Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Truth vs. Culture

A Facebook friend recommended reading Pat Schatzline’s book, I Am Remnant: Discover the power to stand for truth in a changing culture.  I’ve done what I can to learn more about it, and, having learned, it’s probably not a book I will choose to read.  

I do not disbelieve in truth, nor do I disbelieve that God’s truth is revealed in scripture, and it is obvious that culture is changing.  I don’t even have a problem with the existence of certain absolute biblical truths that stand against the equivocations of whatever culture one happens to find one’s self in.  God has revealed those truths over and over:  love God; love neighbor; be a person of integrity; be an agent of healing and reconciliation; walk humbly; do justice, and so on. 

What I do have a problem with is this.  When I hear people talking about the horror of our changing culture, meaning American culture, there is an unspoken assumption that not long ago we had it right, and now we don’t.  There seems to be no recognition that culture is not a thing, but a collection of things that are hard to harmonize and always changing.  There never has been a time when it stood still, or was right.  Culture sort of lurches along responding to social, economic and technological changes in ways that seem predictable only in hindsight.

I only have anecdotal data to work with, but I’ve got seventy years worth from experiences gathered throughout North America, so I feel provisionally safe in making some observations.  One is that many of the acceptable cultural standards being abandoned by the libertine forces of Satan are most often nothing other than whatever felt comfortable and safe in a time that exists mostly in memory and is often fenced in by varieties of prejudice and ignorance.  I can’t help but hear Professor Harold Hill singing about trouble right here in River City whenever the bogey man of cultural change is brought out on stage. 

That is not the same thing as saying that I approve of, or am indifferent to, cultural change in any form.  Some of it, like the ascendency of Tea Party type movements, are frightening.  Other changes baffle me, and I have to withhold judgment.  For instance, our state’s decision to legalize limited recreational use of marijuana bothers me a lot, but I also don’t know what it means in the long term.  Sometimes it takes time to recognize God's truth in the context of cultural change.  It took me over thirty years to discover that God’s truth as revealed in scripture rejoices in gay people who desire to live into the fullness of sacramental marriage.

What really troubles me is that the absolute biblical truth that some people want to stand for in a changing culture is what they have cherry picked from some highly debatable piece of scripture that they have clothed in their own prejudices, and hold with such ferocity that any deviation is attributed to the devil and condemned to hell.  Homosexuality is the current bugbear, followed closely by women’s rights, abortion, and race, although the later is usually cloaked in some other language.  Last week I was confronted by a man who defended God’s absolute truth against evolution, global climate change, and, of course, homosexuality.  He attributed unsavory cultural change and the satanic direction of the church to one or two people I had never heard of, and asserted that Episcopal priests don’t believe in Jesus.  It’s amazing what forms absolute biblical truth can take.

Here’s my take. God knows what absolute truth is.  You and I don’t, but we are not without direction.  Jesus did what he could to guide us toward it.  It looks a lot like a cross and open tomb.  What gets in our way is how easy it is to for us confuse our own biases, and the comfort of imagined cultural equilibrium, as truth. 

I don’t know much about Mr. Schatzline.  Maybe he’s a really nice guy, a fine Christian, and open to honest conversation.  My own prejudices and suspicions, which I must acknowledge,  incline me to want to pull back the curtain and see what is hiding behind that smile and those kind words.  Maybe it’s Harold Hill.  Maybe it’s Bp. Tutu.  I’m pretty sure it’s not Jesus.

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