Experts estimate that the average consumer sees 10,000 ads a day. Slogans like “Just Do It,” “Drivers Wanted,” and “I’m Loving It” are easily recognizable to the modern ear. But what if advertising has penetrated beyond just products and services? What if it has saturated our lives so much that we hardly notice? Think of these familiar mantras: “Build Bridges Not Walls,” “Love Trumps Hate,” or “Believe Women.” These political slogans sound almost identical to any major ad campaign. Yet when the political space becomes transformed into an advertising space, it changes civic debate into slogans wars. And he with the best one-liner wins.
While it may seem easier to don your tribe’s T-shirt and march away from a discussion, this current cultural trend stands as an alarming threat to liberty and a civil society. Rather than discussing, debating, or examining the evidence of an argument, we yell a catch-phrase. Or we simply parrot soundbites. Yet neither method takes the time to analyze and discuss, to weigh the positives and negatives of an issue. Neither method approaches a problem with a mind open to creative solutions or evidence-based results.
Indeed, our culture steers away from factual discussions because they can “hurt people’s feelings.” However, when we cannot have an honest discussion for fear of offending, we have lost our ability to truly connect. Political correctness ironically sought to provide “tolerant” guardrails for our communication, but has ultimately yielded a society which fears open dialogue.
Moral relativism, which denies the existence of truth, has further resulted in everyone’s “perspective” being held as equally true and valid, regardless of the facts or evidence. It says, “We all have different ways of seeing this issue.” While that may be true, evidence points to certain perspectives being more intellectually feasible than others. When a society cannot identify one position as being morally correct or intellectually feasible, debate becomes useless, and thinking becomes futile. This stands as an extraordinarily dangerous trend in a governmental system designed to be run “by the people.” When the people cease to think, how can they produce a reasonable society?
Another large contributor to the lack of dialogue stems from the public education system which often prizes memorization of answers over analysis. Critical thinking scores in higher education have also plummeted as reported last year in the Wall Street Journal. At more than half of the 200 schools reviewed, “at least a third of seniors were unable to make a cohesive argument, assess the quality of evidence in a document or interpret data in a table.” When thinking for oneself is not taught, students begin to prefer another person’s interpretation of data to analyzing a primary source on their own.
Further, as a result of our over-processed, fast-paced world, our ability to stop, to read and to think has become compromised. Preferences for videos over reading, has turned our culture into a primarily visual culture which relies on another’s interpretation of facts rather than our own primary source discoveries.
However, the human heart longs to seek, to understand and to know. This longing does not apply only to certain generations or times in history. Rather, this need for analysis, discovery and connectedness stands as a hard-wiring of human beings. Reacquainting ourselves with this basic need will help us to rediscover what it means to be human, to live civilly, and to be part of something greater than ourselves.
The Renaissance marked a period of a return to the sources, classic texts, and ancient philosophy. In Latin it is called ad fontes, or “back to the sources.” Thus, the current lack of dialogue in our culture presents a unique opportunity to return to primary sources, and to ourselves. Groups like the National Review Institute Fellowship Program, the Policy Circle, and the Trinity Forum foster dialogue between people about liberty, morality, economics, and what it means to live in a civil society. Whether in a program context or informal meetings in a home, ordinary Americans can begin discussion groups centered around what really matters for the future of our families and this country.
Perhaps at this cultural crossroads of advertising instead of analyzing, we have an opportunity to return to primary sources, to discussion and to reason. Such a return would benefit our country not only on an individual level, but it could give meaning to our divisions and perhaps result in better unity, better understanding, and a better country.
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In our current culture, “freedom” incorrectly means the ability to do what we please without suffering any consequences. This lack of personal responsibility has caused many of our societal problems and much of it is rooted in irresponsible sexual behavior. Consider one of Tinder’s latest ads proclaiming, “Single does what single wants.” This axiom of greed and objectification does not take into account the feelings of another human being, nor does it account for the collateral damage if children result from a union. It merely strips freedom down to the selfish pursuit of one’s desires.
In contrast, Os Guinness, in his new book, Last Call for Liberty (IVP Books), argues that, “Free societies are responsible societies with citizens who are ready, willing, and able to assume personal responsibility.” This sense of personal responsibility is founded in a correct view of ourselves and our purpose. If we understand that we are made in God’s image, then we respect ourselves as His creation. If we respect ourselves as His creation, we also respect every other person as His creation as well. We understand that God made each person special, unique and He loved them long before we ever met them.
Because of this reality, we cannot treat the opposite sex (or any person for that matter) as a consumer item. A person is not a vending machine to use for our own pleasure, but rather a creation of God endowed with a soul. Every man is a brother, a son and a friend while every woman is also a sister, a daughter and a friend.
In our consumer-driven, swipe right, swipe left culture, the ethics of sexuality, the ethics of treating others with dignity has become frayed. Yet what would happen if, as a community, we restored sexual ethics? What if we restored the concept of treating others with value and dignity rather than using them for our own purposes? What if we truly believed that every life was a sacred gift of God with incredible value, worth, purpose and dignity? What if, before we followed our feelings—and exploited another human being—we remembered that this person is a son, a daughter, a brother, a sister and a friend—not an object to be used? What if starting with respecting ourselves, we restored relationships of mutual respect?
Restoring sexual ethics would radically change our culture into one of kindness and mutual respect.
The obstacle to this restorative change is the greed of the human heart which (whether intentionally or unintentionally) continually pulls us to use others for our own advantage. This hardwiring can only be satisfied when the created is finally reconciled to his Creator. As St. Augustine so poignantly noted, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”
When we truly find rest in God alone, it transforms our hearts and our perspective to view ourselves and all other people with dignity and value. In a world so devoid of value and meaning beyond self-fulfillment, this perspective stands apart in a radical way.
As such, the tides of “normalcy” beat against it because seeing others as consumable objects for one’s own benefit stands as the normal mode of selfish, human behavior. Movies, music, the media, celebrity magazines and popular culture reinforce this perspective. Yet this perspective has only led to suffering, broken relationships, broken hearts and the vain attempt to ignore a life which is bankrupt of real meaning.
It is time for a new vision, a new restoration for our culture. Not only answering “What does it mean to be human?” with “Created in the image of God” but also allowing that truth to guide our lives. It becomes an inner decision which goes, “If all people are made in the image of God, then I must treat them as such. If all people are made in the image of God, I cannot use a person for my benefit—sexually or otherwise.”
It also follows that if all people are made in the image of God, then abortion, which ends a human life, is morally wrong. If all people are made in the image of God, then pornography, which is often made using trafficked victims, is wrong. In addition, pornography defaces another human being through a destructive counterfeit relationship, destroying love, relationships and families. This also strips people of the dignity of being made in God’s image.
Ultimately, if all people are made in the image of God, it means that we must radically change our own self-perspective and our perspectives of others. If all people are made in the image of God, then we must treat others with dignity. Finally, a restoration of sexual ethics could not only benefit our personal lives with self-respect and respect towards others, but if we all choose to live by it, we could change our world.
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