Culture is a society’s way of joyfully guiding itself into the future, a future made most visible in its ever-repeating cycle of celebrations.
When you cut to the quick on that future the child emerges. Looked at differently, our culture is our way of collectively guiding ourselves to guide our children along certain paths, as elegantly as we can, to ensure as good a future as we can for them.
Why the emphasis on elegance? Because culture is a common enjoyment. It is “beauty for everyone”.
Culture is a people giving themselves a little bit of heaven while here on earth: enjoying the beauty we have created for ourselves as a people. Thus special days are celebrated as beautifully as we can: birthdays, weddings especially — a high point of culture, as are all the key steps leading up to it: the patterns of romance and of engagement. So too are a peoples big festivals honoring its history as a people and so too are its big religious holidays made to be enjoyed (even the somber ones).
Thus we can also admire and vicariously enjoy other peoples’ cultures: the Italians as they celebrate in their very Italian way all sorts of feast days; Indians of India with very different religious feast days and holidays; Chinese in their ways, Japanese in theirs. And so it goes on, all around the world.
There are common elements in all cultures: birth, marriage, death and funerals, courtship, birthdays, high religious feast days. They exist all over the globe for all peoples in all places. Life has the same common “critical tasks” no matter what nation or people we are.
For us in the US the question today is “What do we celebrate together now?” With birth a suspect thing (thanks to abortion and out of wedlock births), with romance dying (given contraception and the hookup culture), with weddings only for some and far fewer, and with the afterlife non-existent for an increasing number, lots of the reasons for elegant celebration or mourning are gone. The building of elegance around these milestones in the life can no longer be a common project for present America. We do not have a culture war. Instead, through shared embarrassment, we have a culture starvation.
Some of our states have even eliminated death as a stage – it has now become a choice! But who can celebrate an assisted suicide. Can anyone envisage great art being inspired by such? A new Mozart Requiem that brings us deep within ourselves even as it brings us up to the heavens? For suicide?
We are a people who no longer have a common project of shepherding the child onto a life path that leads to the “good life” (or a “good enough” life) and finally into the afterlife. We no longer have such a common project to which to commit. Hence we can have no culture.
But the America that will survive will build its own new culture and it will come, it can only come, from those who love bringing new life into existence, for without the baby there is no cycle to repeat.
Out of the ashes of present post-modernity will spring the new American culture – probably already well underway but not visible through the mainstream media whose energies are fixated elsewhere. Our new America will be one with ways of moving through the stages of life with the elegance that “Joe the construction worker and his wife Jane” are quite capable of expressing when they get together with their families and friends at community celebrations.
I predict that the dominant color in the new patterns being woven into the cultural fabric of the new America, the one that not only lasts but thrives, will be the celebration of new life, and in the tapestry of this culture the thread of the Fatherhood of God will be visible. We will find an American way to do this. We will be a people who celebrate four beings, the new baby, the couple who co-created this new life, and God the creator. This is the culture that will emerge, likely already is emerging. The logic of reality makes it so.
We have lots to look forward to. Culture spotting will be the new enjoyment.
Pat Fagan is Senior Fellow and Director of the Marriage and Religion Research Institute (MARRI). This article is republished from the MARRI blog with permission.