What Now? Faithful Living in Challenging Times - page 2

 

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WHAT NOW? Faithful Living in Challenging Times
by Michael Cromartie, Vice President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center

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Hunter described them as the orthodox worldview and the progressive worldview: the orthodox believed that ultimate moral authority is “external, definable, and transcendent.” For progressives, “the binding moral authority tends to reside in personal experience or in scientific rationality…”As Hunter explained, members of orthodox America appealed to “definable” authority, while the progressive worldview relied on “conversations” in which various and multiple sources of authority would all have their say without any having the final word. This progressive countercultural worldview and project in 1991 was not to establish a new set of norms to replace the old; rather, it sought to create a society where people got along with as few rules as possible.

A man I was privileged to get to know in Washington many years ago through my work at the Ethics and Public Policy Center was the late Irving Kristol, a very widely respected Jewish public intellectual, held in high regard by seemingly everyone in Washington and New York for his astute opinions and observations.

Having just finished reading James Hunter’s book, I was bold enough to ask Mr. Kristol about our then-current culture war. (This was at an American Enterprise Institute conference where Kristol was the keynote speaker; again, this was almost twenty five years ago.) He said something I have never forgotten:

“Michael, there is not a culture war in America today. There was one, but it is over—and the other side won!” The other side had already won. I was a bit taken aback. He was echoing the views of his highly esteemed historian wife, Gertrude Himmelfarb, who in her important book One Nation, Two Cultures, said that America is confronting at least six challenges: “the collapse of ethical principles and habits, the loss of respect for authorities and institutions, the breakdown of the family, the decline of civility, the vulgarization of high culture, and the degradation of popular culture.”

The Kristols were very wise observers, and what they suggested is that the many cultural trends we lament today were set in motion a very long time ago. But I suspect there is an even deeper dimension to be explored here, especially if we are to understand these challenges properly as Christians. Perhaps our mistake is in assuming that “we” ever “had” the culture to lose in the first place. Perhaps we misunderstand the relationship of the Christian faith to our culture when we do so.

Before I suggest what I think our response should be, let me call your attention to one response that is getting a lot of attention presently. As you know, a growing number of Christian leaders are concerned that America is in 2015 beginning to look a lot like a declining empire. The prolific writer and blogger Rod Dreher has introduced an approach to culture that he commends for Christians in these dark days: he calls it the Benedict Option. Saint Benedict was a fifth–sixth-century Roman saint and monk born around AD 480 in Nursia, Italy. When Benedict left Nursia and went to Rome, he found the city to be deeply degenerate and full of vice. Repelled by this, he retreated to the mountains, became a monk, led a monastery, and eventually wrote the “Benedict Rules.” This was a seventy-three chapter handbook on prayer and work that led to the founding of the Order of Saint Benedict, which became a group of monastic communities.

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