Fall is in full swing, the elections behind us, the holidays ahead and oh, there’s much to see – including a bumper crop of Hollywood films announced. James Cameron, the man who holds himself to be an authority on oceanography and global warming due to the fact that he made a movie about the Titanic, has begun filming the sequel to his 2009 blockbuster Avatar. You know, the one you’ve seen repeatedly – I mean, literally repeatedly. Cameron’s Avatar, Costner’s Dances with Wolves, and Disney’s Pocahontas are the same film, albeit with different technologies and different character names. Here’s the plot: by intriguing happenstance a young, zealous military man of ethnic European background infiltrates a barbaric tribe and after a bit of flailing about eventually proves his worth and falls in love with the beautiful and valiant princess-facsimile, learns that her people are not barbarians at all but rather noble, dignified, living in harmony with nature; that, in fact, the true barbarians are his own people: rapacious, violent, and untrustworthy – so he betrays his heritage, throws in his lot with the natives, fights and saves the day, or at least sort of. The End. See? Same film.
I don’t exactly blame Cameron for ripping off someone else’s creative work; it’s hard not to, given our propensity to steal, and anyway, even though we are story-telling creatures our story-telling capabilities are rather limited. Sorry to be the Toto to everyone’s Dorothy, but sometimes you have to pull back the curtain to reveal that the clash, bang, and drama is nothing more than the mundane, monotonous, and mendacious. Which brings us right back to politics.
Tuesday’s elections have been already over analyzed but one thing you’ve not likely heard from any commentators is how little difference will be made. “Everything has Changed!” trumpeted one headline but no, I tell you, nothing has changed.
Think about the last time there was an overwhelming shift of power in this country, or when a single party dominated two or even all three branches of government. Were there grand sweeping changes? Were the deepest dreams and aspirations of the victorious electorate enacted into law and policy – or did things fundamentally continue along the same trajectory? Look at the number of times the overwhelming desire of the population has been and is even now being ignored. Just like Cameron’s sci-fi spectacle, it’s the same story as the last revolution, the previous shellacking, the most recent tidal wave. Clash, bang, drama, a few billion spent here and there, the winners go to Washington, the losers write bestsellers and earn millions on the speakers’ circuit, and both of them want us to go back to mindless entertainment while nothing of significance changes.
If your own gut and a bit of common sense doesn’t confirm that, make sure to get a copy of the next issue of Perspectives on Politics, which reports the depressing news that poly-sci research has proven the American political system is controlled by giant corporations and the wealthy elite; your vote and my vote have little or no influence at all. The upper echelons of society are quite immune to the will of the people, and while this was never a democracy to begin with (the USA was established as a democratic republic, which is not the same thing as a democracy) it should be by now obvious that our leaders are increasingly indifferent to what We, the People, want. And why would they care? They have power; they don’t need us.
Depressing news, that is, if you were looking for a political solution to a spiritual problem. Government isn’t wrong, per se; the bible tells us human governance is ordained by God, a part and parcel of the commission given man as the divine viceroy. We as a species were given authority over the earth to bring about order, harmony and mutual flourishing – the kingdom of God, so to speak – but Scripture also points out that we are a fallen race, meaning our efforts to do so will be haphazard at best. Our fallenness is something government did not cause and cannot cure; it can, at best, only slow the process of decay.
We long for an ideal world because, to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, we were made for an ideal world. Left, Right, and Center, we think we know how to bring about that ideal world yet we can’t. We cannot fix ourselves, and we are, as a culture, drifting away from the only one who can.
The West is falling. It was built upon concepts drawn from the Christian faith – things like noblesse oblige, the worth of the individual soul (and therefore a greater weight on individualism over collectivism), hard work, delayed gratification, personal modesty, the supremacy of truth in both the public square and the private arena (and as a direct consequence, honesty became a civic as well as personal virtue), reason and logic and, yes, science – why, even Capitalism is a biblical gift, according to Rodney Stark. Obviously (and at times notoriously) plenty of Westerners have disdained these things or applied them with great inequality, and I am not saying these things are not to be found outside of the West, but it cannot be denied that these were the foundations of the Western world, and insofar as they are being systematically denigrated, rejected, subverted and removed from Western society then Western society as it currently exists will eventually cease be, and something else will replace it.
Any guesses as to what that might be?
If you answered paganism, you win.
That is not a net positive. Lest anyone think that paganism will be all bacchanalias and frolic, they should read a bit about what pagan societies were like – or for a contemporary illustration, look to the Levant. What you see happening there right now is but a foretaste of what’s to come. Whatever form of paganism fills the void left behind, there will be more and more beheadings and torture, burnings of books (and witches), rampant fear, chattel slavery – in many ways, to use the words of Thomas Hobbes, an inexorable return to the way life has been throughout most of human history: “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
Sixteen centuries ago Augustine said it best: you are simultaneously a citizen of two realms, the earthly and the heavenly. Do what’s right for each, but never confuse the two. Obey earthly authorities insofar as doing so would not cause you to disobey God. Seek the good of your society; vote, pay taxes, serve jury duty, that sort of thing. Christianity will survive, and thrive, just fine without the West. The West will do neither without Christianity.
I hope I have disabused you of the notion that our best efforts, our activism, our rage, our anything can save our culture. Christ alone can. If we will not have him, things here will only get worse. But if we, collectively, will not have him, each of us individually can. Pray he will work in you and through you, cooperate with him, be the kind of man or woman who demonstrates him to whomever is in your sphere of influence. This world is out of sync with its Maker and will remain so until the end; you and I, however, can set up pockets of resistance against it. Read, think, ask questions, learn, act, and most of all, remember.
Of course, this will make you dangerous, but that’s a small price to pay, isn’t it?
Image credit: “Resistance;” sculpture by Corinne Franzén-Heslenfeld, Utrecht, The Netherlands; photograph by Arend Jan Wonink, flikr creative commons, 2009