May 18, 2016

Christian Makes Good Points About Our Cultural Dysfunction

The Church of Holy Spirit in Žehra, Slovakia
The Church of Holy Spirit in Žehra, Slovakia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Admittedly, it is not very often that I read an opinion piece by a self-identified Christian who makes multiple references to some sort of "Holy Spirit" in said opinion piece and find myself in agreement with much of what he or she is saying. For this reason and because it serves as yet another example of the benefits of exposing ourselves to diverse perspectives, I'd like to highlight David Gushee's recent post in his Christians, Conflict & Change series for Religion News Service.

Gushee really seems to believe in this "Holy Spirit" thing he repeatedly references, so I cannot pretend to agree with everything he says here. And yet, I think I can relate to what he's going for when he writes:
Current trends in American politics, culture, and religion are converging in ways so unholy, destructive, and divisive that I am having trouble fighting off cynicism and despair.
If I omit the word "unholy," I can agree with the sentiment. Gushee goes on to say that because he's a Christian, he does not want to sink into "cynicism and despair." As an atheist, I don't particularly want to do so either.

Gushee cites many examples of why he feels "profound concern about the state of our politics, culture, and religion." I agree that most of his examples are troubling, even if I would not put nearly as much emphasis on the presidential campaign of Donald Trump as he does. He refers to the endless culture wars, the constant name-calling, the ineffectiveness of our federal government (from my vantage point in Mississippi, state government is far more broken than anything I see at the national level), and our ratings-obsessed news media. While I cannot bring myself to agree with him about "the coarseness of our entertainment culture," I would note that our entertainment culture has become far too pervasive.
Vulgarity, coarseness, meanness, conflict, division, bitterness, recrimination. Lather, rinse, repeat. Lather, rinse, repeat. This is where we are, and those who write about the intersection of politics, religion, ethics, and culture daily receive full immersion in this toxic bath.
When I first read this, my reaction was something along the lines of, "Here we go again. Another Christian complaining about the imagined moral decline of our culture!" But on a second reading, I think there may be something here. I am not at all bothered by the "vulgarity" or "coarseness" to which Gushee refers, but I think he has a point about the rest of it.

After even more references to some sort of "Holy Spirit," Gushee wraps up his post by saying that he's had enough and is planning to "unplug and go quiet for a month." I think this sounds like an excellent idea, and it is one that I have been considering too. I was thinking more about trying it for a week or two initially to see what it was like, but I find it impressive that he's committing to it for a month at the outset.

So what has stopped me from unplugging? The idea only occurred to me about a week ago. I have been thinking about it, but I have not made up my mind to do it just yet. To some degree, I suppose it strikes me a bit like giving up. I think that's the wrong way to look at it though. What would I be giving up on exactly? It isn't like what I write here is persuading anyone who uses social media primarily to insult others not to do so. And it isn't like anything I have said about reason or freethought is getting through to those who would most benefit from it.

The beauty of unplugging is that it would focus my efforts on the one person over whose behavior I have some control: me. Besides, turning off the cable news in 2012 was so helpful that I can't say I've missed it since.
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