End Culture Wars

An End to Culture Wars?

Sage Showers on June 28, 2022

Polarizing, divisive, unsettling, vitriolic. These are the words used to describe our current culture. People choose to end relationships over ill-thought social media posts. They break ties because of a viral off-hand joke, and cancel opinions in uncivil arguments. Emotions and interpersonal conflict are at all-time highs.

A recent conversation hosted by the Trinity Forum on June 3rd titled “Curbing the Culture Wars” addressed the issue of partisan conflict and the future of our spheres of life. The conversation was presented online by Trinity Forum President Cherie Harder, with Yuval Levin from the American Enterprise Institute, and Brandon Vaidyanathan from the Catholic University of America. Levin is an author, thinker, and former Bush Administration advisor. Brandon Vaidyanathan is Catholic University Chair of Sociology and Founder of the Beauty at Work Project.

Does the culture war need to be curved, and if so, why?

“Some of the deepest moral and ethical questions that our society confronts present themselves when they enter politics,” Levin noted, adding that a foundational belief in the equality of humanity is central to understanding others. “The danger of a totalizing culture war is that we stop being able to see people as our neighbors, and we instead see our society as divided between two camps.” He said that this leads to only one question we ask ourselves about each other, “Are they on my team or are they on the other team?” He suggested this thought process closes our vision.

Levin defined the difference in the question of “who am I” and “what should I do.” While “who am I” is a foundational question, he said, “There are times in and places in our lives that require different modes. The question of “what should I do?” is a contextual question. And the right thing to do actually is different in different parts of our lives.”

Harder mentioned that the idea of a culture war helps people simplify and make sense of the fragmentation many people experience. Vaidyanathan agreed, saying, “Culture war framework provides a sort of heuristic for a lot of people. It’s a quick shortcut to escape the hard work of figuring out the “Who am I?” questions. I think those are profound existential questions we all have to wrestle with, and we typically do that within communities where we’re embedded.” He attributed the problem to the loss of our communities, pushing individuals towards forming communities around social media and political echo chambers.

Levin explained that American society has historically worked to sustain conversations between people who disagree on solutions to a problem. He believes that “local, interpersonal human level institutions have grown weaker. We’ve looked instead to something in our national institutions.” This has grown the influence and the importance of national elections and federal leaders, because people see the national government as the battleground for personal differences.

“That kind of totalizing tendency is very very hard to resist,” he commented.

However, he offered a solution: “The way out of that is not to win that fight, which isn’t going to happen. The way to do that is to rebuild the structures that allow us to answer that question in different ways, and in different parts of our society.” He said that the need for diverse spaces for collaborative work, that also inspires friendship, requires stronger, localized institutions. Levin remarked that seeing society this way is difficult, and “right now, to say we’re failing to make it would be an understatement.”

Harder asked the speakers to elaborate on Dutch Prime Minister and neo-Calvinist theologian Abraham Kuyper’s view of sphere sovereignty and the “sacred canopy” as defined by Peter Berger. Vaidyanathan shared that pressures in society draw, but also limit, the interlocking circles of government and religion. As institutions and organized communities like family and faith have declined, he said, the identities people share today have become more “fragile.” People demand environments that protect their new ideological beliefs, and refuse to have conversations that challenge new opinions.

Levin jumped in, reminding, “We should prioritize these things in a particular way that allows us to differentiate between the high and the low. And politics is not the lowest thing, but it is lower than some other things.” He made the point that Christians, Jews, and Muslims have always asked the “core question” of “how to live with people who do not begin with where we begin.” That question throughout history required pluralism, not baseline sameness.

“Staying open to the beauty of the humanity of the other I think is really critical, and finding ways to discover that,” Vaidyanathan noted near the conclusion of the Q&A, not defining what beauty he referred to. The Catholic University sociologist is right to remind us to see beauty in others, but let us never forget that beauty resides only in what points us back to our Maker. Humanity cannot be beautiful outside of our God-given identity because of our sin. The power of grace and mercy should enable us to see those around us with the pure, unadulterated love of Christ Jesus, and reveal the beauty in salvation alone, through faith. Soli Del Gloria.

  1. Comment by David on June 28, 2022 at 6:38 am

    The culture wars began with slavery and have continued to divide the US pretty much along the same geographical lines. People in these columns cannot wait for the UMC to break up for cultural reasons. Perhaps it is time to think of that for the US as a whole.

  2. Comment by Phil on June 28, 2022 at 11:05 am

    No offense IRD, but I find it somewhat hypocritical that your organization is calling for common spaces for progressives and conservatives to come together now and are critiquing the culture war mentality considering you’ve spent most of your time bolstering it on this very website. And I’m sure tomorrow or later this week you’ll have some new article about the coming split in The UMC, perhaps the last major denomination left in America in which conservative and progressive-minded Christians still worship together on a Sunday morning. Yet you’ve rejoiced in the splintering the denomination in two. You say you want spaces and places again where liberals and conservatives can come together and interact, but you’re deliberately trying to remove one of those spaces right now. You blow hot and cold air at the same time.

  3. Comment by Steve on June 28, 2022 at 11:10 am

    No, “culture wars” did not start with slavery. Nor are they considered a north/south thing.

  4. Comment by Jeff on June 28, 2022 at 12:56 pm

    “The danger of a totalizing culture war is that we stop being able to see people as our neighbors, and we instead see our society as divided between two camps.”

    Jesus the CHRIST on “total culture war”: “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes [shall be] they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.”

    James, half-brother of Jesus, regarding “total culture war”: “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.”

    I’m good with it. Anyway, it’s the left (including its faux-christian wing), whose god is themselves, that began to prosecute the total culture war with scorched earth tactics. The ecclesia, finally awake, has joined the fight. To GOD in CHRIST be the Victory and the Glory! Amen.

  5. Comment by Phil on June 28, 2022 at 6:08 pm

    I was wrong IRD. You couldn’t even wait a day after publishing this article to write another rejoicing in the splintering of The UMC:

    You guys are like a mob boss who pretends to grieve over violence in the streets.

  6. Comment by td on June 28, 2022 at 9:08 pm

    It would be ihteresting to investigate if David is on Putin’s payroll to sow discord in the US.

  7. Comment by David on June 29, 2022 at 6:14 am

    Ah, ad hominem attacks—what losers use when they cannot prove their points. I would disagree with Wikipedia, a volunteer organization, on the origin of US culture wars. Certainly, there are aspects of Southern culture that are divisive. Bible idolatry, formerly lynchings, and denial of rights of women and workers are all characteristics of the Southern Mentality. The South was the last place married women could own property in their own right. Preserving the Union was a big mistake, though the ending of slavery was noble.

  8. Comment by Steve on June 29, 2022 at 8:17 am

    Ah, claiming that my post contains an ad hominem attack when it doesn’t, calling me a “loser”, followed by a dismissal of the scores of citations in the Wikipedia article, followed with ad hominems against “the South”.

  9. Comment by John Kay on June 29, 2022 at 11:17 am

    Hi Phil!

    Nice complaint there, but sadly you only see one side of the argument. When one side of the argument sees the other side as evil and refuses to even speak of or talk of compromise with the other (See: Rules for Radicals, Alinsky, Saul) what do you honestly expect to happen? Should one side of the argument just shut up and do nothing while it’s beliefs are run over by the the other side like road kill on an interstate?

    Maybe you need to look in the mirror and see how the side you support treats it’s opposition before you play the holier-than-thou card.

  10. Comment by Phil on June 29, 2022 at 1:43 pm

    John Kay,

    I see both sides of the argument every Thanksgiving and other major family holiday and wouldn’t have it any other way. And if you think every progressive has Saul Alinsky on their night-stand, you’re showing you really don’t see the other side at all. I never claimed to be holier than the IRD. Just pointed to their own complicity as profiteers in the very culture war they’re pretending to condemn above. Maybe I’ve profited in some small way from that culture war too, but I can honestly say I’m not rejoicing in the split of The UMC I’ve been a member of my entire life, nor am at all happy to see conservative Methodists I’ve known and loved for years leave.

  11. Comment by David on June 29, 2022 at 6:23 pm

    An ad hominem is an attempt to discredit a speaker rather than his argument. I am attacking an evil culture.

  12. Comment by Steve on June 29, 2022 at 10:20 pm

    1: appealing to feelings or prejudices rather than intellect
    an ad hominem argument
    2: marked by or being an attack on an opponent’s character rather than by an answer to the contentions made

    You are attacking traditionalists, accusing them of having “Southern” character, avoiding their contentions, You also appeal to prejudices instead of intellect, the #1 definition of an ad hominem.

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