A Review of a Guide to Contemporary Culture
by JOHN VAN DYK
For those wondering how to make sense of an unmoored culture that has cut its anchor and appears headed pell mell down the rapids toward a serious, destructive collision with reality, you are not alone.
What do we make of gender confusion leading to sex change operations; transgender rights, same- sex dominance, pornography’s saturation, the media’s abandonment of ethics (news weaponized); the failure of basic public education; the universi- ties and their embrace of political correctness and focus on all things social; and the rancor and palpa- ble hatred that marks America’s political climate in our time?
Writer and cultural commentator Gene Edward Veith, Jr. has been keeping a steady eye on the com- pass of life, and in his new book, Post-Christian, “A Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture,” he provides some helpful charting to explain where we’ve been, where the culture is currently, and where we appear to be headed. He also provides some helpful reflections on the Church in all of this, and he is not as skeptical about its decline as many seem all too eager to predict. In terms of the philosophy of ideas, we’ve gone over the last number of years from modernism, to post-modernism, to what is now termed constructivism, whose essence is relativism. “Truth,” he writes early on, “is not something we discover, they say, but something we construct.” Farther along he adds, “With constructivism, human beings attempt to take on the role of creator. But when they do, they end up repudiating reality itself.”
That in a nutshell, is where we are right now. Your truth, my truth; my body, to re- construct as I choose, with societal approval. Of course when truth becomes personal and subject to our whims, consensus is lost; individualism rules; conflict results and the ship of culture is set adrift, with no common goals, morality, plan or purpose.
After laying out the current world view situation in the first two chapters, chapter three looks at how advances in technology have changed us and our society at the same time, with the internet a huge contributor to those changes, both for good and for ill. Chapter 4 focuses on 17th century phi- losopher, Georg Hamann, whose ideas play a signif- icant part in Veith’s book, for good reason. Hamann was a colleague and friend of Immanuel Kant who unlike Kant, converted to the Gospel. It was Hamann’s philosophi- cal apologetic that challenged Kant’s reliance on reason as god, pointing as he did to the true God, and the source of all truth, not a popular view among their circle of friends, yet they could not discount Hamann’s brilliance.
Veith quotes Peter Leithart’s assessment of Hamann: “It takes a prophet to contribute to debates two hundred years before they start.” Leithart then adds: “Hamann’s im- portance to today’s debates about language and meaning, religion and science, God and time, reason and faith, post-modernity, liberal political order, and theological interpretation of Scripture. No century has needed Hamann’s profoundly Christocentric dissent more than ours.”
The last three sections of the book address the practical outworkings of the current world view. While the first section takes concentrated effort to read, the last three sections – on The Body, on So- ciety and on Religion – discusses the specific issues we referred to earlier. The meat is in the details.
The last section on religion looks at the ideas of those who say they are “spiritual but not religious” and those who claim they are “religious but not spiritual.” The final chapter is an examination of the Church today, the loss of members in North America and the growth of the Church in other parts of the world, that highlight hope for the future.
While my highlighter was busy throughout the book’s reading, the last section received the most markings, there is much to quote here and remember as we engage others.
This book will both depress as well as inspire and encourage. It helps us to see and remember that God is ultimately in control no matter what ideologies come and go, with both fury and subtlety. Yet the promises are sure. Our Father will keep His Church until the end. There is no doubt about that truth. modernity, liberal political order, and theological interpretation of Scripture. No century has needed Hamann’s profoundly Christocentric dissent more than ours.”
Christian Renewal 8.15.2020