Monday, October 29, 2007

Life in the Big City

I mentioned in an earlier post that I spent some time in a few American megalopolises last month. Frankly, I’ve never been a huge fan of cites. The high cost, congestion and crime aren’t exactly my cup of tea.

Among Christian bloggers that I read and my paleoconservative brethren there is a noticeable and discernible sympathy for agrarianism, both as a lifestyle and an ideology.

The Bible says that the first city was created by Cain (Gen. 4:17), the son of Adam who murdered his brother, Abel. Yet the book of Revelation describes heaven as a place where city and garden come together. Well functioning cities are necessary and vital for civic health.

Historically the city has represented common life and faith and an extended family. It was a place where culture and civilization could develop. Cities offered material and physical protection through mutual defense.

The problem with modern cities is that they have embraced humanism, egalitarianism, and a bastardized multiculturalism, none of which can bind man to man, and thus the city becomes a place of conflict and alienation. Likewise, in modern warfare, cities are the most exposed and vulnerable arenas of battle. In short, rather than being a beacon and oasis for civilized life, cities are frequently sources of barbarism and violence.

There are a number of sources of alienation in American cities. First, there is ever growing ethnic balkanization. Whites are now minorities in one-third of America’s most urbanized areas and mass immigration continues to transform the urban landscape.

In 1950, 90% of Americans were of European descent. By 2000, it was impossible to speak of a typical American. Texas recently became the fourth state with a non-white majority population, joining California, New Mexico, and Hawaii. Five other states have populations that are 40% or more non-white. Non-whites are also a majority in 10% of all 3,100 counties in the country.

Such a massive demographic transformation has political effects certainly, but there are also economic consequences. Wages of the least skilled are declining, with young black men being particularly hard hit. Restricting immigration would strengthen urban life dramatically by tightening the labor market, thereby raising wages of residents and at least providing an opportunity for people to support themselves.

Mass immigration and the diversity wrought thereby also produces social disaffection. Liberal academic Robert Putnam recently admitted that diversity undermines trust, which is foundational to a social, political, and economic order. In the face of diversity, people tend to "hunker down" and surround themselves entirely with the familiar. "We act like turtles. The effect of diversity is worse than had been imagined. And it’s not just that we don’t trust people who are not like us. In diverse communities, we don’t trust people who do look like us," Putnam says.

Lest I take this too far, let me pull back for a moment to say that ethnic homogeneity alone by no means produces peaceful urban life. A second and more important source of disorder is the decline of religious unity, specifically Christianity which served as a common faith to hold men and communities together.

Polytheistic humanism is the order of the day in urban America. The proportion of professing Christians declined by roughly 10% during the 1990’s, confessing Protestants make up only one-half of the populace, unbelievers are now 15% of the population, and non-Western religions like Islam and Hinduism are spreading dramatically.

In truth, the situation is worse than the data would indicate as the number of Christians acting with a comprehensive Biblical worldview is significantly lower than those who might profess some abstract and mystical faith. Moreover, Christians have little or no willingness to impose cultural discipline.

To take one example, here is a quote from John Piper, a well-known Baptist pastor who is prominent among Reformed Baptists: "We express a passion for the supremacy of God... by making clear that God himself is the foundation for our commitment to a pluralistic democratic order-not because pluralism is his ultimate ideal, but because in a fallen world, legal coercion will not produce the kingdom of God. Christians agree to make room for non-Christian faiths (including naturalistic, materialistic faiths), not because commitment to God's supremacy is unimportant, but because it must be voluntary, or it is worthless. We have a God-centered ground for making room for atheism.”

But “making room” for the worldviews of atheism and pluralistic democracy has social consequences. The timidity of Christians has brought us to the point where we are sitting in the back of the proverbial bus culturally. The political and cultural polytheism that Piper seems to endorse leads to statism. A polytheistic faith is by definition limited, and man, naturally seeking order and unity, finds that order and unity in the state. As Americans syncretize race, culture, and religion, we became collectivists because pluralism can’t ultimately provide unity, and thus the state becomes, as Hegel said, god walking on earth.

Without the discipline and future orientation provided by a bold and comprehensive Christian faith, the city drowns in present-mindedness. Good cities are products of upper class mentalities with long time preferences and a future orientation. When a city becomes lower class oriented, it also becomes entertainment oriented and driven by consumption. In such places the enjoyment of the moment becomes the be-all and end-all of existence. In a lower class society, too, caste becomes increasingly important and lines of birth and color are hardened.

Lower class and secular society becomes dominated by politics. If most men are incompetent in the basic task of planning, and unwilling to learn because they are captured by the present, the state will be given the function. State planning will replace individual and family planning. Statist planning is by definition political planning and politics, especially democratic politics, is geared toward the maintenance of power. The state therefore adds to the problem by reinforcing the emphasis on present-mindedness.

Moreover, this seeps into foreign policy and leads to imperialism and meddlesome intervenitonism. A lower class and politically-oriented country becomes imperialistic because statist and socialist regimes are unable to produce goods successfully and wind up expropriating from others. Awash in debt and enslaved to it, we nevertheless have lots of cool toys.

Yet another consequence associated with a present-orientation is the collapse of the birth rate. From the Straits of Gibralter to the Ural mountains only Islamic nations like Albania, Azerbaijan, and Tajikistan are producing enough children to replace the existing population (the "replacement rate" is 2.1 children per woman). Unlike Christians, Muslims have a vision and eschatology of victory.

Even these numbers are deceptive. In nations like Sweden and France, the birthrates of the foreign born far outpace those of native populations. In short, the people of the West are being displaced. Having swallowed the presuppositions of the contraceptive mentality and the culture of death, awash in the consumerism and bread and circuses of our day, white Christians are in the midst of committing suicide as a people.

In the United States marriage and family have become as disposable as a Sony VCR. Thirty-four percent of all births are to unwed mothers and fully 43 percent of first marriages end in separation or divorce within 15 years and ultimately nearly ½ of marriages fail.

There are about 1.3 million abortions per year, nearly 674 abortions for every 1000 live births. Somewhere between1/2 and 1/3 of women alive today have had at least one abortion.

Why are there so many abortions? Because we want more--now! "You lust and do not have; so you commit murder" (James 4:2). More money, more security, more education, more job opportunities, more sex without consequences. We crave absolute autonomy and we want our stuff. And kids are just messy and get in the way.

While in San Francisco recently, I walked from one end of the city to the other. How many small children did I see? Two! The stench of death hangs over an otherwise beautiful city.

To make up for the alleged shortfall of workers created by our love affair with the culture of death, we do what? Naturally, we import workers from abroad, thereby reinforcing the entire cycle and getting back to where this discussion started.

A loss of faith produces a short-sightedness and infatuation with the present. Our “gods” become our bellys, our wants and desires unmoored from any concern for our posterity.

The breakdown of family wrought by this atomization leads to an ever burgeoning state as all mediating institutions between the individual and the state are plowed under by the interlocking institutions of the Big Market, Big Labor, Big Media and Big Education. All of whom are doing the bidding of the Big State.

And yet there is hope. Revival is breaking out across Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Liberal denominations are slowly dying off and religiously orthodox Christians continue to have more and more children. At my little church in Louisville the nursery is bursting at the seams with babes who will be brought up in the fear and admonition of the Lord. The same is true at such churches across our land.

Moreover, there are Christians all around who are resisting the spirit of the age and rediscovering the importance of family life. The agrarian movement along with the dramatic rise in homeschooling and Christian schools is one outward manifestation of this revival.

God gave to the children of Israel a command: Conquer.

"Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Great Sea on the west. No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. "Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go."

Likewise, God has given His Church the command to go forth, occupy in his name and conquer the nations. "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

God does not leave His people without power. His Word, sharper than a two-edged sword, is empowered by His Spirit and given to His Church. Our theology must be one that resists evil rather than accommodates it.

Rather than wallowing in self-pity, a particularly dangerous temptation, we must pray for faith: "And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."

Ultimately, our faith must rest in our Sovereign Lord, for He shall deliver a victory for His people, through His Son who rules and reigns from the right hand of the Father. "I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill. I will proclaim the decree of the LORD : He said to me, "You are my Son; today I have become your Father. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. You will rule them with an iron scepter; you will dash them to pieces like pottery."


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