Where does your culture come from? Definitions of culture from the dictionary include “the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group” and “the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another.” The United States is made up of many diverse cultures and ethnic groups which results in a fusion of cultures. Some groups remain separate from the larger culture, but typically their children developed a mixed-heritage way of life, balancing between their parent’s culture and the American culture at large.
Traditionally the ingredients of culture might include a unique style of music, unique-historical clothes, religion and its included practices, parenting styles, expected familial and gender roles, and a community to practice all these things in.
Modern secular society comes in stark contrast with these ingredients. One by one:
Music is no longer a product of culture in the United States, it is a product, largely technological, sold to make money.
Clothing is an ongoing development of styles, taking from many traditions, but focused on profit and the effort to get you to keep spending, out with the old, nothing stays on the shelves so buy now.
Religion is old-fashioned and man-made. Science is truth. Tolerance is the new religion and as such traditional religion should not be publicly practiced because it might offend others and offense is the greatest sin against the religion of tolerance.
Out with the traditional family. Most children are born and raised in family structures other than two-parent intact households.
Gender roles are socially constructed. Gender is socially constructed and fluid. Therefore any roles typically attributed to one gender is a limitation of that gender’s potential and should be negotiated.
What community? From rural to city to suburban, by and large we no longer know our neighbors. Since religion is out, community won’t be found there. Don’t trust your neighbors. Most likely someone you know will be the one to harm your children in lasting and traumatic ways.
The definition includes a note of transmitting culture. If culture is derived from religion, the motivation to transmit comes from a motivation to evangelize. If culture is derived from ethnic heritage, the motivation to transmit, while here in the United States comes from a desire not to lose one’s history in the melting pot that is middle America. But families begin to intermarry, as is good and the American way, and when a child’s ethnic heritage consists of ten different regions, the family begins to pick and choose which culture they identify with most. In the Greatest Generation, those who were young during the Depression and fought of World War II, there was a spirit of American conformism. Men and women changed their more ethnically sounding names to fit in. It must be a white, Protestant culture, so the sentiment went. If you didn’t conform, you were out of luck and so you were excluded.
Now we have a different movement at place. Cultural guilt is a real thing. In the US, in general, there is such an amount of guilt over the treatment of minorities, that now the sentiment is less “who has less color/who is native born (go to the front of the class)” and now more, “who can be more diverse,” or “who has more color?” So it seems to me the heritage that might have been passed down through white European decent is thrown into a box labeled “white” and nothing more.
Many elements of our modern society wipe out traditional ingredients and sources of culture. We are left with a vacuum. What takes place then?
As Archbishop Chaput indicated in his recent Erasmus lecture, “democracy isn’t just ‘allied’ with modern technology; it depends on it.” In practical terms, this means that the entertainment industry is the most powerful manufacturer of public opinion. Politicians themselves acknowledge this fact by spending vast amounts of money to buy space in the media and in the craven pursuit of celebrity endorsements at election time (Carl R. Trueman).
If we do not make an effort to build up the culture, to preserve our cultural heritage, to seek a way to transmit cultural practices to future generations, then something must take its place. What else is there?
Since the strongest community for the young is an internet community, and much of what the young spend their time doing (social media) is driven (behind the scenes) by profit seeking, the young are, knowingly and unknowingly exposed to advertising. What is not a product of advertising? Thanksgiving becomes a holiday meant for shopping. The Christmas season, now the generic holiday season is about Santa and shopping (in school it is about Santa, elves, Elsa, and presents). People sigh helplessly and how stores push holidays earlier and earlier, but where else do we gather with people for leisure if not in the marketplace when the churches are out of the modern equation?
We should not give up hope. We can take a conscientious stance on culture, holding onto and transmitting traditions from our past, adopting new traditions that incorporate the sentiment we hope to pass on. There is a fascinating movement attempting to retake culture through the green movement, organic products, home farming, diy projects. It is anti-corporate. It practices subsidiarity, operating the most local level possible.
Some will fight for culture, those in religion, but then even those not in religion who see something being lost in the bland marketing playground of American society. I am eager to see what happens. I think that the transcendent aspect of religion acts as the glue to bind it all together. What is the core value of the secular millennial movement? It is not the rebellion that captivated the 60’s and 70’s. It is something more. I await the revelation with bated breath.