I love definitions because they help focus the mind. For decades, we are said to have been in a culture war. As in any war, it helps to know one’s enemy.
One online dictionary defines culture this way: “the quality in a person or society that arises from a concern for what is regarded as excellent in arts, letters, manners, scholarly pursuits, etc.”
One secondary definition is under the subheading anthropology: “the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another.” I especially like that second definition.
So culture is a sum total. It is also about ways of living by more than a few humans, with all of that being willed to succeeding generations.
Those of a certain age remember what their parents or grandparents transmitted to them following the Great Depression and World War II. It was the sum total of values and beliefs they shared, the values held by those Tom Brokaw correctly labeled the greatest generation.
Yes, they were imperfect, just as we are, sinners incapable of saving themselves apart from God’s mercy and grace. But they saved a nation — several nations — because they embodied the things that mattered most in life: duty, honor and country. They not only wanted to restore such things to Europe and preserve them for America but also sought to pass these down to their children and grandchildren. They had learned them from their parents. It is why they went to war, and although thousands did not come back, their values remained, at least until the self-indulgent 1960s and the generation that followed (as critiqued in my 1994 book, “The Things That Matter Most”).
Today that clash of their culture with ours is stark. My grandmother once admonished me for using words she said nice young men don’t say in public. The words that offended her were toilet paper. Imagine what this woman, born in 1888, would think of the words heard on TV, in movies and on the streets today.
Return to the definition given earlier and particularly notice the words built up. This suggests to me that the way to change a culture is not from the top down but from the bottom up, not through Washington but through the human heart and individual choices.
It might be too late for that, but it is not too late to make choices for ourselves and for our families, especially where we send our young children to school. It amazes me that so many parents — conservative and Christian parents — see no problem in sending their children to state schools, where they learn they evolved from slime and the reason they like bananas on their cereal is that their nearest relative is at the zoo.
OK, I exaggerate, but not by much. If your child is a soldier, would you be OK if he or she were trained in a country that was the enemy of the United States? Doesn’t the question answer itself? Why, then, would you knowingly and willingly send your child to a school — and then a university — that undermines the values, beliefs and faith you have tried to teach them?
Don’t answer that you want them to be ambassadors for God. I have met many ambassadors, and none are 8-year-olds. Children, like soldiers, must be trained and indoctrinated with the knowledge and principles of the nation (or kingdom) they are expected to serve. Look up two words in a concordance. They are teach and learn. The verses in Scripture that include these words instruct godly parents in what God expects when it comes to children on loan to us for a brief time.
Legions of young men and women taught such things will build up a culture and ultimately a nation. It is the only way to win a culture war.
• Cal Thomas, a nationally syndicated columnist, is the author of “America’s Expiration Date: The Fall of Empires, Superpowers and the United States” (HarperCollins/Zondervan, January 2020). This column is an excerpt from the just-published book.