Dateline: 23 December 2014
I’m sure that Christian parents have, through the ages, always been greatly concerned about passing their Christian faith on to their children. But it truly is so much more difficult today than at any time in the history of the world for Christian parents to raise their children to follow them in the faith.
It is harder because modern American civilization has an incredibly effective tool for separating children from the faith of their fathers and mothers. It’s called popular culture (pop culture). Pop culture is the evil spawn of our industrialized world. Without the advanced technology of modern media (as it has evolved over the past 100 years, or so) pop culture would not exist. We would still be an agrarian culture and agrarianism is a cultural paradigm that best supports the generational transfer of the Christian faith.
Kevin Swanson contrasts faith-sustaining agrarian culture and faith-destroying popular culture in the following excerpt from his excellent new book, The Tattooed Jesus.
Everything changed in the 20th century. The 19th century farmer boy in upstate New York was not rocking out to Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson. For 5900 years, most children were far more influenced by their own parents, or by the Folk culture developed in their local communities, than by a cultural machine centered in a place called Hollywood or Nashville. The farmer boy had never heard of MTV, Lady Gaga, Star Wars, Two and a Half Men, hook-ups, shack-ups, iPods, and online pornography. If he wanted to find a Proverbs 7 sort of harlot, he would have had to ride his horse for two or three days, and he may have found one in New York City. Today, 80% of young men, 18-25 years old are hooked on online pornography, at a frequency of weekly or monthly visits. Hard as it may be for a young person to imagine today, there was no television, no YouTube, and no Top 40 songs for over 5900 years of world history. Pa played his violin during the long winter evenings as the family gathered around the fireplace. The local community showed up for the barn dance on Saturday night, and that was about it. Cultural patterns developed in a decentralized context. Pastors and parents acted as the cultural leaders in each community with every successive generation.
Popular culture is power culture. These cultural systems enter almost every home in the country by way of hundreds of 50,000-watt transmitters. This now provides for far more energy and reach than one man could ever produce even when speaking very loudly at a public event (such as the Superbowl). Expensive satellites beam signals into every home, whether it be in the most remote village in Ecuador, a farm town in Iowa, or an apartment in downtown Chicago. They all receive the same message, the same standard of “cool,” the same form of music, the same standards of morality (or lack of it), and the same role models in the same dysfunctional movie stars and singers. None of this would have come to pass without the centralization of media control in the cultural capitals of Hollywood and Nashville.
In the music industry today, the top five recording artists lead the way for the top 40 artists in the nation. These, in turn set the cultural standards for the top 100 artists, who will set the cultural standards for the lesser artists in the genre who provide cultural guidance for the Christian Contemporary artists, as well as a million fourteen-year-old star wannabes in every neighborhood from here to Manhattan, Kansas. The modern cultural milieu turned into a semi-monolithic pyramid capturing billions of people in its web. To question the morality or worldview of it would be to suggest that human nature is something depraved, which is unthinkable for modern man. Most Christians prefer to keep culture in the category of adiophora—”things indifferent”—and assume it is harmless or of little influence.
Popular culture would never have achieved such a high degree of influence had it not been for the disappearance of family culture and Folk culture. Without a social revolution, there would have been no cultural revolution. Without age-segregated high schools and the disappearance of the family farm economy, there would have been no Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, or Katy Perry. As fathers left the family farm, and mothers disappeared from the home, children were drawn into a different social system with its own culture. Popular culture shapes youth culture. It is a culture more hightly influenced by Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber than by Ma and Pa. Media, social media, children’s literature, schools, peer groups,church youth programs, and extra-curricular activities have worked together to produce this new socio-cultural order. The sheer power of this system over a child’s social and cultural development is astounding. With the exception of certain immigrant communities, fragments of the homeschooling movement, and a few family economies, popular culture virtually consumes modern society. Even these exceptional movements have been largely incapable of overcoming the impact of Pop culture. The cultural war is more powerful and more fundamental than the political battles.
=====So it is that raising children to embrace the fullness of the Christian faith truly is an epic challenge for Christian parents in this day and age. The anti-Christ culture around us is so incredibly powerful. While it is relatively easy to guide young children in the faith, it is a different story when they get older and allow themselves to be influenced by popular culture.
But there is always hope.... hope that God’s grace will work in our children’s hearts, hope that the foolishness of the culture will not consume them, hope that the pride of life will not destroy them—hope that they will fear God, be humbled, and come to a life-changing place of discernment and repentance.
And, frankly, as I ponder on all of this, I also wonder if perhaps I should be hoping for something like an 1859 Carrington Event, a repeat of which, many experts say, would would wipe out the American electrical grid for a very long time. The power of popular culture would wane and quickly disappear without electricity to fuel it.