May Day, in ancient Western culture, was the day that men and women took a big bath, after stinking most of the winter, and got all cleaned up and dressed up, and did the mating ritual known as the May pole dance, which in turn led to a season of courting and then marriages as summer dawned in June. If you are wondering where the tradition of June brides come from, it comes from this whole matrix of ideas.
As we approach the summer, whilst still in the silly season of political bickering, it might be worthwhile to reflect on what our core values in our American culture really are. You can learn something about these values by: 1) seeing what TV shows and movies are popular; 2) seeing what cultural events are most attended; 3) seeing what people spend money on, and what things they are willing to spend LOTS of money on; 4) and carefully watching the advertisements because some of the shrewdest cultural analysis stands behind the marketing ploys; 4) asking the question— How are people spending their leisure time, or their weekends or both? 5) asking the question— What sorts of behaviors are now seen as acceptable that were deemed immoral or illegal as recently as a decade or so ago? This provides clues as to the shift in cultural values and 6) what counts as success or accomplishment or ‘winning’ in our culture, and who are the cultural heroes who are lionized now?
There is much that could be said about all of these subjects, and certainly from a Biblical point of view in various respects we have become a less Judaeo-Christian culture over the last twenty or so years, the culture has coarsened and in various ways become more immoral (which is surfaced or mirrored by the actions and responses to various political candidates during this season). In this post I will simply focus on one troubling aspect of our culture– it’s tendency to lionize or treat as famous people who are simply entertainers, athletes, reality stars, or people who pathetically are just famous for being famous, and have no particular talents. Or alternatively, we lionize those who do our dirty work for us, the warriors who go off and regularly break various of the ten commandments, not least the ‘thou shalt not murder’ commandment.
It has struck me lately how much Americans value fame and even notoriety at tasks that, while enjoyable and entertaining, are not essential to human life or health or salvation. I mean sports are just that— sports, they are not rocket science or brain surgery, or writing an epic analysis of the human condition, or the best of human psychology, or discovering cleaner energy. And of course fame is all about receiving adulation for something done. So— who receives the most adulation in our culture?: 1) overwhelmingly entertainers do including athletes; and 2) warriors, soldiers do. This tells us most of what we need to know about our core values. I am reminded of that great scene from Gladiator, where Russell Crowe has been forced into the arena to be a gladiator, and it is a brutal contest in Africa making the MMA and similar stuff look tame, and then he shouts at the crowd “are you not entertained” by all the violence and death? It’s a chilling scene. Cue the violent movies, video games, and increasingly graphic news reports. Even the journalists have become what we once used to tease some lawyers about— they have become ambulance chasers rushing after ratings to show our disasters and dirty laundry (cue Don Henley’s perfect song “Dirty Laundry”).
Don’t get me wrong, I love sports and music etc. But in terms of priorities and emphasis, our values are totally screwed up. Our role models are mostly self-centered egotists who perform non-essential tasks in life to make scads of money, or they are people who do our killing for us, so we can continue to spend millions on entertainment, and call this the benefits of freedom. Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that when the Bible says “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” what we are talking about is freedom FROM SIN, enabled by God’s Spirit, not freedom TO SIN. Not freedom to buy endless weapons and harm our fellow human beings, not freedom to waste our money on lottery tickets when millions of people are starving and dying of various diseases. Not freedom to spend all our discretionary income on entertainment, much less buy RVs and follow our favorite sports teams from stadium to stadium, all the while having bumper stickers that read “I’m spending my grandchildren’s inheritance”.
America, in so many ways is the most narcissistic culture the world has ever seen, so it’s hardly surprising that most of our heroes are the culture’s biggest narcissists. And if we ask, where did it all go so wrong, I’m afraid it goes all the way back to the Garden… and I don’t mean Madison Square Garden. It goes back to the point where humanity decided it did not need to listen to the warnings of a caring God, and could decide for itself what was right and wrong, what was moral and immoral, what counts as happiness or not, what is appropriate ways of spending ones resources, or not, and what counts as entertainment.
Think on these things….