On Being Unsurprised by Cultural Decay

Rob Schwarzwalder is Senior Vice President at Family Research Council. This article appeared in Religion Today on October 9, 2013.

The only Americans who should be shocked anymore by our cultural debasement are those who have not been paying attention to the country we have become. There is very little left that should shock or surprise anyone.

The catalog of coarseness is exhaustive. Masturbation is aped on national television as a form of hilarity. Roughly half of all men in the U.S. look at, or are addicted to, pornography; the percentage of women is lower but climbing. The killing of the more than 3,000 unborn children who are aborted daily hangs like an anvil on the national soul. The concept of childhood innocence has been reduced to preventing the sexual abuse of girls and boys; that it could refer to such things as ignorance of sexually explicit information or the happy trust a child offers the world at large evidently is too much to ask.

In the arts, crudeness often substitutes for creativity. Use terms like "good, true and beautiful" and the groans of the post-modern elite can be heard for miles around. Purportedly sophisticated language theory renders straightforward statements incomprehensible.

Most of us still frown upon incest, the sexual abuse of children, and public performance of sexual acts. Yet even these are not universal convictions; search any of these issues online, and one will find that each is advocated by a surprisingly large and articulate collation of persons and groups.

Public shame is almost unknown and modesty is more foreign than the burka. Our media continually make the unspoken but clear and insistent argument that sexual pleasure (a) is the chief end of man and (b) has no meaningful consequences when indulged (c) through whatever means the radically autonomous individual wishes to pursue.

To the discerning Christian, these things are not just troubling but deeply painful. The statistics on divorce, cohabitation, abortion, out-of-wedlock births, addiction to drugs or alcohol, etc. are indisputable proofs of a people in moral free-fall. Our indignation is tempered by a humble grief; even the redeemed struggle too much with sin, and we have done too little to stop the cascade of sludge seeping into all aspects of our culture.

Yet thankfully, Jesus did not instruct His followers to pray, "Give us this day our daily lament." There is much to decry, but this also means that there are many opportunities to serve. The ongoing corrosion of our culture should be an incentive to minister Christian grace and truth to those so in need of them.

Additionally, we should never lose heart. We do not know if God will take the "prophetic minority" so aptly described by Russell Moore and use it to bring great change to our nation. And we also know that whatever the course of history, the Lord of heaven and earth is guiding and controlling it. We can depend on, and rest in, that great truth.

It remains disappointing that too often, many in the believing church are so self-preoccupied that they are startled by reports of vileness and irreverence in popular culture and the college classroom. Many Christians are shocked when they learn of the breadth and depth of cultural decline, but they shouldn't be. The televised prurient antics of the pitiful Miley Cyrus should come as no surprise to anyone. Her kind of performance is readily and regularly available on MTV at any time, and given that all but a relative handful of homes have cable television, it's likely that her performance was, to millions of Americans, rather old-hat.

Who are we kidding? Network television relies substantially on the supposed comedy of illicit and/or deviant sexual partnerships to maintain audience share. Among our most popular books are those featuring adultery and vampirism. And to suggest that something might not just be "inappropriate" but "wrong" is to violate an unspoken pact with the forces of relativism to which all thoughtful people are supposed to adhere.

To express surprise upon learning of a university forum for "porn stars," the inability of high school students to differentiate between honor and self-gratification, "music" that glorifies misogyny, murder and mayhem, and the epidemic of alcoholism among adolescents is only to reveal one's inattention to the society around us.

It is in this cultural milieu, one in which the line between decline and fall is becoming more and more difficult to distinguish, that Christians can provide the light and warmth and clarity of the Gospel and live out its tenets with countercultural abandon. To stand with and for Christ is to affront the zeitgeist and, as a result, cannot but come with cost.

And there is still a surprise that is new every morning: the God of the Bible offers redemption to persons enmeshed in sin. That includes you and me. This message should for all followers of Jesus be a daily reminder that as long as God exists, there is hope for individuals and peoples. Joy never ceases to surprise.