The Importance of Cultural Awareness (pt. 3)
(Continued from The Importance of Cultural Awareness pt. 2)
If it is difficult for us to understand our own culture, imagine the horrors an alien would experience in trying to sort it out. Imagine a real life extraterrestial visiting our nation and trying to understand our behavior at the Stock Exchange or the Super Bowl. It would be something like the Martian who was ordered to observe our sporting games and report back to his superior. When his mission was accomplished he turned in his report about football, baseball, basketball, hockey, boxing, car racing, and others. Then he mentioned the strangest game of all. It was a game men played with sticks and a little white ball. His superior asked the name of the game. The Martian replied, “I think it’s called, ‘Oh, * #@!’ ” He explained that men took clubs and swung at this little ball and after each swing declared, “Oh, * #@!”
The confusion of ideas and viewpoints became a national crisis when the Supreme Court ruled on the volatile issue of prayer in the public schools. The basic principle in view was that a religious view of life should not be imposed on the people by the state in a public schoolroom. The problem was that the only option to a religious viewpoint was a nonreligious viewpoint. If the state propagates a religious viewpoint the nonreligious people feel discriminated against. If the state propagates a nonreligous viewpoint then the religious people feel discriminated against.
The solution to the crisis was formulated in the concept of a “neutral” education. A neutral education is one that is neither proreligion or antireligion. It is neither pro-God nor anti-God. It seeks to keep God out of educational issues. The only problem with the solution is that the ideal is impossible. There is no such thing as a neutral education. Every education, every curriculum has a viewpoint. That viewpoint either considers God in it or it does not. To teach children about life and the world in which they live without reference to God is to make a statement about God. It screams a statement. The message is either that there is no God or that God is irrelevant. Either way the message is the same—there is no God. An irrelevant God is the same as no God at all. If God is, then He must be relevant—to His entire creation.
The pastor of a local congregation announced good news to his people. The church was experiencing rapid growth and the church building was now too small to accommodate them. The church was located in an area where property was selling at premium prices, costing about $100,000 an acre. The building committee had tried desperately to find acreage at an affordable price, but there was no land available near the church. Time after time they had approached landowners but none was willing to sell. The pastor told the story:
I have good news. As you know, we have prayed that God would open doors for us. We decided to approach a particular landowner one last time who has repeatedly turned us down. When we went to him he had just experienced an unexpected turn of events with a parcel of ground. He agreed to sell it to us and to donate four hundred thousand dollars of the purchase price!
The pastor said it was an answer to prayer. Was it? He said that God had opened the door for the property. Had He? What happened here? Was this a case of divine providence at work or was it merely the mortal machinations of a business deal? If there is no God then the answer is easy—it was a sheer human deal and any appeal to Providence is a delusion. If there is a God who answers prayers then the pastor was correct in calling his congregation to a spirit of gratitude before God.
How we understand the incident depends on how we view the world we live in. It depends on whether we think God is sovereign over life or if we think nobody is home in heaven.
Christians or Pragmatists?
Most of us are inconsistent about such matters. Our viewpoint comes from the melting pot. We get mixed up. Our pot has a dash of faith and a dash of skepticism. We are at once religious and secular. We believe in God, sometimes. Our religion has elements of superstition at some times and is tempered by sober science at other times. We are at the same time Christians and card-carrying pragmatists. On Sunday we say the creed. On Monday we are fatalists. We try to separate our religious life from the rest of our life. We live by holding contradictory beliefs. Living in contradictions can be exciting. Life is surely more than logic. But the contradictory life is a confusing life, a life of inconsistency and incoherence. Its bottom line is chaos.
We are inconsistent and confused because we fail to understand where Christianity ends and paganism begins. We do not know where the boundary lines are. Consequently we traffic back and forth across the lines, making forays between darkness and light. We are lost in our own culture, swirling around in the melting pot while somebody else has his hand on the spoon. We’re not sure whether we are the witnesses or the ones being witnessed to. We don’t know if we are the missionaries or the mission field.
It was Socrates who said that the unexamined life is not worth living. To examine one’s life is to think about it. It is to evaluate. To evaluate requires examining values and value systems. We all have values. We all have some viewpoint about what life is all about. We all have some perspective on the world we live in. We are not all philosophers but we all have a philosophy. Perhaps we haven’t thought much about that philosophy, but one thing is certain—we live it out. How we live reveals our deepest convictions about life. Our lives say much more about how we think than our books do. The theories we preach are not always the ones we actually believe. The theories we live are the ones we really believe.
I once heard a sermon entitled “Christians, Think!” The exhortation contained the repeated refrain, “Christians, Think!” The comma is crucial. The preacher was not telling us that Christians are people who think. He was summoning us to be Christians who do think. The purpose of this book is to help us think about prevailing viewpoints in our culture.
We will be examining perspectives on life in the chapters that follow. These perspectives are existentialism, humanism, pragmatism, positivism, pluralism (and its corollary, relativism) and hedonism. All are, to varying degrees, affecting the way Americans think and act today. As Christians we are being bombarded daily by the influences of these philosophies. I doubt if there has been a period in all of Christian history when so many Christians are so ineffectual in shaping the culture in which they live as is true right now in the United States. Perhaps it is because we are intimidated and overwhelmed by the onslaught of these different philosophical systems. Combating this onslaught is a major challenge facing Christians today.
This is part three of R.C. Sproul’s book Lifeviews first published by Revell in 1986. In this series we are learning how Christians are called by God to make an impact on culture and society.