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Why You Must Question the Cultural Orthodoxy

Feb 28, 2017 10:00:00 AM

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Within any culture there’s a certain orthodox set of ideas that aren’t allowed to be challenged or compromised except at great peril.  Some of those are held in common across most, if not all, cultures, such as the idea that killing without justification is wrong.  Others of them are unique to a particular culture, place and time.  In ancient Rome, for example, one of the guiding principles was that of polytheism.  It was perfectly acceptable for someone to worship whatever god they chose to follow, as long as they didn’t make any claims to be the only god.  Obviously Judaism and early Christianity ran afoul of this principle, and as a result they found themselves on the margins of Roman society pretty quickly. 

In the western world today, we also have a set of guiding principles. They’re unspoken, having been taught to us through the media, entertainment and even some educational venues for years.

  • Everyone is equal. 
  • Don’t judge others for anything except judging others. 
  • Life has no intrinsic value apart from its enjoyment. 
  • Believe whatever you want, within the confines of the closed system we’ve established. 

It’s a bit of modern day group-think, and opinions, facts and narratives that violate it are treated as thought-crimes, with discipline enforced by the same social structures that created the problem.

Critics will no doubt note that these same systems, if not these same principles, have been present throughout history in one form or another.  Why is it worth commenting on today?  To this the answer is twofold.  First, we must note that the cultural forces which have propagated the cultural orthodoxy of our age are more pervasive and widespread than ever before in history.  Second, because of a combination of the ability to self select your media choices and the propensity of some communication networks to selectively censor voices they deem unworthy, users are less likely to encounter dissenting voices in a way that allows for any civil or reasonable conversation.  (More on that topic from a story I wrote last year.)

You Shall Not Question the Cultural Orthodoxy

And that’s the problem.  Media today has (as most professions) an established ethos and narrative about their role in society.  It was once, I think, the case that media existed to tell the story of events which were happening in the news.  Some amount of bias is unavoidable, but reporters strove to get the facts first and to get the facts right.  By way of contrast, today’s mainstream media seems to view itself as the shaper of the overall cultural story, determining which messages are acceptable and get heard and which are silenced and ignored.  Step too far out of line, disagree too loudly, push a contrasting story too far and you’re likely to find yourself on the receiving end of a cultural witchhunt, weighed measured and found wanting, in spite of the facts.". 

As the trust in mainstream media continues to decline, the established media sources will grow more frantic in their attempts to enforce the narrative they continue to promulgate.  The further the message is from the established cultural narrative, the faster and more decisively it must be silenced.

You MUST Question the Cultural Orthodoxy

Nothing could be further from our established cultural narrative than the Gospel.  The Bible is clear on a number of culturally insensitive things:

  • Killing people is sin. This applies to people who are like us and to people who are not like us.  This applies to old, sick people, young healthy ones, newborn infants and ones waiting to be born. 
  • We are made male and female for a purpose. Sexuality is a holy and precious gift than cannot be rightly separated from the context of marriage between a husband and wife. 
  • You can gain the whole world, the suburban house, the two and a half kids and live out the American dream, but if you lose your soul, you’ve lost everything.
  • Poor people matter, and we as the Church have a responsibility to make sure they’re cared for and that their needs are met.
  • Creation is a precious gift that’s entrusted to us for our use, stewardship and protection. We must neither idolize nor misuse it. 

Speak out on any one of these topics in a faithful, nuanced, Scriptural way and you’re likely to find yourself misquoted, misrepresented and the target of a very public effort to ensure that your message sounds as ridiculous as possible.

Still, we must keep speaking, faithfully proclaiming the message of Truth given to us in the Word of God.  The media will not be kind to the Church for the foreseeable future (not that it’s ever been super nice…), but that must not change our message.  It should not surprise us when we meet the same fate as those who have gone before us.  The Church has always encountered resistance from the cultural forces which push back against the Gospel.  Today’s means and methods are more subtle, perhaps, than a lion’s maw or a coliseum battle, but the end result doesn’t change.  We live and die in the shadow of the cross.  We have a calling to proclaim truth, regardless of the cost.


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Rev. Bill Johnson

Written by Rev. Bill Johnson

Rev. Bill Johnson serves as the Director of Educational Technology at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne. He’s passionate about finding effective ways to share the Gospel with emerging generations and new ways to use technology to form the next generation of servants for the Church. He lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana, with his wife and three teenage daughters. Please pray for him.

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