The objective of warfare is to exert superior power to achieve some advantageous outcome against an enemy or adversary - or defensively speaking, to prevent such an outcome. We are used to thinking about wars that centrally involve military conflict. This has certainly been the case as we think of significant wars that established our nation (the Revolutionary War), preserved our nation’s union (the Civil War), and protected it from significant military aggression (e.g. World Wars I, II).
Not all wars involve military conflicts, however. For several decades, our nation has experienced a cultural sort of warfare. It has involved conflicts over what norms and standards should govern acceptable social discourse within our society. These have been named, culture wars. The term culture is a rather nebulous term. It can refer to the temporal affairs of the life of an individual, a group, or a whole society. It can embrace a people’s language, habits, beliefs, customs, social organization, and technologies. Culture expresses a people’s values, especially what is understood as good and important in the temporal and material spheres of life.
Culture involves a uniting of plural values and endeavors. Within the history of our nation, culture has included the cultivation of religion and eternal values largely shaped by the Christian worldview. These cultural foundations are reflected in many our nation’s founding documents, countless memorials, statuary, and plaques. They are confessed in the Pledge of Allegiance (one Nation under God) and declared on our currency (in God We Trust). Currently, culture warfare is being waged against our country’s founding values, ethical standards, and the importance of the exercise of faith. The cutting edge of this conflict has been over acceptable social discourse and the enemy is understood to be the influence of Christianity.
There is common agreement about the symbiotic relationship between language and culture. Language shapes culture and culture shapes language. It is commonly held that language exerts the greatest influence over the shape of culture. Yes, the pen is mightier than the sword. Change how people talk and you will eventually change how they will think and act. The power of language to shape thought and behavior is the greatest in the initial formation of social discourse in small children. In today’s culture wars, ideological progressivists and revolutionaries use language to transform and reshape our culture, especially targeting our children.
Proponents of atheistic, progressive, and socialist ideologies dedicated to transforming American culture have employed Postmodern strategies to reshape our language into a reflection of their philosophical and social values. Their focus is especially to transform and replace social discourse that traditionally has been shaped by the Christian worldview. Language shaped by the faith of Christ’s Church is their enemy.
Postmodernism holds that all meaning of legitimate language is only a function of its usage. Words mean what we choose them to mean and nothing more. Therefore, language is abused when employed to convey alleged truth, goodness, or beauty in any universal or absolute sense. Meaning in language is relative to its usage within a culture. Truth, goodness, and beauty are therefore multicultural – none superior or inferior to others. Taken as a whole, language constitutes a story or narrative of a given people’s view of what things mean and their significance. Metanarratives should be questioned for their appeals to universal reason. . There is no timeless trans-cultural meaning or significance of things as reflected, for example, in language shaped by the Christian worldview.
Are the contours of our contemporary culture wars beginning to come into focus? Progressive and radical Postmoderns have weaponized language to eliminate from social discourse all elements of meaning, purpose, and value traditionally shaped by Christianity. Their target population is especially the young, including our young. They conduct their warfare by engaging in three interrelated strategies: deconstruction, marginalization, and identification.
Deconstruction involves associating unacceptable words, concepts, and meanings with commonly understood negative and repulsive designations. The goal is to eliminate their usage. Language is deconstructed by closely associating it with such repulsive things as bigotry, hate speech, racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, etc. Such words are then replaced with terms and ways of speaking that are deemed respectful and appropriate. Deconstruction began some decades ago where political correctness, for example, required replacing Merry Christmas with Happy Holidays. Today, deconstruction efforts have greatly intensified. They include the demand that sexual and gender designations (including the use of adjectives and pronouns) be disconnected from biology to reflect individual personal choice. To do otherwise in social discourse, sermons, and Christian education is condemned as hate speech.
Today we need to promote almost the reverse – to talk it like they walk it – the know-how and courage to engage in social discourse that reflects the truth of God’s revelation.
Closely related is the strategy of marginalization, a tactic that exerts social pressure to conform to the program of language deconstruction. Those who continue to use deconstructed language are stigmatized as lacking in education or mental health, or both. Such people receive the identification of bigots, haters, racists, Nazis, homophobes, xenophobes etc.
Additional social pressure has tended to follow the advice of behavioral studies expert Cass R. Sunstein (Nudge, How Change Happens). For desired social change (including matters of language usage), some people need to be given a nudge. If a nudge does not work, they need a push. If a push does not work, perhaps a shove, then perhaps . . . they may need to lose their job or some other important affiliation. The radical demonstrations and riots of late fit well into this strategy and have instilled fears in many of poverty, pain, and even death.
How should Christians respond? The Church has well understood its pedagogical task to teach the baptized appropriate language for the confession of faith and the confession of sin. It has molded consistent language formation for worship, prayer, and personal devotion. However, our families and churches have largely seceded the formation of acceptable social discourse to public education, social media, entertainment, temporal authorities, and the like. As these have been taken over by Postmodern progressive ideologies, our people (especially our children) are being taught and influenced to engage in everyday language that is devoid and increasingly antithetical to the Christian worldview and the faith into which we are baptized. Especially for the young, the threat to spiritual health cannot be minimized.
When the habitual use of anti-Christian discourse and thought categories conflict with the faith, a tension develops that can work to call into question the meaningfulness of life in Christ. Faith life can become progressively hollow, disconnected, and irrelevant to the experiences of daily life and what seems important. Is it not time that our Christian homes and churches become more proactive in counteracting our contemporary culture war adversaries and their strategies to transform the language and thinking of our people?
In the old days, we challenged our young people to walk it like they talk it. Today we need to promote almost the reverse – to talk it like they walk it – the know-how and courage to engage in social discourse that reflects the truth of God’s revelation. Because the surrounding culture will not, parents and servants of the word need to develop ways and means to translate the faith into appropriate social discourse and urge its use. Will our people, including our children, have to pay a price for doing so? Probably so, and more so probably up the way. Thus, we also need to make the case. We need to teach our people why doing so and paying the price are worth it. “What profit does a person have to gain the whole world and yet lose his soul” (Mark 8:36)?