Perhaps it’s because I’m married and have a daughter, or perhaps it’s because I’m feeling a little older lately — but I’ve become increasingly more aware of what can only be called small bursts of anarchy. It’s not the bloody guillotine or living-homeless-outside-Wall Street anarchy, but rather the small moments of the day to day that I see the tiny eruptions.
Andrew Walker pointed out an excellent piece by Mark Steyn entitled “Knockouts High and Low” in the National Review Online. In this article, he highlights for us C.S. Lewis’ book The Abolition Of Man:
In his book The Abolition of Man, he writes of “men without chests” — the chest being “the indispensable liaison” between the head and the gut, between “cerebral man” and “visceral man.” In the chest beat what Lewis calls “the trained emotions.” Without them there is no honor or virtue, but only “intellect” and/or “appetite.”
Steyn describes the newest despicable “game” teens are calling “Knockout,” where a white (or Asian or Hispanic) victim is chosen on a street. A large group will roam the street looking for the victim, identify them, and attempt to knock him or her to the ground in one punch.
There’s a virtually limitless supply of targets: In New York, a 78-year-old woman was selected, and went down nice and easy, as near-octogenarian biddies tend to when sucker-punched. But, when you’re really rockin’, you can not only floor the unsuspecting sucker but kill him: That’s what happened to 46-year-old Ralph Santiago of Hoboken, N.J., whose head was slammed into an iron fence, whereupon he slumped to the sidewalk with his neck broken. And anyway the one-punch rule is flexible: In upstate New York, a 13-year-old boy socked 51-year-old Michael Daniels but with insufficient juice to down him. So his buddy threw a bonus punch, and the guy died from cerebral bleeding. Widely available video exists of almost all Knockout incidents, since the really cool thing is to have your buddies film it and upload it to YouTube. And it’s so simple to do in an age when every moronic savage has his own “smart phone.”
From here, Steyn leads us to Lewis’ brilliant comment that “No justification of virtue will enable a man to be virtuous” and also to Walter Williams statement that “A society’s first line of defense is not the law but customs, traditions, and moral values. They include important thou-shalt-nots such as shalt not murder, shalt not steal, shalt not lie and cheat, but they also include all those courtesies one might call ladylike and gentlemanly conduct. Policemen and laws can never replace these restraints on personal conduct.”
The reality is, as Steyn says, “Restraint is an unfashionable concept these day.” This is not a new thing. But in our specific culture, I do believe it continues to be a increasing reality. The daily run-ins I have with seeming barbarism and anarchy seems to increase on a daily basis, as if the front-page news is trying to break into my daily life experiences. It happens in the grocery store check-out line tantrums (by adults), the fast-food drive-thru line (ask a fast-food worker), the movie theater (is it just me, or do more people think they can drink beer and talk during movies than ever before?), and the general disrespect for authority.
I’m really not trying to sound like a stuffed shirt who is shocked that people act like people. I am saying that it’s more prevalent than before.
Destroyed by What We Love
Another individual that Steyn highlights in his article but for a moment is Aldous Huxley. Huxley, C.S. Lewis, and John F. Kennedy all died on the same day.
Huxley’s Brave New World hit on the themes of the destruction of civilization. In contrast to George Orwell’s 1984, in which humanity was destroyed by what it hated and controlled by pain, Huxley’s World was one in which humanity was destroyed by what it loved.
As Christians, we ought not be surprised to find truth in both Lewis’ understanding that without “men with chests” we find ourselves drawn into and destroyed by what we love — that is, ourselves. Whether it be unrestrained “visceral man” or “cerebral man,” the root of it all is a giving over to either “appetite” or “intellect” (see “Theology of ‘No Church in the Wild‘” for recent cultural and musical example of both sides of this coin).
Paul spoke about all of these realities in Romans 1:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator,who is blessed forever! Amen.
For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
What Do We Do?
I think anyone can decry the decay of society, and point out the root and heart at the debasement of our culture. Anyone with eyes can see the depths of our depravity and can identify both major incidents and small sparks of barbarism and anarchy. The real question is what do we do with what we see?
We don’t despair.
We don’t hate.
We don’t walk away.
Instead, we stand today as a prophetic minority in our culture. As Christians, we know the end of the story, and it’s not a doom and gloom story we’re told to be preaching. It’s one of victory over the very things we’re seeing in our culture today. As Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission has said, “We were never promised the culture would embrace us.” Instead, we have been called to be salt and light in a dark world, standing as defenders of an increasingly unpopular faith and moral system.
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 5:14-16