“Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah”
This dramatic 19th-century painting by John Martin captures the spectacular destruction of the Biblical city of Sodom (Genesis 19). But does the Bible offer any clues as to where the remains of this infamous city might be found? via bib-arch.org
When societies reach a stage obsessed with sensual pleasure, as in ancient Rome, the great Russian social philosopher Pitirim Sorokin pointed out, it is inevitable that the desire for belief, or religion, will percolate in the core of the culture. Although this argument is based on Marx's vision of historical inevitability, history, too, bears out that religious zeal seems to emerge when sensual pleasure cannot satisfy the soul's longing for transcendence.
The question is, how can beliefs be channeled to transform society?
Change occurs when the cultural message message is changed from debased to uplifitng. Moral reversals can be inspired by literally capturing popular culture, much as Wilburforce and his colleagues transformed British social norms in the 19th century, to include the abolition of slavery. Suppose films for television and movie consumption subtly adopted the stance of honor, courage, sacrifice, civic virtue? Suppose our heroes were not those who flouted the law, but those who defended freedom? Suppose the dark and sinister lyrics of misogynistic rap music were replaced by romance and courtship? Is it possible that a debased culture which has had a profound effect on shaping public attitudes can be transformed into the vehicle for capturing the culture and serving as the vanguard of an ideational era?
A lapse into personal or cultural narcissism comes from disbelief in the transcendent. As Dostoevsky noted, if there is no God, anything is possible-- including the belief that people can be gods: not only we can recreate the world in man's image, but there is no wrong except for the limitations we impose on ourselves, and taboos are the social conventions that restrain us from the lure of sheer pleasure.
From these assumptions, the institutions that once mediated between the individual and the state have been rendered weak and battered. The family is in disarray; even terms like mother and father are now politically incorrect, replaced by terms such as "parent one" and "parent two." . Schools no longer teach social conventions; what counts is "expression." Churches are less religious centers and more social organizations, there to promote the latest emerging fad. The Tocquevillian view that these mediating structures gave America unique qualities seems anachronistic against the backdrop of present reality.
For the United States to survive as a democratic republic, we must examine the internal threats, not merely the external ones Our inability to withstand external threats may in large part be due to our unwillingness to consider the cultural decay around us. It certainly is not easy to envision the transformation that might be necessary, especially when the role-models for youth sell debauchery and sensual pleasure at any price. But there are Wilburforcians in our midst who understand the historical stakes and are willing to tease out of the American past the romance and excitement that led directly to the establishment of this exceptional nation.
If there is a cycle to history, catching this wave will not only promote a desirable social outcome, it may even have commercial possibilities. It isnot coincidental that PG-rated films invariably do better at the box office than R-rated films. America is poised for change if only the channels of popular culture can be opened to consider that which is uplifting. Although one can never be sure of what the future holds, reclaiming liberty, defending the republic and appreciating the noteworthy in our history are goals worth realizing through the influence of cultural expression.