The second book of Kings in the Old Testament is a usefully depressing history on national decline. It starts with fire coming down from heaven to convince a king, and Elijah ascending to heaven via chariots of fire. It ends with the former king of Judah taken into captivity and dependent on the ruler of Babylon, who condescends to give him an allowance.
Not all kings were part of the descent. Jehoash, Amaziah, and Azariah, for example, all “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord,” except for one thing: “The high places were not removed; the people still sacrificed and made offerings on the high places” (2 Kings 12:2-3, 14:3-4, 15:3-4). Many who gave lip service to Yahweh hedged their bets by visiting a “high place” (in Hebrew, bamah) that was usually but not always on a hill or mountain.
A bamah, in short, was a cultural security blanket: High places could make people feel like far-seeing gods possessing gnostic wisdom. Question: What are the high places in our culture? Answer: Academia and media. See how people donate to their alma maters even when professors teach doctrines that label the contributors as little more than criminals. See how millions reverently give to PBS and NPR, and how ABC, CBS, and NBC still have the power to insinuate liberal messages. See how hundreds of thousands read the Sunday New York Times and email its sermons.
I saw the power of the high places not only teaching at The University of Texas for two decades, but through my failure to convince one king to attack them. During the 1990s, when I very occasionally advised Texas Gov. George W. Bush, we talked about how academically totalitarian UT was becoming. He sympathized but said he was not strong enough to take it on. Unions, sure. Later, al Qaeda, sure. Bamah, no.
Our academic high places are hives of the left. The Daily Princetonian says 155 members of Princeton University’s faculty or staff donated to Barack Obama, and only two (one visiting lecturer in engineering, one janitor) to Mitt Romney. I’ve seen similar stats from other schools. When taxpayers and parents pay tens of thousands of dollars to require students to listen to leftist propaganda from generally persuasive individuals, should we be surprised that young people vote left?
Our media high places cover up misdeeds. For six weeks this fall CBS concealed information it had that showed President Obama confused at best and, more probably, lying concerning the Libya attack that killed four Americans. Had CBS released that footage after the second presidential debate, the course of the campaign could have changed.
More basically, though, the media problem is not what’s omitted but what’s been presented for decades as the new normal: marriage as dull and readily breakable, singleness as sexy and independent. This propaganda-fueled drive toward singleness hurts millions of individuals who learn the downside of no one to depend on. It also has a political kick, as the increasing number of never-married and divorced women depend more on government and vote overwhelmingly for more of it.
What’s next? Democrats’ pro-abortion rhetoric this year was not forward but backward to the time of Judah’s King Ahaz, who “did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord. ... He even burned his son as an offering, according to the despicable practices of the nations.” The good news is that after Ahaz came Hezekiah, who “removed the high places and broke the pillars” (2 Kings 16:2-4, 18:3-4).
Ronald Reagan and the Bushes did not remove the high places. We need a Hezekiah, but we need more: America is not ancient Israel, and the president does not have the power to remove high places. We fall for the blandishments of big media and academia because we are ready to fall: If we concentrate solely on their sin we won’t come to grip with ours.
This all means that breaking bamah pillars is the work of every generation, but providential technology—online courses and publications—is opening wide a door in our day for Christian education and Christian publications. I’ll discuss in my next column how we can run through that door.