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It is the very rare human being who will give up some set of cultural goods just because someone condemns them. They need something better, or their current set of cultural goods will have to do, as deficient as they may be.

Culture Making, p.68

excerpt Law and love
from "We Shall Not Weary, We Shall Not Rest," by Richard John Neuhaus (an address to the July 2008 convention of the National Right to Life Committee), FIRST THINGS: On the Square, 22 January 2009

We contend, and we contend relentlessly, for the dignity of the human person, of every human person, created in the image and likeness of God, destined from eternity for eternity—every human person, no matter how weak or how strong, no matter how young or how old, no matter how productive or how burdensome, no matter how welcome or how inconvenient. Nobody is a nobody; nobody is unwanted. All are wanted by God, and therefore to be respected, protected, and cherished by us.

We shall not weary, we shall not rest, until every unborn child is protected in law and welcomed in life. We shall not weary, we shall not rest, until all the elderly who have run life’s course are protected against despair and abandonment, protected by the rule of law and the bonds of love. We shall not weary, we shall not rest, until every young woman is given the help she needs to recognize the problem of pregnancy as the gift of life. We shall not weary, we shall not rest, as we stand guard at the entrance gates and the exit gates of life, and at every step along way of life, bearing witness in word and deed to the dignity of the human person—of every human person.

Against the encroaching shadows of the culture of death, against forces commanding immense power and wealth, against the perverse doctrine that a woman’s dignity depends upon her right to destroy her child, against what St. Paul calls the principalities and powers of the present time, this convention renews our resolve that we shall not weary, we shall not rest, until the culture of life is reflected in the rule of law and lived in the law of love.


[Bonhoeffer] joined the Abwehr (military intelligence) originally in order to assist surreptitiously in the rescue of Jews and also to engage in political and diplomatic work on behalf of his country. . . . Bonhoeffer played this dangerous game fully. In 1940, upon the fall of France, Eberhard Bethge recalls an announcement being made in a café in a small German town. Everyone lept to their feet, began singing, “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles,” and raised their arms in the Nazi salute. To Bethge’s perplexity, Bonhoeffer raised his arm as well, and then whispered to his friend, “Raise your arm! Are you crazy?” Afterward he said, “We shall have to run risks for very different things now, but not for that salute!” This kind of pragmatism, for Bonhoeffer, is what it meant to serve Christ in the real world.

by Andy Crouch for Culture Making

One of the interesting consequences of writing a Christian book is that you end up doing a lot of interviews with Christian media. I enjoy almost all of these conversations. For one thing, I love the voices of people who work in radio! And I consistently find that my interviewers are intrigued by the topic of my book and genuinely eager to talk about it.

Still, there is one pattern to my interviews with Christian media that perplexes me, and that is my hosts’ relentless sense of pessimism about “the culture.” One of my favorite Christian radio hosts, a super-bright guy with whom I’ve talked several times, said in our most recent interview, “When we were in high school [I think he’s maybe a few years older than me] it seemed like the culture was a mixed bag. But now doesn’t it seem like it’s just gotten worse and worse?”

I had to answer that honestly, that’s not how it seems to me. For example, when I was in high school I remember hearing about the horrifyingly high incidence of drunk driving. But a mother named Candy Lightner, whose daughter had been killed by a drunk driver, started Mothers Against Drunk Driving. (People my age will remember yellow ribbons tied to car antennas, inspired by MADD—come to think of it, people my age will remember car antennas.) Two decades later, the cultural horizons have shifted decisively on this issue. As Frederica Mathewes-Green has pointed out, films from the “innocent” 1950s regularly portray drunkenness (and its corollary, violence against women) with a lightheartedness that we now find inconceivable. Overall, it seems to me that culture, like Wall Street, is a random walk—improving in some ways, declining in others. The Christian job is simply to assess our current moment and cultivate and create within it. But when I express this on the air, I’m almost always greeted with disbelief, even when my hosts find the idea appealing.

What accounts for this Christian-radio pessimism about “the culture”? It occurs to me it’s strikingly similar to something documented by Dave Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons: the culture’s pessimism about “the Christians.” In their book unChristian, Gabe and Dave show just how negatively most secular Americans view Christians when they are asked to characterize them as a group—even though the same people will report that their personal encounters with Christians have been much more positive. While some of this pessimism can certainly be traced to the way we Christians are presented in mainstream media, some of it seems to come from that media filling a vacuum of experience. People just don’t have enough encounters with self-identified Christians who are not wildly judgmental, homophobic right-wingers to realize that their stereotypes are untrue. When they meet an actual Christian who doesn’t fit their expectations, they are more likely to dismiss him or her as an exception than to revise their rule of thumb.

And that, it seems to me, is exactly what Christians—especially those who by vocation spend a lot of time immersed in the Christian subculture—are doing with the culture itself. In the absence of sustained encounters with our neighbors who don’t share our faith, cocooning in our own media and social groups, we fall into pessimistic stereotypes about “the culture” out there. When we happen to actually get to know an unbelieving neighbor and find that they are not wildly permissive, atheistic left-wingers, we just file them in the “exception to the rule” category.

The most basic solution to the challenge posed by unChristian, it seems to me, is for a lot more of us to get involved, as Christians, in the structures and institutions where our neighbors spend their time. But perhaps that will change more than just our neighbors’ attitudes. We, too, may discover that “the culture” is full of grace and heartbreak and beauty and folly—not so different, after all, from the church herself.

from The Apostolic Tradition 16, by Hippolytus of Rome, ca. 215 AD

They will inquire concerning the works and occupations of those are who are brought forward for instruction. If someone is a pimp who supports prostitutes, he shall cease or shall be rejected. If someone is a sculptor or a painter, let them be taught not to make idols. Either let them cease or let them be rejected. If someone is an actor or does shows in the theater, either he shall cease or he shall be rejected. If someone teaches children (worldly knowledge), it is good that he cease. But if he has no (other) trade, let him be permitted. A charioteer, likewise, or one who takes part in the games, or one who goes to the games, he shall cease or he shall be rejected. If someone is a gladiator, or one who teaches those among the gladiators how to fight, or a hunter who is in the wild beast shows in the arena, or a public official who is concerned with gladiator shows, either he shall cease, or he shall be rejected. If someone is a priest of idols, or an attendant of idols, he shall cease or he shall be rejected. A military man in authority must not execute men. If he is ordered, he must not carry it out. Nor must he take military oath. If he refuses, he shall be rejected. If someone is a military governor, or the ruler of a city who wears the purple, he shall cease or he shall be rejected. The catechumen or faithful who wants to become a soldier is to be rejected, for he has despised God. The prostitute, the wanton man, the one who castrates himself, or one who does that which may not be mentioned, are to be rejected, for they are impure. A magus shall not even be brought forward for consideration. An enchanter, or astrologer, or diviner, or interpreter of dreams, or a charlatan, or one who makes amulets, either they shall cease or they shall be rejected. If someone’s concubine is a slave, as long as she has raised her children and has clung only to him, let her hear. Otherwise, she shall be rejected. The man who has a concubine must cease and take a wife according to the law. If he will not, he shall be rejected.

from "The Long, Dark Knight of the Soul," by Brant Hansen, Letters from Kamp Krusty, 19 July 2008 :: via Charlie Park

At one level, this movie is a bunch of violent, purposeless noise.

But there is a second deeper level.  At that level, “The Dark Knight” is a discourse on the nature of evil.

And then . . . there is a third, still deeper, final level. 

At that final level, this movie is a bunch of violent, purposeless noise. . . .

“The Dark Knight” is cultural rigor mortis.  It’s what happens when we are done, and we are done.  Jacques Barzun had it right, when he wrote a history of western culture up through the 1990s, and said, certainly, that our age is defined by boredom.  We are excited by nothing, really, but maybe for a moment here, or a moment there, we can try to be turned on.  Sex can do it (or fake sex, much more likely) but brutal violence can work, too, if for a short time.