Reliance on labels often mislead and befuddle present day cultural observers. The label “political conservative” is about as clear as a London fog. During Wyoming’s 2022 primary elections, nearly every GOP candidate will claim the mantle of Pro-life. It has become a convenient euphemism for “abortion sometime.” Euphemisms are older than our Republic. In 1656, Englishman, Thomas Blount defined it, “A good or favorable interpretation of a bad word.” Euthanasia advocates prefer “death with dignity.” Liberals prefer “undocumented” instead of “illegal” for violators of our borders. Formerly deviant, abnormal behavior is now “an alternative lifestyle.” The Anglican Church redefines shacking up as “covenant relationships.” Abortion mills are labeled “women’s health clinics.” Historically, Americans are gullible, prone to embrace soaring rhetoric and unsubstantiated promises.
George Orwell introduced the idea of “Newspeak” in his 1949, classic novel “1984.” He warned that euphemistic words and phrases not only distort meaning, but also impoverish language and rational thinking, where absurdity of words reign, to breech the truth. President Jimmy Carter called his failed Iran hostage rescue attempt an “incomplete success.” Liberty minded rallies are branded “Hitler style” demonstrations.
Canadian Marshall McLuhan, media and communication guru, in 1964, popularized, “The medium is the message,” coining the terms of “hot” and “cool” communications. He often quoted artists, politicians, statesmen, poets and writers like Bacon, Yeats, Whitman, Eliot, and de Tocqueville, demonstrating how words, cinema and photos move people and advance ideas.
The 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debates were defining moments in American politics, where substance, style and visceral reactions moved a political nation as never before. At the time, CBS President, Frank Stanton, stated bluntly, “Kennedy was bronzed beautifully…Nixon looked like death.” Those watching the first TV debate declared Kennedy won by a landslide. Radio listeners gave a slight nod to Nixon. TV was “hot media.” Radio was “cool media.” Post debate newspaper coverage in 1960, was balanced, suggesting not a landslide, but slight edge to Kennedy.
McLuhan’s book “Understanding Media” was a tool kit for analyzing how one responds to the stimulation of words and images. “It’s the content of the medium,” he maintained. “Hot media” is that which engages one’s senses completely, like TV commercials, designed to “heat up” or capture one’s attention. “Cool media” is that which engages several senses less completely. It demands substantial interaction, high participation on the part of the audience paying close attention to details, like phone conversations, news podcasts, documentaries, where participants must be more engaged.
Such principles revolutionized the advertising and political landscape. McLuhan never anticipated laptops, cell phones, social media and the unprecedented explosion of technology. However, he understood what was at stake; the heart, mind and soul of American culture. Communication, devoid of absolute truth, serves as a vehicle of manipulation. Our American culture continues to snooze at the wheel-most are unaware of what’s at stake in the arena of words and images. Merchants-of-death, abortion providers, understand that images of dead, dismembered babies in dumpsters, would turn multitudes against abortion on demand, and women’s “right to choose” would be significantly marginalized, shrinking their coffers, and support would evanesce like a puddle-of-water in the Wyoming wind. Currently, the composition of SCOTUS keeps them awake at nights, as Roe v. Wade hangs precariously in the balance.
Evangelicals understand what’s at stake. Reclaiming our biblical lexicon. One should be leery of vacuous phrases like, “Stand united with the people of faith.” Without investigation, that statement is an elusive aphorism. What’s at stake? As custodians of timeless verities, one must resist hucksters, masquerading behind religious smoke and mirrors. G.K. Chesterton warned when theological truths are replaced by sappy cliches and religious mumbo-jumbo, don’t be astonished when a culture drifts toward paganism. Reclaiming our words begin when one understands the stakes of doing otherwise, is calamitous. Our calling: speaking Biblical truth and straight talk to this generation. It will require more than rhetoric. Like all other great evils, such as slavery, we know abortion cannot be extirpated by simple legislative decree or contrivance.
Caught in the web of “being relevant” too many churches and para-church organizations have in recent times, tapped into modernity, trendy programs, mega churches, “seeker groups,” upbeat worship music, the internet and social media to reinvigorate their base, while simultaneously trying to accurately assess which way the wind blows. COVID-19 revealed their soft underbelly, and their willingness to rely on the federal teat. A large Evangelical church in Casper, went on the federal dole, although having millions squirreled away.
Large mainline protestant denominations, especially in urban areas, faced dwindling numbers for years. To adapt, many churches opened membership to nearly anyone and everyone, where the “greatest sins” are white privilege, equal pay, global warming and LQBTQ justice. Sadly, “watering down” the Scriptures to mean anything, now mean nothing. Perhaps the sky isn’t falling, but the floor has eroded beneath them. At one mainline seminary in New York, the student body is comprised of Hindus, Buddhist, Baptist, Methodist, Anglicans and agnostics. At one chapel service students danced around a plant, and prayed to it to honor the “green movement.” Words, without content, like faith, can mean anything or nothing. Latitudinarianism that declined into compromise, accommodation and subverting objective truth.
American Evangelicals now are trying to find a message that resonates with the hermetically sealed world of Generation X, Y, Z who are unlikely to be drawn to the former outreach and evangelism efforts of yesteryear. Skeptics have been around since the Apostles first received their marching orders from Jesus Himself. Fast forward to the current religious landscape that is barely recognizable to the octogenarian generation. Most troubling to those who identify with Christ, is that one-in-four Americans identify as atheist, agnostic or the “Nones.” They comprise 45% of Americans, ages 19-29, profess they want “Nothing” to do with organized religion or a particular view on faith. If it became “woke” to align with some religious experience, they may risk it. That doesn’t bode well for the future of religious expression in the public square in general, or the New Testament church in particular.
There’s an unending onslaught to eradicate the old edifices that held our Judeo-Christian culture together. What C.S. Lewis called “the abolition of man.” Few saw it coming. Most of us understand there’s too much at stake to call evil good. T.S. Eliot confessed the struggle to uphold the permanent things has no surcease. Our vision must be to attract a new generation of bare knuckle Christians, convinced that God’s Word is sufficient to change our culture, one soul at a time. Not perfect followers-there are none. Not fans of Jesus, but followers of Jesus. Radicals for unvarnished truth and the Gospel, willing to proclaim it unambiguously in one’s sphere of influence. To speak where the Scriptures speak; be silent when the Scripture’s silent. At age 39, what did it cost Dietrich Bonhoeffer to follow Christ in Nazi Germany? Everything. In America, what’s the cost to be a follower of Christ? Not very much. What do you think?
Mike Pyatt’s a Natrona County resident. His email’s email@example.com