As believers we have a responsibility to pursue truth – not politics. Unfortunately, we have been taught to neutralize that responsibility by equating different political issues, parties and candidates with the truth. (We say and honestly believe on a personal level that we don’t do this, but most of us do.) There are consequences to this compromise. It is all too easy for us to observe such consequences upon society at large but we should also be aware and vigilant regarding those consequences upon our own individual souls. This post consists of some personal considerations and standards in the aftermath of the latest battle of America’s culture war.
The Culture War Intensifies
Our society descended into another level of reality television disguised as government and policy during last week’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh hearings. An already tense and polarized American nation experienced our divisions and separations inflamed to new levels of anger, moral outrage, and demonization of the “other” side.
The levels of division in this country have reached unprecedented status. From a historical perspective the American civil war witnessed our nation divided in a literal sense, but the people and national culture of that time period were not as consistently and heavily bombarded with such a saturation of political divisiveness as we are in today’s culture war. Today, every message divides. Today, every message inspires anger and outrage toward the “other” side. We have staked and lost our civility and decency in the lines drawn within this ongoing culture war.
We try to preserve our sanity by isolating to our own echo chambers. The conservatives go to one side. The liberals go to the other side. These echo chambers extinguish any chance for the pursuit of truth or facts and further aggravate the divisions in our culture. We are no longer interested in finding the truth and have long since lost sight of what qualifies as fact. We are interested in our side being right and winning!
This is a dangerous atmosphere.
Oppressed by the Media
I was struck last week by how oppressive the news and reporting became. Going to my social media feeds and my news and podcast feeds inspired a sense of dread. I was at the same time tired of the arguing but also really needed to know who was winning the argument.
Commentators whose thoughts and opinions I usually respect contributed facts to the debates that in the end proved untrue and poorly informed. Commentators and news outlets who I tend to question and hold with suspicion amped up their volume and outrage to storm the boundaries of professional integrity and the remnant standards of objective journalism.
The gravitational pull of the media last week was both infuriating and exhausting.
What Am I Becoming
In Galatians 5 Paul presented two mutually exclusive sets of characteristics. One is classified as the works of the flesh (verses 19-21) and one is classified as the fruit of the spirit (verses 22-23). I am listing the two different sets of characteristics and emphasizing a few items in each list here:
Works of the Flesh
Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Fruit of the Spirit
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
In the meltdown and wastelands of last week’s most recent battle of the culture war I was definitely not sensing joy, peace, kindness or gentleness (fruit of the spirit) within my heart and mind. I was getting worked up. I was being seduced by my news streams and information sources toward a posture of anxiety, unrest and an internal perspective that was all too easily tilted toward hatred, contentions, outbursts of wrath, and especially dissensions (all works of the flesh).
Many have responded to these pressures and anxiety of our divisive age by simply turning off the news and information and becoming less informed. They opt for a lifestyle in which ignorance is bliss. This sounds like a good idea on the surface but in my experience such people are even more easily manipulated and led astray in the long run.
Adding to this, I have a natural caution toward responses to our environment that are built upon extremes. Fight or flight responses define how animals instinctively respond to pressures within their environments. They either confront it and go to war or they avoid it and hide away. We are not animals. Believers should be operating at a higher and more developed level of engagement with the world God has placed us in than one driven by instincts and personal survival mechanisms. Our engagement should not be based upon either fighting or hiding. This engagement should not only be strategic but also purposeful.
I do not want to engage with the world around me based upon a fleshly nature. The works of the flesh always end in death after all. Such death may be realized as anxiety or stress or destruction in my relationships. Death is the definite end result I will encounter if the works of the flesh become the operating system by which I interface with the world around me.
I want to engage based upon the Spirit of God living inside of me. That pathway ends in ever increasing life and fruitfulness. I can have peace in the midst of the chaos of the culture wars if the core of my operating systems is correct. I have to be led by the Spirit and not provoked by the flesh.
There is a code of conduct which God requires of believers even in the midst of the culture war. Adherence to that code has benefits while failure to follow it results in consequences.
Futility vs Fruitfulness
Recently I have been doing a personal study on productivity and fruitfulness in scripture and this became incredibly relevant as I found myself pressed by the environment of the culture war last week.
God’s desire for mankind is that we be fruitful. He created us to operate at that level. His first speaking to man included a charge to be fruitful. His initial blessing upon man distinguished us from the animals and included a drive and capacity toward productivity and fruitfulness. There is a reason why anxiety, depression, and hypertension usually coexist with boredom, lethargy, and idleness. We were not made to operate that way. Mankind was made to be productive and fruitful.
To maintain productivity and fruitfulness we have to carefully manage where we devote our attention and focus. In scripture, the opposite of productivity and fruitfulness is futility and worthlessness. Futility and worthlessness are recognized as those areas and places of focus within life that acquire the same attention and energy as other areas but do not yield the return that productivity and fruitfulness does.
Idolatry for example was frequently associated throughout scripture as being worthless, futile and useless. Idolatry invited mankind to give attention and focus to a piece of rock or wood but there would be no corresponding return. The human heart does not develop here. The mind does not grow. There is no increase or fruitfulness in the life of the person who has devoted themselves to that which is useless and futile.
Our modern age has a lot of temptation toward futility. From binge-watching television to being caught in one of those marathon sessions trolling your friends on Facebook, it is very easy to find hours of our life missing with nothing to show for them. When we move in that direction we move away from that which gives us contentment and a sense of inner stability and strength. We were not made to operate for long periods in arenas of futility. We were designed to be fruitful and productive.
The question then becomes, is my attention within the culture war one that leads to productivity and fruitfulness or futility? Am I increasing in both knowledge and wisdom or decreasing into anxiety and stress as I encounter the chaos of the world around me?
I believe keeping informed and constantly honing my perspectives regarding the world God has placed in me is one aspect of maintaining fruitfulness and productivity in my life. This belief is supported by my values and the sense of purpose instilled within my heart by my Creator.
But there must be managed boundaries even to this.
The nihilist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said it this way:
“Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster… for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.”
Reading the news, keeping informed, maintaining awareness, developing perspective is essential to my personal sense of productivity and fruitfulness. But as I experienced last week, there comes a point where oversaturation begins to take hold. The abyss stares back. I am a spiritual being, created by God and born with a purpose. There is a correct manner in which I should interact with the news and outrage of the culture war. I should not be subjected to it or assaulted by it. I should be living from a higher plane above it. I can observe it. I can assess it. I can discern it. I should not be victimized by it.
When those boundaries begin to be crossed, I have stared too long into the abyss. That is when it is time to shut down the news intake, the social media browsing, and the discussions. My personal awareness and application of those boundaries are essential to maintaining productivity and fruitfulness in my life. They are essential for maintaining a posture in which the fruit of the Spirit can be cultivated rather than the works of the flesh.
Round 2 is Coming!
The culture wars are not going to ease up this week. The volume, the provocation, the demonizing, it is all going to increase in the course of this week. Our media has a financial interest in this occurring. Our political leaders and want to be leaders have self-interest and power staked to this. It is going to get worse not better!
As believers we each have different perspectives on who is right and who is wrong in the culture wars. Those perspectives are important but they are not THE most important thing.
Jesus explained the principle simply to us in Mark 7:15: Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”
When our heart becomes corrupted, and it is easy for that to happen in these battles of the culture war, even a right and strong perspective can defile us. We must guard our hearts in the culture war. This is the principle thing. If the heart is not guarded we will fail to be light in the midst of darkness.
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:13-16