The cultural operating systems

Over the past few years, we have watched some massive cultural shifts. These have been shifts I’ve observed, written about, prayed over, and tried to prepare our church for as these “operating systems” have changed. 

David Brooks is one of my favorite columnists and this article (while talking about Trump) really hits at the basic ideas I have been working on in my head. He puts these “operating systems” into definitions I can use to help communicate better what kind of culture we now live in.

(Here is a major hint: For the “left,” it’s not Trump’s fault. For the “right,” it’s not the fault of illegal immigration. This is on US. Collectively.)

For most of our history, Brooks defines our underlying system as being based on mainline Protestantism. He lays out the case for it in the column, which is worth the read. But he then defines what Trump’s election has exposed in our operating system now:

His election demonstrates that as the unifying glue of the mainline culture receded, the country divided into at least three blocks: white evangelical Protestantism that at least in its public face seems to care more about eros than caritas; secular progressivism that is spiritually formed by feminism, environmentalism and the quest for individual rights; and realist nationalism that gets its manners from reality TV and its spiritual succor from in-group/out-group solidarity.

For evangelicals, our “love” has become more impulsive and self-driven than it has been bent toward charity and true care for others. We really love our tribe and we’ll do anything and elect anyone who will allow us to stay in some sphere of influence so we can look powerful in some way.

The new “religion” is the secular progressivism that has a passionate cause that really is spiritually driven. Over the past few weeks, as I have watched some Democrats tepidly suggest maybe they could allow some “pro-life” candidates to run as Democrats because those people agree with basically every other idea of the Democratic platform, the vitriol spilled in opposition has been impressive. (I find it personally discouraging, but I also have been able to see just how passionate this really is for people.) There has been an “over my dead body” kind of response. Almost like that other topic on the other end of the spectrum: “You can have my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers.”

And, of course, reality TV. It has long been a mystery to me, but since it hung around far longer than I would have ever guessed, it’s become the underlying language of so much of what we do and say culturally. It really portrays how we act. Just this week I was noticing an uptick in Twitter activity from a journalist I respect. Her feed wasn’t about what was going on politically (which is generally what she covers) but updates on the last episode of The Bachelorette. I find all of that fascinating. (I have other words for what I really think about that, but they’re not as nice.)

Brooks goes on to pose the important question of what happens when Trump is gone. What underlying operating system will we use? His contention is the old mainline Protestant system is gone. If these new systems are truly our new modes of moral function, we’re in for quite the ride.

These new definitions help me frame what I keep observing in our culture. As believers, the need of our time is to work harder on our motivations and “operating systems.” We truly need a Kingdom mentality that communicates through all these shifts and helps us stay anchored to our King and the power of his Kingdom. The beauty of all this is that the “operating system” has been in use for 2,000 years and has been tried and tested in all kinds of cultures and systems all over the world. Our task is to understand that and operate in it.

THAT is not as easy as it sounds, it turns out.


One thought on “The cultural operating systems

  1. Love this. Fascinating (not always in a good way) how culture is so rapidly shifting and how we are called to stand firm in the midst of it all!

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