One way to assess cultural trends is by surveying headlines. Here are some from today:
- Judge: IRS ‘Untrustworthy’ in Tea Party Case
- Terror scare as mystery surrounds ‘Arab’ and unclaimed bag…
- Ohio woman accused of livestreaming alleged rape of teen friend
- Man accused of murdering Seattle-area mom abused former girlfriend, woman says
Awake yet? When a civilization is this coarse, it is hardly civilized; it is base. It is coarse. Its basis has been destroyed and in its place is baseness. When people are not ruled by objective moral law, they will invariably be ruled by force, and force is illustrated via a culture’s baseness.
Last year, I read several books of history, as is my custom. Like other serious readers, I divide my reading into areas of study. One of my areas of reading is the history of ideas. In a very important book, Matt Walsh’s The Devil’s Pleasure Palace, the author writes, “Look about your daily lives here in early twenty-first-century America and Western Europe, and see the shabbiness, hear the coarseness of speech and dialogue, witness the lowered standards not only of personal behavior but also of cultural norms, savor the shrunken horizons of the future” (p. 2). Walsh’s book, the weight of that sentence, and the pages of illustrations that followed, gripped me.
Think back to just today’s headlines. Then think about what Walsh wrote. We’re increasingly coarse as a culture. Baseness rules when the basis of a culture is destroyed.
Many people even minimally familiar with the biblical worldview know the Scripture that says, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3 ESV). We don’t know if David had a specific event in mind when he was inspired to write that psalm. However, the theme is straightforward: crises come to cultures when objective moral law is evicted, and baseness becomes the norm rather than the exception. “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” he asks rhetorically. The answer of course is to return to God, to return to the foundation of righteousness.
One of my favorite hymns is “Come Thou Fount.” Its theology is profound, because the writer knew that God/Christ is that fountain of every blessing. The writer also knew that he was “prone to wander.”
Know what results when we not only wander, but also evict, the fount of blessing? We heap judgment upon ourselves. We become coarse. We see baseness rule when the basis for civility has been eviscerated.
Prophets are without honor; we know that historically. But that doesn’t ever seem to discourage them from warning us. May I suggest a simple precept as a student of history? When the basis is destroyed, baseness rules. And when baseness rules, judgment is sure to follow. Might we have the humility to return to the fount of every blessing.