Saturday, July 31

God's New Deal

My good friend, Ben House, has delivered on his promise to write a sequel to his powerful essay published in this space a couple of months ago. I offer it here, with gratitude to Ben's insight, wit, and clarity--note particularly his very practical suggestions at the end:

"Some months back, I wrote an essay titled “The Greater Depression.” In it I focused on some of the less known, but perhaps most significant, events in the early part of the 20th Century. Three events were briefly described that seemed to be the harbingers of a new dark age. Those events were the abandonment of the Classical heritage in education, the public humiliation of Christianity at the trial and media circus known as the Scopes Trial, and the demise of the idea of intellectual Bible believing Christian scholarship in the trial and defrocking of Presbyterian theologian J. Gresham Machen."

"This threefold assault on the heritage of the West, this triumph of the secular Enlightenment over the Reformation is both depressing and fascinating. Much more could be chronicled on the downhill plunge of our culture due to these events. The civil unrest of the 1960s, the materialistic secular humanism of our age, the educational black hole of American culture and government schooling, the Sodom and Gomorrah-like moral decadence our times, and many more evidences of decay and rot could be detailed. Facts, figures, studies, examples, and trends of a culture where the center no longer holds, where the old landmarks are gone, have been documented and lamented perhaps too often."

"Charles Dickens, great as a literary artist, perhaps gave us one of the most insightful research paradigms ever for the field of history: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” This statement, describing the era of the French Revolution, captures the essence of the history of a sin-fallen, wicked, depraved world that is yet loved by God and directed by God in His sovereign wisdom and power."

"At the close of the first article, I promised a sequel. This sequel will be more of a happy beginning than of a happy ending. Once again, the historical proof will be selective and usually far from the front pages of the newspapers. When we reconsider evolution, theological liberalism, and educational decline, we do not yet have slain and rotting corpses of the dragons composting our fields. We are more like Dorothy and Toto and company in “The Wizard of Oz” after they got to Emerald City. Watching that movie as a child, on just a television and a black-and-white screen at that, I was scared when the four travelers stood quaking before the awful face and fire of the Wizard. Then Toto pulls back the curtain and their stands this little old man with the mechanical controls. For a brief time, both images are present. The awful and awesome Wizard is still booming out and breathing fire, telling them to ignore the man behind the curtain. But all of them, and us, and even the straw man who lacked a brain, figures out that the little old man is the Wizard."

"Culturally that is where we are. The media and the scientific community still control the gears; the Wizard of Evolution still speaks in thunderous tones; the educational elite are hostile to and dismissive of Christianity; religious faith is poised as incompatible with reasonable, modern, and scientific belief; and Classical education is fun as the plot of a movie, e.g., “The Emperor's Club” but largely quaint and irrelevant in the world of modern educational fads and fancies. But like Toto, my barking for a time might give some insights into the wizards of our still all-too-often depressing time."

"The media once crowded into small Dayton, Tennessee to cover the Scopes Trial and pronounce a verdict on Christian fundamentalism. Newspapers and news coverage were not new, but the extent of the coverage of this small trial was incredible. Reporters from all over the United States and world converged on the courtroom in Dayton. The trial was moved outside to make room for all the media people and others who crowded in to hear. More than just day-to-day coverage of the facts, the media provided the verdict, the judgment. The judge in the case ruled against Scopes and fined him a token sum. The media ruled against Christianity, against the authority of Scripture, against the Genesis account of Creation."

"The judge's sentence was quickly passed and forgotten. The media's sentence never ended. Media spin moved from being an interpretation to a fact. The media spin made its way into the textbooks and histories and into the movies (“Inherit the Wind”). Thus spake in revelation the triune god our age: media, textbooks, and movies. (If all three agree, then it must be so!) William Jennings Bryan, the defender of the Creation account in the trial, was reduced to a foolish sound bite or two and then he died. We grant that Bryan made some colossal blunders in his defense of Christianity and his death right after the trial certainly did not help. So Creation was buried with Bryan and Science (capital S), as a philosophical way of understanding all reality, triumphed over religion."

"In the rise of the news media to such predominance, the news media hastened the creation of the mechanism of its own irrelevance. Today, news shows are unending-cable news programs are broadcast twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, newspapers and magazines are still printed by the thousands, radio news shows have replaced music, and now Internet news sources give us even more news. In news shows, they interview each other, repeat each other, and often yell at each other more than a bunch of schoolboys playing kickball. To keep the watcher engaged, news snippets race across the bottom of the screen trying to squeeze every last person in the world into their promised fifteen minutes of fame. Often the top corner of the news program scrunches in a few other details of news. And then these never-ending news programs break-for news. In-depth reports stretch on for up to four minutes. Key officials are interviewed in depth for, maybe, ten minutes, with an advertisement or two. And as Neil Postman so beautifully pointed out in Amusing Ourselves to Death, even the most serious news story is always abruptly interrupted with the words, “And now this word from our sponsors.” Sometimes I don't know if the key story is the war in Iraq or the conclusions of 4 out of 5 dentists about whitening my teeth."

"As a person without cable television, who lacks subscriptions to newspapers or political magazines, who rarely listens to more than ten minutes of radio news every other day, I am thankful for this modern Wizard-the news media. From one angle, it is huge and scary, but from another angle, behind the curtain, it is little old men pulling levers. Its vastness has opened the doors or airwaves for a few brilliant political libertarians, cultural conservatives, and social traditionalists, and even some thoughtful Christians, to add their voices and insights to the yelling or telling of current events. Pronouncements of the media provide wonderful fodder for preachers and teachers. Put aside Ripley's Believe It or Not and listen to the media and before long, whether you listen to the conservatives who will do your research for you or whether you listen to the liberals to collect the stories on your own, you will have a wealth of illustrations and examples of any and every insanity or perversity you wish to assail."

"Man lives in community. We will always find a medium to connect us to others, both near and far. The pulpit was once a key center for bringing the community together with both announcements of local happenings and preaching. With the advent of radio and then television, for a time the media rivaled, even bested the pulpit. Once Walter Cronkite might have been the most trusted man in America. Today news reporters appear to be little different from the stock traders at the Chicago market, all yelling to be heard, all noise and chaos, all telling tales told by idiots, full of sound and fury, most signifying nothing."

"Several recommendations for using the media wizard (after all, in the movie the little old man did have some good advice): 1. Listen to the five-minute radio news broadcasts on the hour and half-hour. One segment in the morning and one at night will be plenty. If a story is important, it will get a full ten to twenty seconds. 2. Glance only at newspapers or news magazines after they have been out a while. If the news story is not still relevant a week or month later, it was probably not worthwhile to know about on the day or the day after it happened anyway. 3. Wait for co-workers to tell you the news. When they say, “Did you read about such-and-such in the paper?” use the opportunity to let them fill you in. If it is important enough, go and read that story yourself. 4. Subscribe to World Magazine. World is Christian, thought provoking, usually a week or two behind events (a plus, as I pointed out above), and very well done. They are not and do not claim to be infallible, but the magazine is most edifying. 5. To understand our culture and the issues of our day, read great works of history or literature. Obviously the Bible, but also other books are beneficial. A biography of George Washington (I can't wait to start Washington's Crossing by David Hackett Fischer in a few days) will give more insight into politics and leadership than a year of watching “Hardball.” A biography of Franklin Roosevelt, whether by friend or foe, will give you plenty of reasons to vote against John Kerry. Reading the fiction of Dostoevsky, Tolkien, or Caroline Gordon will give you more truth than CNN. Reading a history of the Reformation or some other grand era of church history will be more curative to the soul than the latest Time or Newsweek survey of the state of religion today. 6. And if you must watch a news program, enjoy it. Many journalists are simply entertainers, perhaps failed comedians and actors, but still entertainers. Some enjoy H.G.T.V. for relaxation; some like sports; occasionally, I like to watch the news for fun."

"I set out to show the puncture wounds of the beasts that haunt our age. I seem to have strayed: The devolution of Evolution remains to be considered; the rise of many faithful sons of J. Gresham Machen needs to be told (yes, they have been at war too often, but like the warrior-king David, they still have been men after God's own heart), and the revival of Classical Christian education is still in its infancy. God did not abandon America in the early or later parts of the 20th Century. The battles are not over, some are scarcely begun, but there is not longer any reasons to fear the wizards. More to follow!"

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