Saturday, January 20, 2007


The Cheap Rhetoric of Culture War

You may or may not recall Jerry Falwell's remarks on Sept. 13, 2001 blaming liberals for the attacks two days earlier.

"I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way - all of them who have tried to secularize America - I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen,'" Falwell said to Pat Robertson in a guest appearance on Robertson's "700 Club."

Most of us not on the Right quickly wrote off these comments as the rantings of the goofball that we Falwell to be. But the Right persists with this notion that the alleged "anything goes" spirit of the Left is to blame for the attacks of 9/11. Dinesh D'Souza now makes the same assertion, albeit lacquered over with a pseudo-scholarly veneer, in his new book, "The Enemy At Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11." The book is apparently so bad that customers give it an average review of 2 1/2 stars (I'm sure right-wingers will now claim that Amazon has a liberal bias). Have you ever heard of a customer review so poor on Amazon?

D'Souza writes: "I am saying that the cultural left and its allies in Congress, the media, Hollywood, the nonprofit sector, and the universities are the primary cause of the volcano of anger toward America that is erupting from the Islamic world."

It brings to mind "Culture Warrior," Bill O'Reilly's recent literary effort at spewing self-righteousness and whipping up his wingnut base into a frenzy. I'm sure you've heard about his new lexicon he's imposed on us concerning "traditionalists" (people who love America and God, drive pickups and listen to country music) and "secular progressives" (francophile atheists who drive Volvos and enjoy hot beverages from Starbuck's).

Which brings me to my belated point: Aren't you sick of hearing about the culture war? Do you really believe these guys' sincerity or do you think they're filled with self-serving, sanctimonious crap.

Don't get me wrong, as a teacher, I hate that our kids are exposed to movies, television and music are filled with violence and all manner of anti-social, indecent content. I hate that our dumbed-down overstimulated youth culture celebrates so much of what is bad in this world. I can't stand that kids waste so much of their youth playing video games and refuse to pick up books or newspapers. But frankly, I'm also sick of all the contrived, calculated, totally empty culture war rhetoric from conservatives. After 30 years, what has the reletntless, aggrieved outrage of the Falwells, Robertsons, Dobsons and O'Reillys gotten us? Absolutely nothing. Our society is worse off than when these guys first started moaning and complaining in the 1970s. In fact, they've only contibuted to this morass by striving diligently to lower the standards of public discourse and statesmanship.

Hollywood and Madison Avenue won't change. It's a battle we lost a long time ago through the Left's insistence 40 years ago on social de-evolution and the Right's ongoing worship of corporate America and its insistence that anything is permissable in the pursuit of a dollar.

But if you want to know who's really to blame, look in the mirror. In America, the public wants what the public gets. All this garbage that we pretend outrages us we really eat up with a voracious collective appetite. My outrage with Brittany Spears and Paris Hilton is spent, knowing full well that they and their friends won't change. My true outrage is with a lot of the parenting I see these days. Here's what really outrages me:

1. Parents who take their children into R-rated movies.
2. Parents who don't monitor what their children watch on TV.
3. Parents who allow their children unrestricted Internet usage.
4. Parents who turn their children's bedrooms into self-contained entertainment centers.
5. Parents who allow video games to take over their house.
6. Parents who let their children stay up until all hours, who think nothing of pulling their kids out of school for a whole week because the lines are shorter at Disney World in January.

If you want to fight a culture war - and sadly, I don't think very many Americans really want to - let's start fighting it at home. Let's start acting like grownups. Don't restrict TV and video games. Throw the damn things out and start really interacting as a family. I hear so many parents talk about how hard it is to raise kids in todays environment, and I realize that many parents are heroically and truly acting as adults and building character and values into their children. Sadly, I'm also convinced that most parents either aren't trying hard at all or harbor good intentions and show poor follow-through. Perhaps this is all cheap talk from one who has chosen, at least for now, to be childless. But then again, parenthood is a conscious choice, and with that choice comes a deep responsibility to step up and be adult.

But let's face it, most Americans won't have any of that, because such radical steps require sacrifice and character, and that's no fun. Falwell and O'Reilly know this damn well, and that's why they never point fingers at the average American, but merely at faceless entities like Hollywood. Let Brittany Spears get some character, but don't ask us to give up our Xboxes.

A few points from my right wing, conservative Christian point of view:

1. Falwell may or may not be correct in his statement, but Falwell erred in stating it as a fact. Biblically, sin does lead to destruction, both of the sinner and those around him. The bible says that man is born evil - he naturally is an enemy of God. Out of God's grace, he places his hand on mankind to keep him from being all that he can be in his evil state, and when man test God, that God does lift his hand from time to time to let man experience his "free will" that is displayed in destruction. So God does not cause 9/11, but rather lets it happen for one reason or another. Whether He let it happen because of man's sinfulness or another reason, we do not know.

2. I have a hard time seeing how you connect this, however, to D'Souza's comments that America's sinfulness is the cause of anger from the Islamic world. D'Douza is not claiming to speak for God, or even the Islamics, but rather, point out what the Islamics have told us - that the U.S. is the "Devil" because of its permeating culture of sinfulness that both Christians, Jews, and Muslims believe is against God's will.

3. I'd be careful, if I was you, in calling the right "self righteous" while in the same breath calling them "wingnuts", "goofballs," and "sanctimonious." It might appear that you too, are "self righteous." I would, however, agree with you that many of the secular right, including those who call themselves Christians but never exhibit the hunger for God that goes with the title, are, very often, self righteous. A person who is self righteous comes from a position where he believes himself to be righteous of his own accord. He lacks a realization of his own state of sinfulness and in turn, condemns and judges his brother with ease. Those who have truly been saved from damnation by the death of Christ and have placed their life and trust in Him as a follower, may identify sin, rubuke his brother who is in sin, and seek to make his surroundings better by creating a culture where sin does not thrive, but he is slow to point out how much better he is than his brother who sins openly.

3. To answer you question, I do, believe that James Dobson is sincere and not self righteous. You're right, we can't "win" the culture war. There will always be sin, and sinners will always seek to sin. However, that does not preclude one from fighting a culture that destroys the society its in. As a person, I know I will some day die - there's nothing I can do about that. However, that does not stop me from trying to slow down that process, or prevent my child from running into traffic, because I know that they will someday die. In the same way, as a Christian I'm trying to slow down the death of our society by fighting the "culture war."

Someone once said that the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. Well, evil has triumphed in many areas of American society because the good men were sleeping, and I, for one, think its high time the "good men" woke up and did something.'re right, Mouth, we need to start at home, but, since it isn't the good guys home we need to worry about, then we must fight in the public arena.
Good comments, some that I agree with, others not so much.

1) Falwell, Robertson, and their ilk are just plain foolish. They'd be so easy to ignore at this point, except that the conservative Republican establishment caters and panders to them like lap dogs.

God has given us free will, and he need not throw lightning bolts for us to reap our consequences. 9/11 happened because some evil people made it happen, not because of God's action or inaction.

2)To lend credit to D'Souza's claim sounds like the kind of rhetoric that the Right wrongfully accuses the Left of propogating, that 9/11 is our fault. This sounds like caving in to terrorists' demands. In other words, "Let's form the society the terrorists believe is just, and maybe they won't attack us any more."

3)I agree. I tend to be highly self-righteous, a trait I can't stand in others and yet am guilty of sometimes showing myself. I always pray for guidance in identifying the line between just indignation and sanctimonious finger-pointing. I think we both agree, however, that sometimes people need to take a stand.

4) I certainly put James Dobson several rungs above Falwell and Robertson. When he focuses on how Christians should lead their personal lives, I find his comments to be insightful and thought-provoking. Sadly, however, he has aligned himself with a narrow political agenda that focuses almost exclusively on homosexuality and abortion with an occasional meaningless nod to song lyrics or television.

Many of us are also troubled by the alignment of the Christian Right with the oligarchic corporate wing of the GOP, thereby practically stamping approval on the social and economic injustice and insistence on an unacceptable status quo in our nation. Then don't get me started on the outright corruption of some of Dobson's friends like Tom Delay, Ralph Reed and Jack Abramoff.

Finally, let me say that I believe we have indeed lost the values battle. TV, movies, music, and video games are seductive and overpowering. They have won the culture battle, and no amount of angry diatribe will turn things around. Instead, let's separate ourselves from the mass culture (Sure, many Christians say they do, but they don't really), and raise our children without all this crap interfering.
Mouth said "9/11 happened because some evil people made it happen, not because of God's action or inaction."

911 did happen because of evil people but to deny God's sovereignty in 9/11 is in contradiction to what the Bible teaches. And, like Falwell, you have now professed to be a prophet, knowing what God did or did not do! We DO know that God let 9/11 happen. God is 100 sovereign over the world, and nothing happens without His express will.
God might be 100 percent sovereign, but he gave us free will to do as we wish. Furthermore, to say that God allowed this to happen to punish us is to say that anytime anything bad happens to us, it is because God is punishing us. I'm sure the prisons are full of people relieved that they no longer have to take responsibility for their actions. Their victims must have gotten what they deserved.

Finally, I ask, how is it that liberals say anything critical about our country, usually directed at policy from the Bush administration, and we hate America. Meanwhile, right-wingers can say that God allowed 9/11 to happen as a punishment for our wickedness and they somehow are wonderful patriotic folks who love America? It makes no sense to me.
Good words.
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