Friday, August 12, 2011

Ambition, Culture, and Influence

For my first real blog I figured I'd give insight into what prompted me to start blogging as well as how it may encourage you.  It was staff meeting here at Carolinas Counseling Group and it was Linda McGrew, one of the founding partners', turn to share with the group.  I have been here over nine months and have effectively dodged having to present anything to the group as of yet - mostly because I feel like an elementary school student being asked to present to a bunch of Nobel prize scientists my science fair project volcano.  She spoke about the most recent conference she went to sponsored by the CS Lewis foundation where she went to Cambridge and Oxford for like 10 days and got to do cool stuff like eat in the big dining hall from Harry Potter, though she claims candles did not float and ghosts did not speak to her.  There were numerous speakers like Os Guiness and Chuck Colsen, and the theme was Paradigms of Hope: Transcending Chaos and Transforming Culture.  The gist I got from it that was pretty interesting is that we usually think of culture as what the majority of people in a given population think and feel, and that if these beliefs are good and godly we will have a good culture, or not.  That a few major important people influence culture and that most of the power to transform culture lies within elected government officials.  So as Christians we should just convince as many people as we can to believe like we do, vote good Christian people into office, and sit back and watch our nation's culture transform into a Christian utopia.  Problem is that most all of that is complete bunk.    In the 60's 98% of the population claimed to believe in God, currently it is still at 88% yet our culture is increasingly secular - so maybe the majority really doesn't rule.  The Jewish race has never made up more than 3% of the American population yet Jewish-Americans have had a hugely disproportionate impact on American culture it's entire history - films, art, science, entertainment, education, etc.  Homosexuals only constitute about 1.4% of the American population, and while I am no conspiracy theorist about some sort of an agenda, it is clear that our culture is saturated with references to homosexuality.  Most of the major political, legal, and cultural victories for homosexuals were gained during the Reagan and Bush administrations, so apparently just electing conservative leaders doesn't create a conservative culture.

The assertion of Os Guiness at the conference is that culture can better be seen as a resource that is produced and used as a source of power much like money.  This, of course, reminds me of the video game series Civilization where your options for conquering the world are military, economic, scientific, or cultural victories - where towns produce culture based on great people, wonders, etc and this culture is quantified and seen as a source of power.  From this model a college degree doesn't make you any smarter than a person without a degree but it does give you more cultural capital and therefore more ability to impact american culture.  A degree from Harvard may not be quantitatively better than a degree from NC State, but it grants a lot more cultural capital.  Kirk Cameron may do a much finer job acting in Fireproof than Growing Pains, but the one on nationally syndicated television impacts our culture more.  So culture is produced by institutions, is represented by famous people, and is powered by a strong financial base - Billy Graham is a great evangelist but it is the network formed around him and the initial financial backing of William Randolph Hurst that propelled him from backwoods preacher to cultural icon.

What does this mean for me or for you?  The ability to really change our world doesn't actually lie in supporting another politician or party or agenda, but to do our individual bests to leverage our cultural capital for God's kingdom.  Having the right beliefs and voting for the right people do not equate to changing the world, but rather using the gifts God has given us in the positions he has placed us while accruing as much cultural capital as possible has the ability to impact the world.  So why do we as Christians not do this?  We avoid power, influence, and notoriety because we see them as bad or worldly - we even openly criticize and mock Christian leaders who attempt to accomplish big things and become a part of culture.  We criticize pastors for promoting their church through advertising, or for having a large church budget, or for attempting to invade and infect American culture.  We encourage intelligent Christian students to stay close to home or go to small Christian schools rather than encouraging them to apply to Harvard.  We applaud people who remove their kid's from society and insulate them in a bubble for as long as possible.  We fear that culture and power are evil and will corrupt us when we as Christians possess the hope of the world and the power of the resurrection within us so if we believe God is more powerful that the world why do we work so hard to keep him out of it?

I would argue that the creation of a separate and distinct Christian subculture in America has done far more to secularize America than any evil cultural icon we could blame.  By creating our own music, films, clothing, schools, etc we have shot ourselves in the foot for being able to truly impact culture.  We become obsolete, isolationist, and an afterthought while secular influences are the only ones left in the only institutions that really matter when it comes to shaping our world.  It was years ago, I think at a Catalyst conference, where I first heard the concept that maybe if we really want to help shape America into more of a Christian nation then rather than isolating ourselves in a Christian ghetto we would do better to try and be the next Stephen Spielberg or Dr. Phil or Oprah - because they and the institutions behind them are what is truly shaping America.

So maybe it is false humility for me or you to think we have no platform, nothing to say, and no power.  I could easily just be a loving and devoted father and husband and miss out on the opportunities God gives me to impact the world.  So thus a blog - I will begin impacting people virtually and who knows where it may lead - I may get my doctorate or write a book or some other way to penetrate our culture.  The same can be said for you - how can you be like Esther or Joseph or Moses or the many other Biblical examples of people who leveraged their cultural capital and power to be used by God in big and powerful ways.