For some years now, the concept of “anti-culture” has floated around the Internet as a way to refer to alternative or minority communities that intentionally take a subversive, transgressive, or (in its mildest form) indifferent posture toward culture—whatever “culture” is. As just one example, the people behind AntiCulture.net describe their site as “a museum of Neo Postmodern meta art where human programming meta artists create cyber artists such as artificial intelligence beings and random generators.” Quite transgressive stuff, indeed.
More recently, a few Christian leaders and writers (drawing inspiration from the late sociologist Philip Rieff) have picked up the term “anti-culture” as a way to describe the current “climate” in the United States. The basic idea is that if culture is understood, as Carl Trueman puts it, to be “the elaborate structures and materials built in to the very fabric of society for the refinement and transmission of its beliefs and its forms of life from generation to generation, connecting past, present, and future,” then the United States today does not even have a culture anymore. Instead, they say, we have an “anti-culture” that forbids nothing and runs on chaos.
In Crisis Magazine, for instance, English professor Anthony Esolen writes regarding the sanctity of human life that “you can’t have a culture of life if you have no culture at all.” Culture in America has been thoroughly destroyed, he maintained, “and the most energetic destroyers have been the very people whom we charge with its care: teachers, professors, statesmen, and artists.”
Citing Esolen, Carl Trueman has argued in First Things that the United States no longer has any culture, given his definition noted above. He admits that “we do still have culture of a sort”—if all we mean by that is “pop culture” of the likes of Lady Gaga. But beyond this trivial level, he writes, “the Unholy Trinity of the entertainment industry, big business, and the law courts” have sovereignly decreed “the wholesale repudiation of the past and its institutions and interdicts, and a Devil-may-care attitude to the future.” And if the United States no longer has a culture, he reasons, then Christian cultural engagement in any meaningful sense is over.
Likewise, Rod Dreher, best known for prescribing to Christians his “Benedict Option” of cultural withdrawal and resistance (the point for Dreher is not disengagement per se but rather spiritual formation and Christians “setting their own house in order”), writes in The American Conservative, “We no longer have a culture. We have chaos. And the people will accept it, because we have exchanged the culture we had for chaos, and we call it freedom. . . . It’s time to prepare for some very dark days. Those who still have a culture within them and their families and communities had better start digging in.” Here again, American society has no culture.
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