This article first appeared in the January 2000 issue of the Christian Research Report. For further information go to: http://www.equip.org
As I watched reports of the Columbine killings, the title of Robert Bork’s book, Slouching towards Gomorrah2, pulsated like neon in my mind. While Christian leaders from Bill Bright to Rodney Howard-Browne claim that we are in the midst of a massive revival3, in reality Western civilization has become “a monster of decadence”, and we “are now slouching not towards Bethlehem, but towards Gomorrah.”4
The tragedy at Columbine High is merely one in a series of extreme wakeup calls.
While the prospect of wiring schools for the information age has intoxicated President Clinton, we are losing the souls of our children. Visual stimuli and information bombardment have become sick substitutes for wisdom and understanding. As our kids travel down the information superhighway, they are picking up a bias against rationality and responsibility.
Lacking the necessary skills to process this massive amount of information, our children have become increasingly nihilistic5,—and out of that nihilism looms a culture of death. While this culture has produced a muddy mixture of the macabre, two distinct philosophies have emerged—one white-knuckled, the other bare-knuckled.
White Knuckles vs. Bare Knuckles
The white-knuckled kids are well characterized by the Gothic scene, which had its genesis in the early 1980s in a London club called the “Bat Cave” and emerged with the music of a band called the “Sisters of Mercy”.
“Goths” live on the edge through a fascination with death and a love of the morbid, often watching scary movies or walking through graveyards. Their dark, gender-bending clothing and fingernail polish contrasted with their white, pancake makeup portrays a sense of the haunted. They pride themselves on being individualistic and introspective and consider their preoccupation with the dark side a harmless form of artistic self-expression. Some goths are also self-styled Wiccans.6 Others have created a world in which they are the victims of other people’s biases. While their actions and culture speak to their angst, they are not prone to bare-knuckled aggression.
In contrast, bare-knuckled kids, characterized by the Industrial scene, are more apt to manifest violence and aggression. The Industrial subculture, codified in 1976 with the formation of Industrial Records by a group called the “Throbbing Gristle,” are taking the culture of death to a new level. Their songs not only satirize social and spiritual virtues, but they also obsess on shocking musical expressions of serial killing, suicide, and sadomasochism.
As with the Columbine killers, Industrial teens often display a bizarre fascination with blood-drenched video games such as “Doom” and shock-rock performers such as “Marilyn Manson.” Rather than merely being fascinated by death, bare-knuckled kids are often proactively fixated on destruction.
What You See is What You Are
As documented in Slouching towards Gomorrah, those who suggest there’s no connection between what our kids see and hear and how they act are dead wrong. Studies show a direct, causal relationship between the violence portrayed in movies, magazines, and music and violent behavior.7 However, common sense should suffice.
Billions of advertising dollars are spent each year on the premise that behavior will be impacted. As noted by Bork, music “is used everywhere to create attitudes—armies use martial music, couples listen to romantic music, churches use organs, choirs, and hymns. How can anyone suppose that music (plus the images of television, movies, and advertisements) about sex and violence has no effect?”
Ted Koppel, host of ABC’s Nightline, fears that the information industry is “on the verge of becoming a hallucinogenic barrage of images, whose only grammar is pacing, whose principal them is energy. We are losing our ability to manage ideas; to contemplate, to think.”9 Carl Bernstein comments even more directly on the creation of an “idiot culture”: “For the first time in our history, the weird and the stupid and the coarse are becoming our cultural norm, even our cultural ideal.”10
A Christian Counterattack
However, Christians should not be content to simply curse the darkness. We need to build a lighthouse in the midst of the gathering darkness.
First, it is imperative that we look beyond the destructive behavior of troubled teens and minister to their alienation and despair. We must realize that our children are an even higher calling than our careers. As has been well said, our children don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care. Far from being unreachable, they are a mission field in our very homes.
Furthermore, we must come to grips with the fact that Clinton, Congress, and the courts are not the real problem. The real problem is Christians who have abdicated their responsibility to be salt and light. In the words of Os Guinness, “The time has come for evangelicals to wake from our lethargy or turn from our fear, blaming, and victim-playing. We must move out into all spheres of society, presenting the case for the gospel of Jesus in ways that are fresh, powerful, imaginative, compassionate, and persuasive.”11
Finally, it is important to note that there are rays of sunshine peering through the dark clouds.
Cassie Bernall is a classic example. Growing up in a middle-class environment, she once dabbled in the culture of death and embraced the nihilism of her killers. A couple of years ago, all of that changed. She exchanged her dark world for the Light of the world. Thus she has been transported from the culture of death to a country divine. Though she has passed on before us, her transformation continues to speak volumes against the culture of death.
1 Tom Brokaw, anchorman of NBC Nightly News, speaking to graduates at the College of Santa Fe in New Mexico, as quoted in The Associated Press, “Brokaw: Technology Let People Down,” 16 May 1999.
2 Robert H. Bork, Slouching towards Gomorrah (New York: HarperCollins, 1996).
3 See Hank Hanegraaff, Counterfeit Revival (Dallas: Word, 1997), 103.
4 Bork, front cover flap.
5 Nihilism is the view that existence has no meaning or purpose, thus denying any objective ground of truth.
6 That is, they are practitioners of witchcraft. “The plurality assumed in witchcraft makes it difficult to define clearly and unambiguously. However, most witches agree with the following basic beliefs: (1) all of reality is divine; (2) there is a dualism or plurality within the divine oneness [e.g., gods and goddesses]; (3) the spiritual world and the material world are one reality; (4) the goal of human life is to live in harmony with Nature; (5) ritual practice is the witches’ path to harmony; and (6) there is no ‘one true right and only way.’ ” (Bob and Gretchen Passantino, When the Devil Dares Your Kids [Ann Arbor, MI: Servant, 1991], 57-58).
7 Bork, 144.
9 From a speech delivered in October 1995 to the International Radio and Television Society, New York City, as quoted in Os Guinness, Fit Bodies Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don’t Think and What to Do about It (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1994), 80.
10 Carl Bernstein, “The Idiot Culture,” The New Republic, 8 June 1992, 24-25, as quoted in Guinness, 70.
11 Guinness, 150.