Ok, so I used the image to reel you in, hoping you share in my innocent crush since 1989. Sue me.
But back to business. Some rightly point to the phenomenon of “culture war” as a symptom of crisis in modern Christianity, which is to say kingdom confusion. For those who adhere to a confessionally Reformed tradition, and who consequently contemplate the doctrine of the two kingdoms in the older categories found amongst more creedal than cultural Protestants, it certainly is that. But the problems which inhere in the collective phrase “culture war,” are more than that. It raises questions which arguably should be a set of concerns to everyone, regardless of particular religious confession or non-confession. And this is because it is a universal concern, something which afflicts us all in our common experience as created human beings, particularly in the twenty-first century. One irony of culture war seems to be that it actually tears away at the social and cultural fabric its champions mean to mend.
Another is that those who look to political machinery to do that which other institutions have been ordained may end up undermining those very institutions. For example, the family-values crowd would seem to want to bolster the family. Who could argue with magnifying the highest temporal institution? Not me. But when done through political regime and legislative power of the Virtuecrats it quickly becomes apparent that the project has very little to do with the mission statement. To that end, James Davison Hunter has more sobering words for those who may not think through all the wrinkles and ironies of culture war.
Most people think that what matters is the ideological direction of one’s politics. Are you conservative? Are you liberal? These differences occupy most of our attention and argument. What is never challenged is the proclivity to think of the Christian faith and its engagement with the culture around it in political terms. This proclivity today has been both ubiquitous and unquestioned for a long time…For all, the public has been conflated with the political…As contradictory as the intentions and directions of various actors may be, in the end, the Christian Right and Left and the neo-Anabaptists operate with an understanding of the good society through the prism of politics. But this begs the question, “so what?” Why is this a problem?
…there are no political solutions to the problems most people care about. Politics can provide a platform for dissent and procedures for establishing public order and, as just noted, the state can address administrative problems. This is what it is designed to accomplish, but this only happens through accommodation, compromise, and conciliation…What the state cannot do is provide fully satisfying solutions to the problem of values in our society. There are no comprehensive political solutions to the deterioration of “family values,” the desire for equity, or the challenge of achieving consensus and solidarity in a cultural context of fragmentation and polarization. There are no real political solutions to the absence of decency or the spread of vulgarity. But because the state is a clumsy instrument and finally rooted in coercion, it will always fail to adequately or directly address the human elements of these problems; the elements that make them poignant in the first place. As a rule, when the state does become involved in such matters, its actions can often create more problems through unintended consequences, not fewer.
At best, the state’s role addressing human problems is partial and limited. It is not nearly as influential as the expectations most people have of it. It is true that laws are not neutral. They do reflect values. But laws cannot generate values, or instill values, or settle the conflict over values. The belief that the state could help us care more for the poor and the elderly, slow the disintegration of traditional values, generate respect amongst different groups, or create civic pride, is mostly illusory. It imputes far too much capacity to the state and to the political process.
Values cannot be achieved politically because politics is invariably about power—not only power, but finally about power…Today, most of the ideals and values that are discussed in public have acquired political content and connotation. Fairness? Equity? Justice? Liberty? These have come to have little or no meaning outside of the realm of politics…The irony, of course, is that no group in American society has done more to politicize values over the last half century, and therefore undermine their renewal, than Christians—both on the Right (since the early 1980s) and on the Left (during the 1960s and 1970s).”
James Davison Hunter, To Change the World (pgs. 168-172)