Christ, Culture, & Brainwashing
“The maid dead in her house, is the soul lying dead in thought” (St. Rabanus).
What does it mean to be dead in thought? This is a comment by a saint in the eighth century, who, in seeing this maiden lying in her casket, sees ourselves drowning in warped reality and dysfunctional thoughts. Christ came to raise her from the dead. In the same way today, God’s presence not only saves our souls, it clears our heads.
I recently read a convicting statement by a radio talk show host.
“I have come to understand the average German living under Nazism and the average Russian living under communism for another reason: the power of the media to brainwash…I have always believed that only in a dictatorship could a society be brainwashed. I was wrong. I now understand that mass brainwashing can take place in a nominally free society…I just never thought it could happen in America.”
Regardless of one’s political bent, this word should strike us. Are we capable of being brainwashed? Am I vulnerable to twisted ideas and false constructions of reality? I had a professor in college who had a way of saying things. While lecturing on, he would occasionally pause, and, with a twinkle in his eye, make a statement pithy and profound (although I doubt any of us really understood him). Here is one of those statements: “Sin leads to insanity.”
In the Book of Romans, St. Paul describes the state of our world: “God is manifest [to the world]…Since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen” (Rm. 1:19-20). God is not invisible. His existence and his laws are written in every human face and every blade of grass. The pure in heart not only sees God, he sees him everywhere, hears, touches, tastes, and feels him everywhere. The Psalter says, God’s glory is proclaimed by babes and sucklings, and “the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou hast ordained” (Ps. 8:2-3). God is visible everywhere. Sin clouds our minds and blocks out the sun.
St. Paul goes on to say: “Although [the world] knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful” (Rm. 1:21). Everyone knows God, but we do not worship him — not in our actions and lifestyle at any rate. Instead, we get wrapped up in our ego, our love of money, and pursuit of entertainment. This next line by St. Paul is one of the most consequential in all his letters. God does not punish us for our sins with lightning and thunder. God simply gives us over to our own cravings. If we will not have Truth, God lets us have lies.
St. Paul writes: “Because…they did not glorify Him as God…[they] became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools…God gave them up to vile passions…As they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind” (Rm. 1:21,26, 28). I am very much capable of being brainwashed. I am vulnerable to all kinds of lies and messed up values. We all are. We must recognize this.
“When Jesus came to the ruler’s house, and saw the flute players, and the crowd making a tumult, he said, ‘Depart; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at him. But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose” (Mt. 9:23-25).
The girl is the soul lying dead in thought. Who are the flute players? St. Rabanus says, they are the “flatterers who encourage the dead in sin.” All the fake news, our favorite television series, our Oprahs and Zuckerbergs, many of our peers and friends, everything in this world which impresses in our souls a warped perception of life — these are the flute players and flatterers trying to keep us dead. God is our only hope to wake up. We need to examine ourselves constantly in the light of Jesus Christ.
What can we do to wake up? We have to reach out and touch the hem of Jesus’ garment.
“A woman who had suffered from a hemorrhage for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment; for she said to herself, ‘If I only touch his garment, I shall be made well.’ Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, ‘Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.’ And instantly the woman was made well” (Mt. 9:20-22).
Can you imagine all the commotion and hubbub in this scene. A huge crowd pressed against Jesus Christ. People shopping and selling, and all manner of important figures swarmed in the streets. She was a nobody, pushed down by the crowds and noise, the way we are in this world today, with all its lies, false ideologies, and bombastic distractions. She was sick, bleeding, the way we are bleeding in our souls, because of all our hurt and confusion. She was tired and overwhelmed as we are at the end of every day, after being worn out with stress. What hope did she have? She needed only to touch the hem of his garment. So, we need only to touch the hem of God, in his sacraments and his Holy Church.
Jesus Christ is with us today. The politics do not change this. The economy makes no difference. Our jobs, health, stress, and worries do not do anything to prevent us from perfect peace in Jesus Christ. They are only the noise, like the noise in that street, which distracted, but did not keep the faithful woman back from reaching out to Jesus Christ. He is with us today, here, in his Church, in His sacraments and His Gospel. He is with us in His inspiration in traditional Christian culture.
“Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rm. 12:2).
Our identity cannot be shaped by contemporary culture. We need to know it and understand it. Yet, it has to remain foreign to us. For the last 50 years or so, Christians have walked hand-in-hand with pop culture. We were afraid to look different. We succeeded. We not only look like the world, we have become the world. Our values and philosophy cannot be the values and philosophies of people around us. Our culture, our lifestyle, yes, even our music and entertainment, must be separate. The Spirit of the Times creates one kind of culture. God’s Holy Spirit creates another. We must be formed by the latter.
“The maid dead in her house, is the soul lying dead in thought” (Rabanus).
Christ is with us. If we reach out to touch the hem of his garment, he will raise us from the dead.