The Acceleration of Culture Shift
Technology and Social Change
As we acknowledge the shift of the focus of design from physical artifacts to living systems, it is interesting to note the theories of one particular philosopher and theologian regarding his historical research and first-hand observations about how ideas tend to filter through a population, based on his understanding of the spread of modern philosophy, artistic movements, music, popular cultural, and liberal theology in Europe and North America.
As a child, I was raised on a steady diet of Christian media. My parents are deeply religious people. They married in 1967, just as North America was experiencing profound social, economic, and political changes. It was in the 1970s that my parents became involved with the Christian evangelical movement in Vancouver, Canada, much influenced by the Christian media industry that was growing in the U.S. My father started a Christian bookstore to sell many of these American cultural exports in the small, middle-class, Canadian suburb where we lived.
Within the evangelical Christian community, Francis Schaeffer came to be a highly respected philosopher, author, speaker, and filmmaker with an authoritative influence on American politics that is reflected in the evangelical culture war surrounding women’s reproductive rights. He had strong ideas about the value of human life that extended to the protection of the environment and the care of God’s creation.
Having moved with his family to a chalet in the Swiss Alps, he and his family were hosts to many young adventurers who were exploring the world of ideas. He would engage in discussions with his guests to explain how the history of philosophy was connected to the art, music, and cultural shifts that came to influence the way people were thinking about spirituality. At the time, the shift was so pronounced Schaeffer referred to the generation gap as a chasm that represented “a change in the concept of truth.”
So this change in the concept of the way we come to knowledge and truth is the most crucial problem, as I understand it, facing Christianity today.
Schaeffer drew a couple lines in history, depending on the geographical location of the culture shift, comparing Europe and the United States. He referred to these historical moments that signalled a shift in a culture’s general conception of truth as the line of despair.
The Line of Despair
The presupposition of antithesis pervaded men’s entire mental outlook. We must not forget that historic Christianity stands on a basis of antithesis. Without it, historic Christianity is meaningless. The basic antithesis is that God objectively exists in contrast (in antithesis) to His not existing. Which of these two are the reality, changes everything in the area of knowledge and morals and in the whole of life.
Notice that I call the line, the line of despair. Above this line we find men living with their romantic notions of absolutes (though with no sufficient logical basis). This side of the line, all is changed. Man thinks differently concerning truth.
In order to understand this line of despair more clearly, think of it not as a simple horizontal line but as a staircase.
- General Culture
Each of the steps represents a certain stage in time. The higher is earlier, the lower later. It was in this order that the shift in truth affected men’s lives.
The shift spread gradually, and in three different ways. People did not suddenly wake up one morning and find that it had permeated everywhere at once.
First of all it spread geographically. The ideas began in Germany and spread outward. They affected the Continent first, then crossed the Channel to England, and then the Atlantic to America. Secondly, it spread through society, from the real intellectual to the more educated, down to the workers, reaching the middle class last of all. Thirdly, it spread as represented in the diagram, from one discipline to another, beginning with the philosophers and ending with the theologians. Theology has been last for a long time. It is curious to me, in studying this whole cultural drift, that so many pick up the latest theological fashion and hail it as something new. But, in fact, what the new theology is now saying has been said previously in each of the other disciplines.
— Francis A. Schaeffer, The God Who is There, 1968.
The Exvangelicals, the Nones, and the “Spiritual-But-Not-Religious”
For those who have grown up in the Protestant Christian subculture of North America, one might remember growing up hearing about the evils of liberal theology. Such warnings were heavily influenced by Schaeffer, one of that time’s leading Christian philosophers.
But, as Schaeffer had observed, the Church was late to the party. The past century had been about the spread of modern ideas of progress, but the identity of the church has most often been that of preserving the traditions of the past. The historical bias has tended to create a lens of the world that favours a romantic view of earlier times.
History Repeats Itself
In my lifetime, the church has swelled in support by creating parallel media institutions to compete with the secular and liberal bias of traditional media. The modern metanarrative did not square with their world view, so the evangelical right created media that agreed with their world view.
However, the church’s numbers have been in decline as the church has reached for political power, while the inconsistencies of their political positions in comparison to the Christian ideals of faith, hope, and love have generated a sense of cognitive dissonance among the faithful. Those who leave claim to have gone through a process of deconstruction.
Interestingly, deconstruction was a philosophy that was a response to the constructions of the modernists, whose grand narrative of technological progress was being questioned.
Over 50 years later, the church is experiencing what the rest of the culture has already been working through in philosophy, art, music, and culture. It appears that Schaeffer was correct in his thesis that the church tends to be the last to realize the cultural shift that threatens their conception of the social order. By resisting new ideas, artistic conceptions of reality, musical influences, and cultural assimilation, it is not surprising that a conservative mind will likely be unaware of what is happening until the world has changed around them. The bent toward willful ignorance is a characteristic and an intellectual habit that is formed by their social identity and isolationist tendencies to live in fear of change and fear of the other. The fear and scarcity mindset that drives this behaviour tends to crowd out the possibility of creative and innovative approaches to life that would likely be to their benefit. According to the North American concept of the ultimate goal of the Christian life, death will destroy the evils of the world and sweep the faithful away to eternal happiness in heaven. In that sense, it is a cult of death.
At least, that is my conclusion as one who has gone through this deconstruction process to arrive at the certainty that there is no such thing as the certainty that comes from basing one’s entire life on a book compiled by a Roman emperor hundreds of years after that empire crucified its own saviour. I have come to conclude that the authoritarianism inspired by the translators of the King James version of this library of literature generated a translation of the kingdom of heaven in the image of the British kingdom. Similarly, Americans have reinterpreted these books in their own image, ascribing themselves as the heroes of their own story, as if they were the liberated Israelite slaves who had discovered the Promised Land.
The previous inhabitants of the North and South American continents would likely tell a different story. It would be a story of conquest, genocide, slavery, and the destruction of the land at the hands of an evil and merciless settler population, who deftly used their sacred text to rationalize their behaviour as the manifest destiny of their god.
It turns out, however, that Jesus was referring to empire, rather than a kingdom. He was declaring himself the emperor of a different kind of empire, an act of subversion against the dominant empire through non-violence, self-sacrifice, and love.
Jesus predicted the fall of Jerusalem, declaring that “not one stone will be left upon another.” The deconstruction of the temple of the faithful would be at the hands of an evil and merciless empire. Evangelical Christians have effectively handed power over their church to an evil and merciless American empire. And they actively oppose those who seek justice through non-violence, self-sacrifice, and love.
Inexplicably, American evangelical Christians may even pine for the days of Roman oppression, if this article from Christianity Today is any indication. I don’t think I will pay to the read the rest of the article. Such rationalization and willful blindness as evangelicals have demonstrated, by hiring a corrupt and immoral CEO to lead their church, is a betrayal of any conception of truth that they might espouse. The truth is plain by observing their actions, apathy, emotional cruelty, and intransigence.
Colonialism, capitalism, and theocracy are the religious orthodoxy of the American evangelical death cult. The Romans appropriated Christianity to serve the Roman empire. Similarly, Americans have appropriated Christianity to serve the American empire.
The process of social deconstruction has been dramatized as a series on HBO, Years and Years.
No stone will be left upon another. In the dissolution of the white evangelical American church, we are witnessing the deconstruction of the American empire by the very people who claim to be its representatives. They are destroying themselves from the inside out.
In the past, the effects of media were experienced more gradually, allowing the individual and society to absorb and cushion their impact to some degree. Today, in the electronic age of instantaneous communication, I believe that our survival, and at the very least our comfort and happiness, is predicated on understanding the nature of our new environment, because unlike previous environmental changes, the electric media constitute a total and near-instantaneous transformation of culture, values and attitudes. This upheaval generates great pain and identity loss, which can be ameliorated only through a conscious awareness of its dynamics. If we understand the revolutionary transformations caused by new media, we can anticipate and control them; but if we continue in our self-induced subliminal trance, we will be their slaves.
Because of today’s terrific speed-up of information moving, we have a chance to apprehend, predict and influence the environmental forces shaping us — and thus win back control of our own destinies. The new extensions of man and the environment they generate are the central manifestations of the evolutionary process, and yet we still cannot free ourselves of the delusion that it is how a medium is used that counts, rather than what it does to us and with us. This is the zombie stance of the technological idiot. It’s to escape this Narcissus trance that I’ve tried to trace and reveal the impact of media on man, from the beginning of recorded time to the present.
— Marshall McLuhan, The Playboy Interview, March 1969.