Culture

Rediscovering the martial virtues

Culture | Whatever happened to personal peace and affluence?

Issue: "The Mormon Olympics," Feb. 16, 2002

"Personal peace and affluence." Those would be the only values left, predicted Francis Schaeffer, as American culture drifted further and further from its biblical foundations. Americans would be willing to sacrifice their faith, their morality, their families, and even their freedoms, as long as they could feel peaceful inside and enjoy the luxuries of material prosperity.

Schaeffer's predictions held true in the years after his death. During the 1990s, American affluence surpassed the dreams of Midas. The economy, stimulated by the promises of the dot-com revolution and a bid-up stock market, brought many Americans-many of them in their 20s-untold wealth.

And inner peace was just another commodity to be easily purchased, from feng shui interior design-the fashionable Buddhist alignments that supposedly channeled positive energy-to the final emancipation of sex vices-ranging from pornography to homosexuality-from cultural taboos and personal guilt.

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Many churches even began selling Christianity as a sure-fire formula for personal peace and affluence. While Christ does promise a peace that passes understanding, it is not as the world gives, and is not without its crosses, struggles, and tribulations.

Name-it-and-claim-it promises of health and wealth were never part of the gospel, representing instead the mindset of pagan religions that claim to manipulate their gods, a far cry from the God of the Bible. Still, such churches prospered and grew, catering as they did to the spirit of the age.

But recently, personal peace and affluence have taken some big hits.

The economic recession, while mild compared to past downturns, shook the faith of those who had taken prosperity for granted. It turned out that the dot-com industry put more trust in virtual reality than in tangible products.

Not only the tech companies, like Global Crossing, but high-flying corporations such as Enron proved to be growing on a foundation of thin air-on stock prices that were high only because so many people were buying them, and on a seemingly endless supply of debt. Companies worth billions on paper suddenly evaporated, leaving their formerly affluent owners and investors with nothing.

As for peace, America now finds itself at war. Of course, a person can cultivate personal peace during wartime, but this war is different. Usually, a nation's military takes the casualties, but most of the casualties in the reign of terrorism are civilians.

Does a culture of personal peace and affluence have the stomach for this kind of war? In Europe, arguably further along in the cult of peace and affluence than the United States, our allies are already squeamish. The European press and intellectual elites are lambasting America for not treating al-Qaeda prisoners with enough dignity and for the president's State of the Union address in which he promised war not just against al-Qaeda but against hostile states preparing weapons of mass destruction.

Can Americans stay the course? Certainly much of the cultural renewal that seemed to happen in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 has slipped back to normal. The imperatives of personal peace and affluence keep reasserting themselves. We are not used to war, and it shows in the naïve assumption that we can become perfectly safe if the government just implements the right security measures.

Not much can be done when the suicide bombers, with plastic explosives hidden under their clothing, hit the malls here as they have in Israel. Already some voices are arguing for the moral equivalence of the United States and the terrorists, of Christianity and Islam. John Lennon is being quoted again, "Imagine no religion," and "give peace a chance."

And yet, 97 percent of Americans polled after the president's State of the Union message support his conduct of the war against terrorism.

As military historian Victor Davis Hanson has shown, the Western -particularly the American-way of war is unusually relentless. The Japanese honestly believed that the destruction of the American fleet at Pearl Harbor meant that the United States would stay out of their way. Non-Westerners tend to have one decisive battle, whereupon the defeated party graciously surrenders. The Japanese never dreamed that their attack would mean that America would not stop until their nation was effectively destroyed.

Perhaps the Islamic militants will learn the same lesson, and America will rediscover its martial virtues and will set aside personal peace and affluence for a higher cause.

Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith

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