In a previous post (found here), the idea of aesthetic and cultural relativism was addressed, and what assumptions are behind such thinking. With this previous post in mind, three analogies encountered in my education come to mind in regards to culture, including that found both inside and outside the church. As a reminder, analogies are by their nature highly generalized and not necessarily perfect, but are useful for seeing general concepts and tendencies. The present author is himself not completely sure about some parts of them. With this said, here are three analogies of why many traditional Christians (such as myself) voice concerns about the state of culture in the west:
1. The Stick-figure and Michelangelo. Imagine for a moment that you know someone who is a master of drawing the childhood stick-figure. These stick-figures are perfectly done, excellent by anyone’s stick-figure standards, and are the best that this person is capable of. One could say, “his heart is in the right place,” as he uses his talents to bring joy to others who only know stick-figures as the most relevant and easy to participate form of visual art. Does this mean that this artist is one the same level of Michelangelo or the Dutch realists? Because “his motivation is pure,” does his art become the work of a master, worthy of being studied, emulated, and placed at the front of western art? Does this mean the average person should be content with only viewing and imbibing stick-figures, because they are easy to do and relate to? The average person laughs at such a scenario (treasuring parents aside), but many people make similar arguments when it comes to other aspects of culture, even if the materials being studied are less obvious. In this case, the medium itself is self-limiting, even if it is done excellently.
2. Skittles. Imagine holding a bag of Skittles. There is nothing inherently evil about the candy (unless you are trying to lose weight perhaps), and they can be enjoyed. They could even save your life when lost in the wilderness or with certain medical conditions. However, they are still Skittles, and certainly should not become a regular part of you diet, or even worse, ever become the majority of your diet (or perhaps we could add McDonald’s for some protein).
Now imagine replacing the “s” on each Skittle with a cross (changing the lyrics), and making sure it is marketed as a Christian product. Does that make the candy healthy? Perhaps if we pray over the Skittles, does that make them nutritious? No doubt God can work miracles, and can use anything for good, but as a general principle, the Skittle (or Big Mac) is still junk food, and should only be enjoyed rarely or in moderation. With this in mind, how does this apply to our fast-food culture?
3. Going on a Date (taken from Kenneth Meyers’ excellent book, All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes):
“…let’s separate three different “cultures” of the preparation and service of food: high (gourmet), folk (traditional home cooking), and popular (fast food)…the categories work as a rough approximation of different food cultures. Most people would agree that fast food has deficiencies that the other two categories do not, not simply in nutritional value or in taste, but in ethos, the way the food is served, consumed, and experienced. Most young men of moderate means trying to make a positive impression on a young woman do not treat her to a meal at the nearest Burger King. They realize there is definitely something missing in the meal’s social experience.
“Now, if every meal you ever ate was from a fast-food joint, would that affect your outlook on the meaning of meals? If there was never any elegance or grace, any ritual or decorum as part of your meals, if all the food you ever ate was delivered to you by a person in a funny-looking hat, and was wrapped in cardboard or styrofoam, would that affect your impressions of the Biblical metaphor of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb?”
These three analogies demonstrate why traditional Christians are concerned primarily not with “words” or “motivation” (although these are certainly important), but with the form or medium of what is being presented itself. In other words, the form or medium communicates a message in and of itself, such as the fast-food dining experience above. I submit that certain churches have adapted the sort of thinking in the analogies above, “baptizing” them in the name of “relevance” or “efficiency.” While none of the items in the analogies are necessarily evil (a mistake some traditionalists make in arguing against specific instruments for example), the argument is that they would be imprudent to use, or especially, imprudent to make one’s majority “diet” of culturally. In this way, it parallels the Apostle Paul’s statement that “everything is possible, but not everything is beneficial” (I Corinthians 10). Any thoughts? How does this impact the Church?
Chart on different forms of culture (related to the Meyers analogy)
Chart on different views of the church (Useful for seeing why evangelicals in particular struggle with this issue. I would argue it is in part because they forget about the second column in particular).