Politicized Culture

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Kerby Anderson examines the politicized nature of American culture, offering the Bible’s antidote of a call to civility.

Social Media’s Role in Politicizing Issues

I think most of us lament how just about everything in our culture has become politicized. We can attribute that to the fact that we live in a nation that is divided. The clash of worldviews is more apparent than ever before.

download-podcastIn this article I want to talk about the politicized nature of our culture. First I would like to look at how technology has accentuated this problem. In a recent column, Daniel Foster points the finger to social media. The title of his column is “Everything All the Time.”{1}

His perspective is simple. “It is no longer the case that technologies of communication merely accelerate the public discourse, they now ensure that every possible public discourse happens simultaneously.” In other words, we don’t hear these comments one after another. We hear every comment all at the same time.

We have always had conflicts and differences of opinion in this republic. But these seem to have intensified because of the means of our communication. We could work through our differences “at a pace consistent with
social cohesion.” Now we “get a no-holds-barred battle royale in which all things are always at stake.”

Football and the national anthem provide a good example. We were told that Colin Kaepernick did not have a job in the NFL because he was either: (a) a terrible quarterback, or (b) was being blackballed by the NFL owners.
Foster argues that the truth was obviously in between: he is a middling NFL talent who might have the job if he didn’t come with so much baggage.

Of course, the discussion quickly moved beyond him to many of the other NFL players that decided to kneel during the national anthem. Either they were presented as saints or traitors. Soon the protests became something else: a referendum on America. Lost in all of that was the reason for the actions of the football players.

The tackle for the Pittsburg Steelers (Alejandro Villanueva) decided to stand for the national anthem with his hand on his heart. As an ex-Army Ranger, he could do nothing less. Yet, he was made a hero by many and criticized by others.

He wasn’t trying to make a statement, and I don’t think he was trying to defy his coach and teammates. He was merely trying to do what he thought was right. He was distressed with how he was being portrayed in the media by both people who approved of his actions and by those who disapproved. He was merely trying to do what he thought was right before playing the game of football.

In this world of new media, everyone’s opinion is available simultaneously. And the most strident opinions are often given more attention because they are the more extreme. There is little time to digest them and evaluate them because they are coming fast and furious.

Politicizing Sport and Education

An NFL player kneeling during the national anthem isn’t the only place where we see a politicized culture.

For example, the controversy over the NFL players seemed to be dying down until President Donald Trump intensified the debate with his speeches and tweets. But politics in sports began long before he became president.

ESPN has been losing viewers, in part, because it has become much more political. Sports journalist Clay Travis put it this way: “Middle America wants to pop a beer and listen to sports talk, they don’t want to be lectured about why Caitlyn Jenner is a hero, Michael Sam in the new Jackie Robinson of sports, and Colin Kaepernick is the Rosa Parks of football.”

In fact, a recent survey validates his conclusions. “The study aggregated 43 different media markets to see the political leanings of ESPN consumers in those markets.”{2} The study found that Republicans were
fleeing ESPN in droves. In the last year, the ESPN audience became 5 percent less Republican and ESPN 2 actually became 10 percent less Republican. The biggest partisan shift happened on ESPN News, whose audience became 36 percent less Republican.

Last week the editors at the Wall Street Journal explained why we need some areas of our life that are not dominated by political thought. “Healthy democracies have ample room for politics but leave a larger space for civil society and culture that unites more than divides. With the politicization of the National Football League and the national anthem, the Divided States of America are exhibiting a very unhealthy level of polarization and mistrust.”{3}

Politics has also been a part of education, especially higher education, for some time. Political correctness led to attempts to prevent certain professors from gaining tenure and kept certain speakers from even being allowed to speak on campus. Universities may say they believe in free speech, but I think we all know that certain religious views and political views are essentially banned from the academy.

Politics has now become part of the business world. Just like on college campuses, we see that certain social and political views are not allowed in the corporate world. Just ask employees at Google and Mozilla who lost their jobs because one wrote a memo about gender and diversity and the other gave a donation to support traditional marriage. No wonder America is so polarized. Nearly everything in our world has become political.

This politicized political environment has moved into nearly every area of life, including the military.

Politicizing the Military

The military might be one arena that you could assume would not be politicized. Unfortunately, we have seen how even the military has been affected by the political environment we find ourselves in today.

We have some examples during the 2016 presidential campaign. Candidate Trump seemed to question the heroism of Senator John McCain when he said, “I like people that weren’t captured.” Trump also belittled the Khan family who criticized him at the Democratic Convention. His approval ratings dropped significantly due to his critical comments about that Gold Star family.

More recently, we have seen the controversy that erupted when a Gold Star wife and a member of Congress complained about the way President Trump talked on the phone to her about the loss of her son. Before it was over, you had the media, members of Congress, and key figures in the Trump administration making comments and charges about what was supposed to be a desire to console a mother who lost her son.

In a recent column, Ben Shapiro reminds us that when we politicize a sacred space in our culture it is a serious problem.{4} He believes it is serious “because no culture can exist without certain cultural capital—trust—and that trust exists only when there are certain spaces in which we can assume agreement without having to ask.”

When there is shared agreement, there is communication and less friction. If every issue becomes contentious, then the chances for miscommunication increase. Also the cost of transactions increases dramatically.

One of the cultural taboos (until recently) have been the politicization of Gold Star families. Their loved ones have paid the ultimate sacrifice, and they certainly deserve to be left alone to grieve and rebuild their lives. They should not be at the center of politicized statements.

President George W. Bush provides a good example of how to respond. You might remember that he was the target of a Gold Star mother by the name of Cindy Sheehan. Instead of opposing her or reacting to her, he allowed her to make harsh political statements and did not respond.

It is worth remembering she alleged that Bush went to war for oil. She even said that Bush sent her son to die to make his oil friends rich. She even camped out near his home in Crawford, Texas to protest him. He showed character and restraint.

Perhaps there is a lesson for us to learn. In this politicized environment, we need to be peacemakers as people of integrity and civility. We should practice restraint because it is often better to turn the other cheek. Sometimes it is better not to respond or retaliate. After all, that is what is what the Bible tells us to do.

Philosophical and Spiritual Roots of Politicizing

Why has nearly everything in society become politicized? We have talked about the role of social media and other cultural factors. Today I would like to look at the philosophical and spiritual reasons.

What we are seeing in our society can also be seen in Western civilization. It is the loss of civility. The two words share the same etymology. The root word means to be “a member of the household.” Just as there are certain rules that allow family members to live peacefully within a household, so there are rules of civility that allow us to live peacefully within a society. Those rules have collapsed in the 21st century.

How can we summarize the principles of civility? I believe Jesus simply expressed the goal of civility when he taught that “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). If we truly love our neighbors, then we should be governed by moral standards that express concern for others and limit our own freedom.

Perhaps that is why civility is on the decline. More and more people live for themselves and do not feel they are morally accountable to anyone (even God) for their actions or behavior. We live in a world of selfishness and narcissism and we aren’t about to let anyone limit our freedom to be ourselves.

Civility also acknowledges the value of another person. Politeness and manners are not merely to make social life easier. We are to treat each other with respect and afford them the dignity they deserve as people created in the image of God. It is improper not to treat them with the dignity they deserve.

Again, this may help answer why civility is on the decline and political divisions seem to be growing. An increasing majority in our society no longer believes in moral absolutes. A significant number do not believe in God and therefore do not believe we are created in God’s image. The moral restraints that existed in the past are loosed. As this crisis of morality and theology unfolds, so does barbarism and decadence. Civility is what is lost from society.

If this is so, then the rise of rudeness and incivility cannot be easily altered. Miss Manners and others have written books about how our nation can regain its civility. But if the crisis is greater than a lack of anners (and I believe that it is), its solution must be found in a greater social change than merely teaching manners or character.

Ultimately, a return to civility must flow out of a moral and religious change. And I believe Christians should lead the way by exemplary behavior. In essence, Christians must be the best citizens and the best examples of civility in society.

The Bible’s Antidote

Let’s turn from the loss of civility and the subsequent rise in a politicized culture to what the Bible has to say about this idea of a civil discourse.

At the heart of civility is the biblical command to love your neighbor as yourself. While it is relatively easy to love people who are your friends or people who are nice to you, the real test of Christian love comes when we are with strangers or with people who are not civil to you. When we find ourselves being criticized in social media or face to face, we shouldstill treat these critics with dignity and respect even if they are not civil to us. Even if they are not gracious toward us, we should not repay them with incivility.

Our duty to be civil to others should not depend on whether we like them or agree with their moral or political perspectives. They may be disagreeable, and we are free to disagree with them, but we should do so by giving grace. Often such a gentle response can change a discussion or dialogue. Proverbs 15:1 reminds us that “A gentle answer turns away wrath.”

Civility also demands that we not retaliate. The Apostle Paul teaches in Romans (12:9, 14, 21) we are to “Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.” Paul goes on to say that we should “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” Finally, he concludes, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Civility also requires humility. A civil person acknowledges that he or she does not possess all wisdom and knowledge. Therefore, one should listen to others and consider the possibility that they might be right and that
he is wrong. Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself.”

Civility also requires that we watch what we say. The Bible clearly warns us of the danger of the tongue in James 3:5-8. We should watch what we say and what we write.

We should work to cleanse our language of harsh, critical, and condemning words. We should rid ourselves of nasty and vulgar language. Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

In summary, we should be a positive example as we engage the world. We should do so with courage, compassion, character, and civility.

Notes

1. Daniel Foster, “Everything All the Time,” National Review, 16 October 2017,
www.nationalreview.com/magazine/2017-10-15-2050/everything-all-time.
2. “Shocking Study Reveals Just How Liberal ESPN Has Become,” The Daily Caller, 24 May, 2017, dailycaller.com/2017/05/24/shocking-study-reveals-just-how-more-liberal-espn-has-become/
3. “The Politicization of Everything,” Wall Street Journal, 24 September 2017,
www.wsj.com/articles/the-politicization-of-everything-1506291118.
4. Ben Shapiro, “Gold Star Families Are Sacrosanct,” National Review, 24 October 2017, www.nationalreview.com/article/453028/honoring-gold-star-families-protecting-innocents-some-things-must-remain-sacred

©2018 Probe Ministries

Kerby Anderson

Kerby Anderson is president of Probe Ministries International. He holds masters degrees from Yale University (science) and from Georgetown University (government). He is the author of several books, including Christian Ethics in Plain Language, Genetic Engineering, Origin Science, Signs of Warning, Signs of Hope and Making the Most of Your Money in Tough Times. His new series with Harvest House Publishers includes: A Biblical Point of View on Islam, A Biblical Point of View on Homosexuality, A Biblical Point of View on Intelligent Design and A Biblical Point of View on Spiritual Warfare. He is the host of "Point of View" (USA Radio Network) heard on 360 radio outlets nationwide as well as on the Internet (www.pointofview.net) and shortwave. He is also a regular guest on "Prime Time America" (Moody Broadcasting Network) and "Fire Away" (American Family Radio). He produces a daily syndicated radio commentary and writes editorials that have appeared in papers such as the Dallas Morning News, the Miami Herald, the San Jose Mercury, and the Houston Post.

 

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