A Culture at War?

Donald Miller

As talking heads create tension in order to sell advertising in a twenty-four hour news cycle, we are beginning to hear the old phrase “culture war” once again. It had been a while since I’d heard the phrase, to be honest. But I grew up hearing about this supposed war and it brought to mind a paradigm that has become slightly foreign to me. It reminded me of a time I believed there was a large group of liberals attempting to do in my Christian way of life. As I got older, and met many of the supposed enemy, I found, essentially, the same personalities I’d experienced in my church upbringing, that is I found objective, rational people who were kind-hearted and other centered, even if they disagreed with the religious right. They were frustrated, sure, but most people maintained a balanced view. Were there fundamentalist liberals that could be categorized as extreme? Certainly. But there weren’t that many. But it was that kind of rare personality singled out by the media (including the Christian media) to paint a false picture of our culture and further increase the tension. 

This dynamic applies to more than just political or cultural tension. Watching Hurricane Ike come in (the storm went over my home and family in Houston) you would have thought it was the end of the world. The city of Galveston sent out an alert saying all those who did not evacuate the island faced certain death. More than twenty-thousand people stayed, and nobody died. There were six deaths in Texas related to the storm, which was a decrease from how many people would have died that night were there to have been no storm. All those cars off the streets proved safer than a storm serge and one-hundred-mile-per-hour winds. (This is not to invalidate the devastation caused by the storm, which was severe and tragic) But the media ran with the story because, perhaps, tension keeps us watching. And now that the country can be called to help out in Galveston, the media has moved on to other areas in which it can create tension and sell more advertising. All this is fine when it comes to weather. But what about our culture? Is the tension as high as it is billed to be?

While attending the DNC in Denver, I enjoyed the electric and unified atmosphere within the Pepsi Center. And yet, I’d go home at night and hear about the incredible tension at the DNC because Hillary supporters were still frustrated. Really? I didn’t see that. How long did it take to find frustrated holdouts? The same was true at the RNC, I am sure. Conflict is the heart of every story, and when you don’t have real conflict, and you are competing with a half-dozen other news channels, you best create some fiction fast. (If you misread fiction for friction, I am fine with that.)

This makes me wonder, from a sociological perspective, if war is an appropriate metaphor for what is happening in culture. It seems to me what is actually happening is more a heated democratic debate.

In the simplest terms, war seems to be one army fighting another army until complete annihilation or surrender is reached from either party. Is this what liberals want? Is this what conservatives desire? If not, then should we still call it a war?

Much is made in religious circles about a spiritual war, and much is spoken of in Scriptures about such  a war. But are we able to use war reference (designated to spirituality) in a cultural war that has political ramifications? And what is the benefit and/or damage in doing so?

Here are my questions open for comment:

1. Do you believe you are in a cultural war?

2. How do you feel (and respond) to attempts from the left and right to recruit you into a cultural war?

3. If war involves killing, and if a metaphorical war involves metaphorical killing, what does killing look like in this cultural war?

4. If you were to move beyond a cultural war, a step that might involve compromise, do you feel like you would be “giving in” to an enemy in any way?

5. What does peace negotiation (an important part of any war) look like in the cultural war?

Donald Miller

Donald Miller

Donald Miller is all about story. He helps people live a better story at creatingyourlifeplan.com and grow their business at storybrand.com. Follow Don on Twitter (@donaldmiller). To read more of his posts on the Storyline Blog, click here.