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.