Push Back Against Culture
“The Amish are not…against modern technology. We have simply chosen not to be controlled by it” (Amishman David Kline).
Western Pennsylvania is known for its amish communities. As you drive along the hill country, you see their quaint, white, farm homes, horse and buggies, and men, women, and children at work in antiquated clothes. The amish are an anomaly in America. On the one hand, we all envy them a little. Their simplicity in the bucolic countryside touches a part of everyone’s soul. On the other hand, they are the butt of our jokes. They do not fit in the American machine, with our fascination for speed, progress, entertainment, and consumerism. Our culture has changed so sharply, over the last century, that they now seem totally absurd. However one may feel about the amish, their culture testifies to one principle absolutely profound — a principle not only at the heart of Christianity, but a principle which is nearly completely lacking in mainstream Christianity:
They have chosen to live a lifestyle shaped and inspired by their faith, rather than a lifestyle shaped and molded by the world.
What is worldliness? It is easy to say: ‘Don’t steal,’ ‘Don’t lie,’ ‘Don’t murder.’ But how should Christians respond to issues like: the Woke movement, Critical Theory, or gender identity? Bring it closer to home. How do we distinguish worldliness in our television shows, video games, time on social media, or smartphone addiction? Modern life is confusing. St. John wrote to the Church:
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world — the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions — is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 Jn. 2:15-16).
Do we live by this message?
Our grandparents used to talk about worldliness. Do you remember? It concerned them a good deal. They often pointed out trends, here and there, which just seemed “too worldly.” No one talks this way anymore. First of all, worldliness is everywhere now. We are so used to it that we hardly even notice. Second, Christians are embarrassed to talk about worldliness. Worldliness is the elephant in the room. If you bring it up people call you a legalist, an isolationist, or even, a traditionalist. Third, I suspect, we are all too busy to pay attention to “worldliness.” Our pace of life is so rushed, so frenetic, so over-stimulated and complicated. We have been swept up in the “new norm” of our times, and hardly question anything anymore.
How does God want us to live in the 21st century?
“He was casting out a demon that was mute; when the demon had gone out, the one who had been mute spoke, and the crowds were amazed. But some of them said, ‘He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons’…But he knew what they were thinking and said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself becomes a desert, and house falls on house. If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?”…But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you” (Lk. 11:14-20).
There are two kingdoms in this world: the Kingdom of the Devil, and the Kingdom of God. They do not mingle. There are no forty shades of grey between them. There is Black and there is White. This is the first message in this passage. We have to see it.
What is the kingdom of the devil? “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12). Even if we believe this, we do not take it very seriously. We have grown up in a secular world. We compartmentalize our daily life (i.e. TV shows, social media, entertainment, and career decisions) from our spiritual life. In reality, all of that distinction is hog wash. Everything we do has a spiritual dimension. Every moment of the day is open to spiritual forces, good and bad. The messages from our politicians, news stations, and school boards are all influenced by spiritual forces. Nothing is neutral.
Christ’s words take on a new meaning when we apply them to the 21st century. “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Lk. 11:23). Any individual, corporation, or government not working for Christ is working against him. Not only that, is is “scattering” — skorpizei in Greek — literally, disintegrating and corroding the soul. This corrosion, in the heart of worldliness, is even implied in the devil’s name. He is the Beelzebul— in Hebrew: Ba'al Zevuv — the Lord of the Flies.
Fr. Maximos Constas comments: “[Today] we have built a culture of organized distractions, aiding and abetting the mind in its fallen condition…Lingering unregenerately in a realm of illusions; mesmerized by the images flitting about on our computer screens, we become “dull, predatory flies buzzing on the chamber window,” desperate to consume all the futility of the world.”
The devil is the distractions.
So this is the world. How are we meant to live? “If it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you” (Lk. 11:20). Jesus Christ came as a Kingdom. A life in Christ means a life set apart from the world. The kingdom is a lifestyle, a culture, a community that is different than the world around us. The devil’s kingdom is characterized by busyness, anxiety, and corrosion. The Kingdom of God is characterized by truth, goodness, beauty, and peace. It comes with a different calendar, a calendar based on the Holy Days. It comes with different values, a different pace, and different loves. It means living deliberately. We must push back against the culture as hard as it pushes back against us. Can we live this in the 21st century? This is the work Christ has given us.
We do not all need to live as amish. We do all need to live as deliberately and distinctly as the amish. Our culture has taken a turn — a radical turn — and it is moving quickly now. America has changed, and it is changing fast. In another five or ten years, this will be a wholly different country. There are two camps: those who identify with God and those who identify with the world. The chasm between those camps is growing exponentially. So which camp will be ours?
In the meantime, our Lord promises us one thing: his Kingdom is the most beautiful.