_Wichita Eagle_. This article by David Awbrey, editor of the editorial page, was entitled
_Wichita Eagle_. This article by David Awbrey, editor of the editorial page,
was entitled "Civil society victim of culture war," and was accompanied by a
two panel cartoon. The first panel shows Lady Liberty holding up a "2 Crude
2 B Rude" record and exclaiming to the angry protesters before her, "This
may be trash, but it's legal..." The second panel shows a man listening to
the record in his bedroom and thinking, "This may be legal, but it's
This article spans two messages - questions follow.
Civil Society Victim of Culture War
At first, many of the more than 3,000 people at Wichita's Central Community
Church probably felt smug as Robert DeMoss, Jr., talked about an informal
poll he took to find out what were the most popular movies among teenagers
and younger children.
Certainly, these people no doubt thought, their children would not be
interested in such adolescent sex comedies as "Porky's Revenge" or in such
slasher movies as "Nightmare on Elm Street" and "Texas Chainsaw Massacre."
No, those are the kind of movies that other kids see - kids who don't come
from good Christian homes.
Wrong, said DeMoss, a staff member with Focus on the Family, a Colorado
Springs-based organization actively fighting what it says are anti-family
and anti-social values in popular culture.
"That list was taken from students attending _Christian_church_schools_,"
DeMoss said in his lecture entitled "A Generation at Risk."
Coincidentally, DeMoss' presentation was Aug. 19, during the same hours that
the Republican National Convention was staging "Family Values Night," trying
to gain politically from the deep worry many Americans feel over the sexually
explicit and violent messages that seem to dominate much of the mass media.
Although some Republican strategists are cynically exploiting the family
values issue, the Kansans at the Central Community Church were sincerely
concerned that much of American culture is promoting hedonism, libertine
lifestyles and social irresponsibility, and undermining parental authority.
It's the culture war, the most wrenching debate in the United States today
because it affects almost all aspects of American life. Indeed, calling it
a debate may be a misnomer, because the two sides seldom confront each other
in open democratic discourse and have so demonized each other that rational
discussion of the issues is virtually impossible.
The culture war involves abortion, homosexuality, rap music lyrics, movies,
avant-garde art, public school curricula, the flag provocative perfume and
fashion advertisements - the thoughts and deeds, images an impressions that
help form the mass consciousness and moral standards of the American people.
Loss of religious consensus
America has always had cultural conflict. But through most of U.S. history,
there has been a basic set of assumptions about American society. The
"Judeo-Christian consensus" put the Bible at the philosophical center of
American life. While they may have differed on matters ranging from baptism
to evolution, most Americans shared a common theism that liked the nation's
course to the purpose of God. They also shared an ethical tradition that
helped create a remarkable progressive and idealistic political system.
With the rise of secularism since the 1920's - which rapidly accelerated
during the 1960's - the United States has become a morally as well as an
ethnically and racially pluralistic society.
In broad terms, on one side are people who maintain the values of an earlier,
almost entirely Christian America. To them, truth is Bible-based; morality
comes from the lessons of the Old and New Testaments. Society has a duty to
protect itself and its members from the natural human tendency toward
depravity and to resist the temptations that can destroy community life.
On the other side are people who put most of their faith in the individual.
Ethical decisions hinge more on the particulars of the situation than on
holy writ. They prefer government ot focus on social evils rather than
regulate personal behavior, however offensive it may be to some people.
They oppose most restrictions on art, literature or other forms of
In short, the disagreement is total. Each side sees the individual's role
in society in starkly contrasting terms. While it may be fought over such
issues as government funding for the arts or sex education in the public
schools, the conflict is irreconcilable because each side has a fundamentally
That being the case, the question is whether the culture war will become so
brutal that it hopelessly splits American society an shatters any hope to
build a larger American community.
Fatal threats to freedom
It should be recognized that the current onslaught of sexuality and violence
in popular culture is an inevitable product of contemporary American
capitalism and democracy.
Such cultural offerings are available for one simple reason - there is a
commercial demand for them. They are allowed for another simple reason - the
That does not mean, however, that Americans are condemned to a continued
cheapening of human life, personal intimacy or family values.
What American society needs is a renewal of self-restraint, mutual respect
A civil society requires people to recognize that their actions and attitudes
can hurt and offend others. Yet, for many actors, writers, artists and other
cultural elitists there is a compulsion today to outrage people - to stretch
the borders of the permissible, regardless of the impact on children and the
History teaches that freedom is impossible without order. At some point
individuals must constrain themsilves or risk losing personal liberty.
A free society can't exist without some collective sense of decency and
Americans alarmed by the debasement of culture and morals should not remain
silent. But there is a difference between _censoring_ and _censuring_. One
invilves the heavy hand of government, a restriction on thought; the other
expresses social disapproval, the most effective form of criticism.
The culture war is for the heart and soul of America. It has to be waged in
each family and community. Mostly, however, it has to be fought within each
individual, because in a free society there can't be morality without
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank