surface, the modernist temptation resembles a proper Christian response to peer pressure. Rather than caving in, the modernist seeks not to conform, but to transform himself. We are not made to undertake transformation without divine help, and without that help the modernist finds himself unable to simply grow from the past into the future in a natural way. Instead, the modernist must resort to a paroxysm, a violent break with the past. He wants to make all things new, in his own image — and quickly. The modernist says that there’s a better way, that those who have come before are benighted and backward. He throws out the past without a second glance.
The modernist seeks a new world, but not the same new world as the Christian. The Christian seeks a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. The modernist seeks a city of his own making, where he can make a name for himself — which is to say he is building Babel, not the New Jerusalem. Although we associate the modernist impulse with with relatively recent times — hence the name — there is nothing new under the sun. Modernists are in fact succumbing to a very old temptation: the ancient sin of father-hatred.
As a society, we have lived with modernism for enough generations to see a third temptation arise. Some people would call it a feature of postmodernism; others would call it an “ancient future” approach. By either name, what we are seeing is a recognition that our modernist fathers destroyed and abandoned many good things in their war on the past. Sadly, when we attempt to address this issue without divine help, we revisit the habits of our pre-modern grandfathers as a way of rebelling against our modernist fathers. We end up exactly like our fathers: they rejected their fathers, and we in turn commit the same sin. The problem with rebellion is that you can’t compartmentalize it; once you let it in, it leaks all over everything. Consequently, we don’t really submit to the ways of our earlier forebears any more than we submit to our fathers. Rather, we walk down the anthropological and archaeological smorgasbord and take a little of this, a little of that, and bit more of a third thing — whatever happens to suit us at the time. The modernist tries to build the world in his own image by rejecting the past, and the postmodernist tries to custom-build his own life as a collage of bits and pieces of the past, but both of them place themselves in rebellious judgment over their fathers.
But we are Christians; we are citizens of a kingdom whose capital city is in heaven. In that future city, the New Jerusalem, Jesus will perfectly honor His Father, and so we too are called to honor the fathers that God has providentially given to us. At our moment in history, we are inheriting several generations of father-hatred, so there is no way out of this without repentance. We must repent of our culture’s endemic father-hatred, and we must return to proper honor of our fathers — all our fathers. They are imperfect to be sure, but in God’s providence they are a repository of wisdom that we are called to heed. We may not simply cut ourselves free, modernist-fashion, and reject everything that came before us. Nor may we treat the wisdom of the ages as if we are above it all, and it is just a smorgasbord from which we may pick and choose, as the postmodern or ancient-future folks would do. We must submit to the wisdom of our fathers, at the same time testing what they tell us against the counsel of God, because “There is no wisdom, nor understanding, nor counsel, against Yahweh.”
So we require a discerning vision of the past and a sanctified imagination of the future. “What is everybody else doing?” is the wrong question; the question is “What is God doing, and how can I be part of it?” The answer to that question starts with the story of a coming new world whose capital is the New Jerusalem, a city that is literally heaven on earth. God is bringing heaven to earth, and He calls us to pray for it (“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”) and to be the present reflection of it, the sign that it is coming — and to reflect both the newness of the New Jerusalem and its culture of father-honor. Frankly, this is an impossible task; the flesh simply cannot do it. But in living relationship with God, all things are possible for those who believe.
- It’s easy to talk about trends of whole societies without bringing it down to personal practice. We cannot repent of societal father-hatred if we do not first repent of personal father-hatred; this is a case where the personal really is political. Ask God if there are personal sins for you to repent of before you try to go any further. If He brings something to mind, deal with it.
- Having addressed personal sins, you’re ready to ask God about the sins of the society you live in. Don’t ask about “the sins of our culture” in the abstract. Ask God to show you places in your own life where you have assimilated the sins of the culture. As God reveals these areas to you, accept your cultural identity, confess the sins of your culture, renounce the sin, and ask God to heal the damage that you have done to yourself through the sin. Ask Him to guide and guard you as you learn to live differently.