Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A LONG-TERM APPROACH TO BEING A COUNTER-CULTURAL WITNESS, i.e. NOT CONSTANTLY IN A CULTURE WAR

A LONG-TERM APPROACH TO BEING A COUNTER-CULTURAL WITNESS, i.e. NOT CONSTANTLY IN A CULTURE WAR

By Kevin Stoda


I came across an article from Beliefnet author, Frederica Mathewes-Green. The author has had a journey through Hinduism and later turned back to Christianity in the form of Eastern Orthodoxism.

In her article, “Loving the Storm-Drenched”, Mathewes-Green writes to a largely Christian audience who is not enamored with the era of culture warring that we witness around us today. I think that a lot of what she shares has to do with good common sense for progressive audiences of all shapes and backgrounds, too.

TONE OF VOICE

Mathewes-Green asks us all to take a longer view, i.e. by not simply hitting back when attacked.

She speaks about our tone of voice. She states that the tone which “we adopt from the culture: sarcastic, smart-alecky, jabbing, and self-righteous. We feel the sting of such treatment and give it right back; we feel anger or even wounded hatred toward those on the ‘other side.’ But God does not hate them; he loves them so much he sent his Son to die for them.”

Moreover, Mathewes-Green charges, “We are told to pray for those who persecute us and to love our enemies. The weight of antagonistic and mocking big-media machinery is the closest thing we've got for practicing that difficult spiritual discipline. If we really love these enemies, we will want the best for them, the very best thing we have, which is the knowledge and love of God.”

In other words, we have to ask ourselves whether we are getting knocked off balance constantly and can no longer walk the walk that we talk?

The author, Matthewes-Green, correctly notes that in terms of the language of interpersonal communication, “Smart-alecky speech doesn't even work. It may win applause, but it does not win hearts. It hardens the person who feels targeted, because he feels mocked and misrepresented. It increases bad feeling and anger. No one changed his mind on an issue because he was humiliated into it. In fact, we are misguided even to think of our opponents in the ‘culture wars’as enemies in the first place. They are not our enemies, but hostages of the Enemy. We have a common Enemy who seeks to destroy us both, by locking them in confusion and by luring us to self-righteous pomposity.”

Whether one is Christian progressive, Buddhist, Muslim or Hindu, one needs to recall: “Culture is not a monolithic power we must defeat. It is the battering weather conditions that people, harassed and helpless, endure.”


TO FIGHT A BEAST OR NOT?

In order to make her case, Mathewes-Green talks about Hollywood and Christians’ relationship to cinema over the past 80 to 90 years.

Among numerous ebbs and flows of culture, religion and politics over the decades, Mathewes-Green notes that it was not the (WTCU) Woman's Christian Temperance Union which dealt a near death blow to the media tradition of exalting at someone’s drunkenness or drunken behavior.

Instead, it was an awareness by the 1970s of how many lives had been destroyed or hurt by alcoholism—not only on the nation’s highways, but in homes and public space, too. This national awareness led both to television and Hollywood making ever more less light of the town drunk.

In such an example, a “so-called prudish point of view on alcoholism” had become a reality in Hollywood and in education in the evolving American cultural landscape in the decades after Prohibition was ended in the early 1930s.

As Mathewes-Green pointedly adds, “when the WCTU is mentioned today, it's still seen as a bastion of prudes and squares. They were not vindicated, even though they turned out to be right. And it may be the same with us. We may always be seen as prudes and squares. Despite this, sexual common sense is likely to re-emerge. . . .So sometimes cultures shift for the better. When so-called fun hurts enough, people stop doing it.”

In Mathewes-Green is stating that perhaps when enough families have been wrecked, enough abortions taken place, and enough lives destroyed, society will move on to a more appropriate equilibrium in dealing with sex in the public and private spheres of America—an equilibrium which we observe more in European states today than we do in Hollywood these days.


TAKING THE LONG VIEW
Referring to a quote from Mark Twain, Mathewes-Green notes that “everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it. I think much of our frustration is due to trying to steer the weather, rather than trying to reach individuals caught up in the storm.
She adds, “It's possible to influence weather within limits, to seed clouds for rain, for example. And it is right for us to consider what we can do to provide quality fiction, films, and music, and to prepare young Christians to work in those fields. We can do some things to help improve ongoing conditions. But it is futile to think that we will one day take over the culture and steer it. It's too ungainly. It is composed of hundreds of competing sources. No one controls it.”
The good news is that we often don’t have to steer the ship.
Mathewes-Green points out that often a culture “is already changing—constantly, ceaselessly, seamlessly—changing whether we want it to or not, in ways we can't predict, much less control. If you take the cultural temperature at any given moment, you will find that some of the bad things are starting to fade, and improvement is beginning to appear; simultaneously, some good things are starting to fall out of place, and a new bad thing is emerging.”
I think the discussion on rap and hip-hop lyrics in the past few years have been an example, whereby those in the music industry and the listening community have begun to reorient the language, the message and inadvertent messages of the genre. (This has occurred after two decades of trends in the past which promoted fairly no-holds barred exploitation of this medium among the target audiences.)
With time and age, things do shift within and without one’s culture and community.

LOOKING AT THE OLDER CLASSICS
One suggestion for all of us is to occasionally refer to older books, classics, film and material—rather than getting caught up in a tit-for-tat cultural war today. Mathewes-Green discussed how one of her own favorite classic films was the 1935, “It Happened One Night”.
By referring to that classic film from today’s perspective, the author could recognize all kinds of cultural and gender biases in this film--which those of the 1930s audience scarcely took note of.
The point, Mathewes-Green is making to us all—i.e. of whatever political or social or religious preference is: “Sure, you can make yourself read the contemporary magazines and authors you disagree with, but even they share the same underlying assumptions. It's as if we see our ‘culture war’ opponents standing on the cold peak of an iceberg. From our corresponding peak, all we can discern between us is an expanse of dark water. But underneath that water, the two peaks are joined in a single mass. The common assumptions we share are invisible to us, but they will be perceived, and questioned, by our grandchildren.”
Mathewes-Green warns all Christians of the need to get a hold of some older books—preferably 50 years and older—in order to really get a perspective on how our culture is today and how the cultures of our grandparents were.
We may discover that we are closer to our so-called cultural enemies today than to our grandparents. Likewise, we might gain a whole new perspective on the problems of our day by looking at how these elders of earlier generations faced the world and interpreted it. Or, we may simply find nuggets of truth that we were unaware of or had long-ago forgotten about.
Mathewes-Green cites C.S. Lewis who wrote, “Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.”
I for one am happy that Upton Sinclair’s works have made a return to Hollywood.
Sinclair’s 1920s book, OIL was made into a well-done film just last year. During his lifetime, Sinclair’s fictional works were translated into 75 languages by the 1930s—yet most Americans living today have never read a single one of his many works.
Sinclair tells an American multi-cultural story that is very reminiscent of the world we face today.
In turn pacifist and counter-culture Americans have not read classics, such as Daniel Berrigan and Robert Coles’ THE GEOGRAPHY OF FAITH. Others have not read Ghandi or other classic thinkers of faith, progressive action, communities of sustainable development, and peace.
ENCOURAGING DISCUSSION
I’d like to encourage readers now to take time, comment, and share below in the comments section which classic books, film and media should be known today—i.e. recognized as a corpus of classic materials that people of this and subsequent generations need to know about in our struggles—whether cultural struggles, activist oriented ones, or more introspective in nature.
Simply, state the genre, the material or media’s name/title/author/director and to whom it would be beneficial!








NOTES

Mathewes-Green, Frederica, “Loving the Storm-Drenched”, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/march/10.36.html?start=5

Stoda, Kevin “Book Review of a Classic: Daniel Berrigan and Robert Coles’:
THE GEOGRAPHY OF FAITH”, http://the-teacher.blogspot.com/2007/04/book-review-of-classic-geography-of.html


“There Will Be Blood: How Upton Sinclair Inspired the Acclaimed Film”,
http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/574051/there_will_be_blood_how_upton_sinclairs.html

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