Friday, July 09, 2010


Value and Civilization

Rod Dreher quotes David Rieff on the values that underlie our society.
As a thought experiment, pretend you are a complete innocent, knowing nothing about this society (I am talking here about the developed world as a whole—not just the Golden Calf that conservatives and liberals alike have made out of the United States of America, worshipping—what?—themselves? their demographic and historical good luck?—as they dance about singing its praises). After observing this society, what would you say its values are? It seems to me the first and last thing you would say would be money, and, more broadly, the refusal to believe in limits of any kind. After that, you would probably say health—that is, the refusal of mortality. And finally, you would presumably say pleasure.

Money, health, pleasure. Fine things all (I am emphatically not being ironic; they are indeed fine things). But as a basis for a civilization, for a values system? It is one thing to be selfish; it may well be hard wired into us. But stupidity isn’t, so at least we should not be stupid.
Much of this started as a discussion on American exceptionalism. I think critics of American exceptionalism miss one of the major points.

American was designed for GOOD people. Money, health, pleasure are only good values when tempered with restraint and moderation. The rub is, it is not up to government to make good people, it is up to culture, and culture is formed by any number of sources - most importantly THE CHURCH.

Are we out of balance? Absolutely, but the answer is not to shove government into the business of making people GOOD - that's a proven loser.

The problem, frankly, is that in pursuit of all sorts of the wrong things, the church has punted on its role to shape culture. Yes, the church has met unparalleled competition in that department in recent years, but we should be thoughtful enough and creative enough to overcome the competition. In fact, I would go so far as to argue that if we had been doing the job properly in the first place - forming GOOD people instead of a GOOD cultural veneer, the competition would have never stood a chance.

America is exceptional, provided that all its parts do their job. Time for the church to stand up and get busy.

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