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Politics, Culture and Decadence

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Geraghty his morning in the Jolt:

This always struck me as putting the cart before the horse. Maybe part of our current troubles stem from a lack of sufficient Constitutional measures against runway government. But the bigger issue is an American populace that doesn’t know what’s in the Constitution, that can’t be bothered to learn, and doesn’t particularly care. The problem isn’t really the words on the parchment; the problem is the people who are making the laws and the courts that interpret them, and the even larger problem is the people who largely assent to that governance, concluding it doesn’t really affect them. IRS abuses? Eh, they didn’t come after me. Bureau of Land Management? It’s far away. Restrictive gun laws? Hey, I live in a safe neighborhood and work in a building with security. Somebody else will pay those high taxes; somebody else will worry about the national debt.

This is essentially a point I have made here on numerous occasions.  Before we can fix our politics or governance, we need to fix our culture.

At the bottom of this morning’s Jolt is a link, speaking of culture, to a piece by Ross Douthat in which he discusses the “decadence” of our current time.

The word for this kind of civilizational situation is “decadence.” Not the decadence of pure debauchery — there’s some of that available today, but public morals in the West probably hit bottom in the 1970s, not in our own era of stagnation. Rather it’s decadence as defined by Jacques Barzun:

All that is meant by Decadence is “falling off.” . . . The forms of art as of life seem exhausted, the stages of development have been run through. Institutions function painfully. Repetition and frustration are the intolerable result.

Barzun wrote these words in the late 1990s; today it’s hard to imagine a better distillation of our situation. And pace the doomsayers, decadent periods need not give way swiftly to declines and falls: They can last — especially in a society protected by oceans from the mass migrations presently yanking a decadent Europe back into history — for generations, until some external threat or internal revival finally ushers in a different, more dynamic age.

Not a pretty picture.

It would be interesting to do an historical study of what theological views held sway during other periods of cultural decadence, but alas time does not allow.  I know there was a general theological liberalization during the 1920’s which could certainly be considered a decadent period in history, but beyond that I am not sure.  If what has occurred in the decadent period Douthat discusses (which I have witnessed first hand) is any indication then I would have to think that there are parallels between theological thought and emphasis and cultural “falling off.”  There are, of course, some chicken-and-egg type discussion to be had even with the parallels.

What I know is this, during the current era, the one Douthat discusses, the emphasis in presenting the basic Christian message has moved from “We need Jesus because we are sinners,” to “God can fulfill your needs.”  A sinful state is a need, but that statement notwithstanding those two emphases are dramatically different.

An emphasis on our sinful state creates a desire to strive for continual improvement that mere need fulfillment can never create.  If all we are doing is filling our “felt needs” then life is pretty well exhausted.  But if we are striving to overcome our sinful nature, assisted mightily by God, then we can never be exhausted.

The Iowa caucuses approach.  Iowa, the state where the Evangelical vote holds so much import, and prides itself on its leadership in such matters.  Of course, every Christian in Iowa and every other state should do their homework, vote, and vote well.  But if you really want to change the nation, much more is needed.


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