Culture Wars and Worldview Wars

We are now familiar with the culture wars raging in the Western world. Battles over such things as abortion, or the institution of marriage, are being fiercely contested in many places. And it often seems that the opposing camps will never see eye to eye on the various battleground issues.

But that is because these are not merely battles over moral, cultural and political matters. What is really going on is a conflict of ideologies, or of worldviews. It is the big picture which lies behind the specific culture wars that is the really important thing.

When a person argues, for example, that an unborn baby is simply a clump of cells which can be disposed of by the whim of the mother, that is ultimately a worldview issue. There are all sorts of assumptions being made by the pro-choicer. There are assumptions about what it is to be human, about what constitutes personhood, about the nature of reality and the purpose of life, and so on.

Many of these assumptions may be unspoken as well as not even carefully thought through. They may be assumptions that one has simply picked up along the way, but have not been carefully examined or considered. So when one is debating the issue of abortion, there is much more going on than one’s immediate views on the actual killing of babies. There are the assumptions, presuppositions and worldviews which lie behind such beliefs.

Of course most people are not aware of their underlying worldview or set of assumptions. But they exist nonetheless. They are what really drive the culture wars. As Charles Colson put it, “The world is divided not so much by geographic boundaries as by religious and cultural traditions, by people’s most deeply held beliefs – by worldviews.”

While there are a number of leading worldviews, in many ways one can argue that in the West at least, there are really two main worldview rivals. One is the Judeo-Christian worldview, and the other is the secular humanist worldview. They are battling it out for supremacy, and each worldview is diametrically opposed to the other.

They have radically different views on the big questions of life, such as: What is man? Why are we here? Is there meaning and purpose to life? Is there more to life than the material realm? These big picture questions will of course determine how one looks at the particular issues of life.

Ideas have consequences in other words, and one’s basic ideas will have very real implications for a whole range of issues. In many ways the current Presidential battle in the US reflects this war of worldviews. Sure, there are all the usual culture war flashpoints, but they reflect a much bigger ideological struggle.

Two recent articles by American social commentators help explore what I have been talking about here. Jewish commentator Dennis Prager recently wrote on some of the big differences found between the two main US political parties. He entitled his piece, “There are two irreconcilable Americas”.

In many ways these differences stem from competing worldviews. His whole article is worth looking at, but let me select a few quotes from it. He starts this way: “It is time to confront the unhappy fact about our country: There are now two Americas. Not a rich one and a poor one; economic status plays little role in this division. There is a red one and a blue one. For most of my life I have believed, in what I now regard as wishful thinking, that the right and left wings have essentially the same vision for America, that it’s only about ways to get there in which the two sides differ. Right and left share the same ends, I thought. That is not the case. For the most part, right and left differ in their visions of America and that is why they differ on policies. Right and the left do not want the same America.”

He offers a number of examples: “The left wants America to look as much like Western European countries as possible. The left wants Europe’s quasi-pacifism, cradle-to-grave socialism, egalitarianism and secularism in America. The right wants none of those values to dominate America. The left wants America not only to have a secular government, but to have a secular society. The left feels that if people want to be religious, they should do so at home and in their houses of prayer, but never try to inject their religious values into society. The right wants America to continue to be what it has always been – a Judeo-Christian society with a largely secular government (that is not indifferent to religion). These opposing visions explain, for example, their opposite views concerning nondenominational prayer in school.”

Or consider the issue of geopolitics: “The left prefers to identify as citizens of the world. The left fears nationalism in general (this has been true for the European left since World War I), and since the 1960s, the American left has come to fear American nationalism in particular. On the other side, the right identifies first as citizens of America. The left therefore regards the notion of American exceptionalism as chauvinism; the United Nations and world opinion are regarded as better arbiters of what is good than is America. The right has a low opinion of the U.N.’s moral compass and of world opinion, both of which it sees as having a much poorer record of stopping genocide and other evils than America has.”

As Prager noted, a vitally important element of the worldview war – indeed, perhaps the most important – is the God question. Is there a God or is there not? The secular humanists of course deny God’s existence and insist that only matter matters.

In the US, the two parties tend to fall along this ideological divide. With obvious exceptions, the modern Democratic Party is largely made up of secular humanists. The Republican Party is largely made up of those who adhere to the Judeo-Christian worldview. Commentator Frank Turek takes up this theme. He begins:

“Joe Biden recently asked why his Democrat Party isn’t seen as the ‘Party of God.’ He then went on to answer his own question with this stunning observation: it’s because Democrats are ‘uncomfortable talking about God.’ If they would only talk more about God, their party would be seen as the ‘Party of God.’ So if Bill Clinton had only talked more about monogamy, most voters would have thought he was the model husband?”

“This is one of the major problems of liberalism – it’s more about what you say than what you do. If you’re Joe Biden, as long as you talk about giving to the poor, you don’t actually have to do so yourself – you can give less than a tenth as much as the average American and then advocate that everyone pay higher taxes because it’s ‘patriotic’ to do so. If you’re Al Gore, as long as you talk about ‘saving the environment,’ you don’t actually have to do anything yourself – you can have a ‘carbon footprint’ twenty times larger than the average American. And if you’re Barack Obama, as long as you talk about reducing the number of abortions, you don’t actually have to do anything to reduce them yourself. In fact, if Obama gets elected, he will do everything he can to increase abortions.”

Indeed, abortion is a sanctity of life issue. And if you are a secular humanist, there is no clear basis for such things as the sanctity of life. You do have the survival of the fittest under such a worldview, but you do not have a high view of human life. Says Turek:

“First and foremost, Obama and the Democrat party do not value life. They are not pro-choice, they are pro-infanticide. They support the horrific procedure called partial-birth abortion. . . .  Would Jesus advocate such positions? The right to life is the right to all other rights. If you don’t have life, you don’t have anything. Any party that will not recognize the right to all other rights will never be recognized as ‘the Party of God’.”

But wait, there’s more: “Second, the Democrat party refuses to protect the foundation of civilized society – marriage between a man and a woman. While Obama officially says he’s not for same-sex marriage, he has pledged to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act which protects states from having same-sex marriage imposed on them by other states. Inexplicably, Obama believes that the Sermon on the Mount somehow mandates gay civil unions (he tells us to overlook that ‘obscure passage in Romans’). Furthermore, Obama wants to enact a law that may force churches to hire homosexuals.”

Consider also the poor: “Finally, while Obama and the Democrats say they want to help the poor, virtually everything they do makes the plight of the poor worse. Their tax, welfare, and anti-school-choice policies don’t spread wealth, they spread misery. They also spread dependency on Democrats, which may be the ultimate reason why Obama, Biden and the Democrats will never do anything to become the ‘Party of God.’ They’ll only talk about it and hope enough religious voters don’t notice their lack of fruit.”

So political parties have worldviews, just as individuals have worldviews. And some worldviews are better than others. The culture wars being fought are part of the much larger war of worldviews. To effectively engage in the former, we must be cognisant of, and involved in, the latter.

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14 Replies to “Culture Wars and Worldview Wars”

  1. Thanks Bill, more great analysis. This very same divide has been in the Church for generations. It is especially obvious in the Uniting Church in Australia. There, even Francis Macnab can flourish as the Founder of a “New Faith” in which there is no PERSON named GOD, but some thing or other which he names as “a presence within and beyond us”. Moreover, the U.C.A. choosers it’s leaders and lecturers and bureaucrats from the DEMOCRAT model. However nearly all the others believe in a God of some sort: He or She or both interventionist or non-interventionist.
    The recent Vilification trial in Victoria enabled the U.C.A. to spit vitriol at two Christian Pastors charged (falsely) with religious vilification.
    Stan Fishley

  2. Bill, thank you for this analysis. The worldview wars are not only seen in the positions of Barack Obama and the Democratic Party, or the A.L.P. here for that matter – Kevin Rudd is another “talker” – but in the vitriol thrown against Sarah Palin by the leftist media and bloggers, both in the U.S. and here. One only has to mention her name and the venom pours forth. I have heard it; you have heard it. Why? Not because they know here or anything solid about her, but what she stands for, and the fact that she lives it out, e.g. on abortion.
    It is a war for the soul not only of America, but the post-Christian West.
    Much of this war has to do with evolution: Darwinism sees man as nothing more than an evolved animal. He has no soul; he is not essentially different from an animal. That is why the Green Left has great trouble distinguishing the two, and puts more value on a whale or a wombat than a baby human.
    As for Francis McNab, he is welcome to construct a new faith if he likes; just let him not call it Christianity. But then he will have a problem commending that new faith: why should people believe it? His best approach will be to get himself killed somehow, then rise from death a few days later!
    Murray Adamthwaite

  3. Murray, now here is a problem. The Catholics are in the forefront in protecting the sanctity of life and yet hold to evolutionary teaching. What’s going on here? This last Saturday I had a surreal moment when I took part in a march in London, organised by the Roman Cathalics, demonstrating against the relaxion of the abortion laws. And yet most of time I spent marching around Westminster, I was engaged in an argument with one of the marchers over precisely the issue of the RCs stance on evolution.

    David Skinner UK

  4. David,

    Essentially it is a matter of the Ten Commandments. God did indeed instruct us not to kill and of course abortion is the worst form of murder.

    But nowhere in the Ten Commandments does God instruct us to believe in Creation or Evolution. So Creation is not a dogma, doctrine or an article of Faith for Catholics who are permitted by their Church to form their own opinion on this particular issue. However Catholics are not permitted to form an opposing opinion on abortion. Of course some individual Catholics are anti-life but whilst the Church has warned them of the consequences of their position it won’t (at the moment at least) take further action such as ex-communication.

    Having said that, the Catholic Creed commences with “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth”. The Catholic Catechism goes onto say “Nothing exists that does not owe its existence to God the Creator” (item 337 page 87).

    But how that existence was brought about, Creation, Evolution or any other means, is not essential for the Catholic Church. However the Church is very keenly aware of the dangers to one’s Faith in the arguments of the Evolutionists who are, in many instances, active and militant atheistic terrorists seeking the abolition of Christianity throughtout the world and imposition of a secular dictatorship, much as the Islamists are seeking to impose a world wide Caliphate.

    My own position is that I accept the Old Testament’s account of Creation. This position has “evolved” over many decades since I was a teenage student at which time I accepted the secularists’ version on the origins of life. Plain simple old fashion logic led me to the Creation version as the Evolutionists’ version keeps changing from moment to moment as “new discoveries” are made which render “scientific facts”, then embedded in scientific concrete, as now being wrong. In fact what Darwin believed and what is accepted as Darwinism today are very different beliefs. Thus the “facts” and “realities” of Evolution are forwever changing but Creation does not. What is accepted as scientific fact today will no doubt be scoffed at in say 50 years.

    Additionally one becomes suspicious when only “selected” fact or evidence is used as the basis of proof by the Evolutionists. Contrary evidence and fact are overlooked and reburied as we see today in the debate on Climate change and global warming. In both debates the use of ridicule is used by the secularists to quash any debate or opposition.

    I have read of calls by the Climate change lot for the immediate trial and summary execution of those sceptics and deniers who are intelligent and aware enough to see through their argument. A similar atmosphere of threat and hate hangs over those who are labelled “Evolution deniers”.

    Too many people (including devout Christians) are not willing to be seen to be out of step with the secularists I’m afraid.

    In summary, David, the Catholic Church does not support nor accept the Theory of Evolution. It does not “hold to evolutionary teaching”.

    May I suggest however that for further edification on this involved issue that you access a “Catechism of the Catholic Church” and explore those items listed under “Creation” (page 763) in the subject index at the back of it. Please don’t rely on the answers of a solitary Catholic marching on a street in London as the sole source of your understanding of the Catholic Church’s stance on Evolution.

    John FG McMahon, Kolonga, Qld

  5. Bill,

    Your simplistic analysis implies that there is a sharp and irreconcilable division between left and right, and that people must choose either one camp or the other. But many people, in America and elsewhere, consider themselves as being closer to the political center, rather than aligning themselves with one extreme or the other.

    There are problems with both capitalism and socialism, just as there are good ideas in both. I am a social conservative because of my Christian beliefs, but that does not mean I must support all the tenets of economic conservatism.

    As a recent arrival in Australia from America, I see much in the Australian system of government that is better than America’s. The healthcare system in Australia, for all that it is criticised, is far superior to America’s. It provides basic care for everybody and extra care for those that want to pay for private insurance. In America, health insurance has become a national disgrace, and unaffordable except for those lucky enough to get it through their employment. Even those who are insured often face a battle with their insurer when they need healthcare.

    Americans would give anything to have Australia’s superannuation system. You don’t realise how lucky you are. I read somewhere that Australians have on average 3-4 times the retirement savings per head of population than Americans. Many people there have lost their retirement savings when their employer went bust. Australia seems to have found a happy medium between the welfare state mentality of Europe and the individualistic greed of America.

    It is questionable whether the Republican Party in America even stands for small government. George Bush has run massive deficits, much of it pay for ill-conceived military adventurism, and has brought the country to its knees. Yet Clinton finished his term with a surplus. People are questioning who are the real socialists.

    The Culture War divisions that you seem to endorse are achieving nothing. So much energy is wasted engaging in war that we have lost sight of the objective and we seem to be fighting rearguard actions on all fronts. I don’t know what the answer is but there must be a smarter way.

    Juliana Simbroski, Darwin

  6. John FG McMahon

    But nowhere in the Ten Commandments does God instruct us to believe in Creation or Evolution.

    It is strongly implied in Ex. 20:8–11:

    Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. … For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day.

    I.e. the whole basis for this command was the historical reality of Creation We, as shown by the causal connection “for” (Hebrew ki).

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  7. John,

    I commend you for your observations re the credibility of evolution and climate-change arguments. But concerning your statement that “nowhere in the Ten Commandments does God instruct us to believe in Creation or Evolution”, I have to disagree because right in the middle of the Ten Commandments, we are told of God’s six-day creation (Exodus 20:11). [For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.]

    Reference to the commandment prohibiting murder is not sufficient in itself as a Christian apologetic against abortion. It has to also include the fact that man is made in the image of God and that it can be see from various Scriptures that God considers the preborn to be people.

    Ewan McDonald.

  8. Jonathan and Ewan,

    I don’t disagree with your views. Simply I ask that you look into the Catholic belief with respect to “Evolution” as David stated Catholics ” hold to evolutionary teaching”. The Catholic Church does not at all hold to such belief and nor should any Catholic, as it is certainly not the Teaching of the Church.

    Indeed Man is certainly made in the image of God and indeed the Sabbath must be respected. These are other issues which can be explored at another time.

    It is stressed, however that contrary to David’s original statement, that the Catholic Church does not entertain, support, or advocate the Theory of Evolution.

    That and that alone was the issue at point.

    John FG McMahon, Kolonga, Qld

  9. Thanks Julianna

    “I don’t know what the answer is but there must be a smarter way.” Yes it seems clear that you don’t know what the answer is. But you have nonetheless been quite happy to criticise and complain on a regular basis about what has been written here. I have yet to hear any positive contributions from you. It does not seem that simply being continuously critical without offering any constructive alternatives is all that helpful.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  10. John FG McMahon, Ewan, Jonathan Safarti, many thanks for responding to my perplexity. Yesterday, I attended a prayer rally outside the House of Commons, London, in order to pray against a bill, straight from the pit of hell, that was subsequently passed later during the evening.

    Only about a hundred turned up, but amongst this faithful remnant there was indeed a strong Catholic contingent with whom I was able to discuss briefly the issue of evolution; they more or less said what you had to say John. However, the gentleman on Saturday sincerely believed that species cross boundaries and evolve and or which, he said, there is overwhelming fossil evidence.

    But within a few verses of Genesis 1 it does not say that God first created one species from which all others evolved; it says, seven times, that He created species according to “their kind” and three times it says that man was created “in the image of God.” How then did God Create all living things? Answer: “according to their kind” and in the case of man, ”in his own image.”

    John, we may be bound together by a common cause, the defence of life itself, but above that there is truth, which is more precious than life itself.

    But returning to the theme “Culture Wars and Worldview Wars”, I was re-reading on the coach whilst travelling up to London yesterday, Schaeffer’s description of how the monolithic worldview that is held today has trickled down over the centuries through philosophy, art, mass culture and until finally it infects theology and the church. Clearly we the church are in the forefront of destroying the creditability of the Bible

    Dr. Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, since his enthronement, has not deviated from the intellectual and theological principles that have guided his academic writings. Paramount among these is the belief that truth is unknowable. Certainty lies only with those who lack critical self-awareness: “For the fundamentalist, the will of God is clearly ascertainable for all situations, either through the plain words of scripture (as received in a particular but unacknowledged convention of reading) or with the aid of supernatural direct prompting: Christian revelation is there to offer clear and important information – how to be right,” he asserted in his 1994 book Open to Judgment (OTJ, p. 221).

    When God does illumine us, “when God’s light breaks on my darkness,” he stated, “the first thing I know is that I don’t know – and never did” (OTJ, p. 120).
    This denial of certainty is what the reign of Christ over us means: “Christ’s is the kingship of a riddler, the one who makes us strangers to what we think we know” (OTJ, p.131).

    For Dr. Williams, theology does not reveal God; it reveals that there is no revelation, no single knowable truth. He who claims possession of the truth, and uses it to exclude others from the fellowship of the church, shows by his very actions that the truth is not in him.

    In practical terms, this means the church should not be quick to draw lines. “Heresy is possible,” Dr. Williams concedes, “but before we throw the word around, we need to remember that orthodoxy is common life before it’s common doctrine” (OTJ, p. 264). Hence the mission of the church is to stay together, united by this common life while it seeks the (centuries) long pursuit of common doctrine.

    If there is no ultimate, rational basis for belief in an absolute truth or beauty, over and above our understanding, then the logical conclusion is that nothing has any value; life is absurd – meaningless.

    David Skinner, UK

  11. David,

    This reliance on “fossil evidence” to prove the Theory of Evolution is simply nonsense and a lazy man’s way of avoiding any thought at all on the matter. The same gentleman would no doubt agree with the fallacy of global warming. So many people refuse to think for themselves and instead allow the likes of Dawkins et al and Al Gore et al to think for them. Throughout the history of science there are multitudes of frauds and serious errors. At University I achieved an Honours in Plant Science. I know from my studies the enormous complexity of cells and the structures therein. I also know of the reliance of one structure upon the existence and functioning of another. This relationship extends beyond the plant cell to other parts (organs) of the plant. This interdependency is a must for the plant’s very existence let alone its on-going survival or reproduction.Thus the plant cannot exist without say the xylem or the phloem. If by chance a one celled plant organism mutated and developed a phloem, this new structure ie the phloem is useless to the organism without the xylem. Now what are the chances of another yet to be beneficial mutation developing into the xylem- buckleys.

    The frequency of mutations in any organism is extremely low and invariably that mutation is harmful to the organism. A mathematician can explain that the odds of just one organism developing from a single cell to a multicell complex organism, ie algae to huge cedar tree, is beyond exponential. Therefore the odds of so many thousands of “simple” one-cell organisms “evolving” to 100,000’s complex plant and animal species are virtually impossible to calculate. Then there is of course the odds of the physical environment developing including the exact perfect distance the planet is from the Sun, the size and proximity of the Moon, the rotation of the Earth, the angle of its axis etc etc etc.

    The odds simply defy logic and reason. Logic and reason demand design and the designer was the Creator.

    Darwin himself had his doubts when he said “The complexity of the eye perplexes me”

    John FG McMahon, Kolonga, Qld

  12. John, before this ever flowing stream of CultureWatch carries us swiftly on, thank you for the often overlooked truth that the entire created system would have had to have evolved simultaneously. It puts into better perspective Francis Schaeffer’s description of the fragmentation and compartmentalisation of modern life. This “conversation” and the ones that I have recently had with individual Roman Catholics also demonstrate that we are indeed bound together by the Common Truth, Jesus Christ and not by human dogma. God Bless you brother.
    David Skinner, UK

  13. Bill,
    I enjoy your comments and analyses very much, even when I find myself in disagreement with your views.
    Thus, I find your criticism of Juliana’s considered response rather harsh. Her views find a much stronger echo in me than those expressed in any of the other comments made so far on your very interesting article.
    I can offer a New Zealand analogy to Juliana’s very rational attempt to synthesize the “left” and “right” aspects of the US political spectrum. We have a general election campaign going on here before the vote on November 8. We have a proportional representation system with a number of parties offering their various menus of policies. We have two votes, one for the personalities that seek to represent the electorates in which we reside, and the other for the political parties that we wish to support. It is perfectly feasible (tho’ unlikely!) to vote for a conservative personality in the National Party whilst also casting a vote for the Green Party.
    Myself, I find the whole notion of voting for personalities idiotic. I only want to vote on policies. I would like to vote on this policy from the Labour Party, that one from the Maori Party, this one from National, that one from the Green Party, and so on, and so on. In other words: an “à la carte” menu as opposed to a set menu.
    If I were voting in the United States election I would resent having to be forced to choose one set menu. In common with many thoughtful people around the world, I am attracted by the idea that the world’s only superpower may be directed by a man of mixed African and European descent. However, my deep mistrust of a resurgent and potentially malevolent Russia makes me turn to John McCain, because he is someone whose own experience would make him stand firm against any renewed expansionism from Russia.
    I have a similar “integrationist” approach to the questions of abortion, euthanasia, and the death penalty. I am not opposed to all abortions. Some are necessary, but I disapprove of abortion on demand. The right to choose one’s own moment of exit from life seems to me to be rational. And it is also rational to execute individuals who have killed fellow human beings in pursuit of crimes such as robbery and rape, because executed murderers never murder again.
    Those are my views. I shall continue to read your comments with great interest.
    Dominic Baron, NZ

  14. Thanks Dominic

    Yes it would be nice if we had the luxury of only voting on policies. But unfortunately that is not quite how things work in the US. As I have mentioned, what we have there are two major political parties which in many ways have opposing ideologies and worldviews, and therefore major platform and policy differences.

    Given these quite important differences, my choice is for the Republicans, no matter how imperfect they may be, and for McCain, no matter how imperfect he may be. The truth is, there will be major repercussions not just for the US but the whole world, depending on which party gets in. Not least of which will be the appointment of 2 or 3 Supreme Court judges who will influence policy for decades to come.

    So while the American political system may be far from perfect, and one can find things which one dislikes in both parties, at the end of the day there remain major worldview differences between the two (as I have outlined here and elsewhere). And I find the Democratic Party’s worldview and policies for the most part to be antithetical to my own set of values and beliefs.

    (As to Juliana, I was referring not just to her post here, but to all of her comments over the past year or so.)

    But thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

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