“Engaging the culture”

Christian conservatives sometimes talk about “engaging the culture,” meaning participating in mainstream public life with a view to influencing the habits and standards it presumes. That doesn’t make a lot of sense. “The culture,” as authoritatively represented by all respectable public institutions, holds that values are simply personal preferences to be aggregated and reconciled with the aid of bureaucratic and market institutions. It follows that “the culture” is willing to engage in a civil and respectful fashion only those views that lend themselves to such treatment—that are willing to view themselves as personal preferences on a par with other personal preferences. Other views are instances of “bigotry” and “hatred” fit only for therapy or suppression. So “engaging the culture” requires accepting liberal modernity in advance and so—for Christianity—committing suicide. What’s needed is something quite different: to deny the rightness of liberal modernity and to offer and live by an alternative.

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