14 July 2017

Parenting and cultural engagement

Rod Dreher has been going at it pretty hard these past few days. And by ‘it’ I mean lambasting post-Christian tech, pop and political culture and doing his book push. As the parent of a beautiful four-year-old daughter, a lot of the stuff he brings to light really does keep me up at night, and I really do agree that giving her her own smartphone before she’s old enough to drive really is a kind of moral insanity. And I can’t really fault him that much for promoting his own writing – Lord knows I’d do that too if I were lucky enough to be able to make a living from this blog – though I do rather take fault with the overly-defensive, brittle and uncharitable way that he does it, usually by accusing critics who clearly have read the book with having not read it.

Rod is right about one thing. The culture is changing, and clearly not for the better. Even so, culture is something manmade, and it philosophically stands therefore that it does not and cannot have full control over man – unless he lets it. As for my take on cultural engagement, and how and which media – books, music, movies, what have you – we should (allow our kids to) consume and produce: well, here it is, for what it’s worth.
  • Have you heard of Sturgeon’s Law? If you have, great. If not, here it is: ‘ninety percent of everything is crap’. Got it? Good. Engrave it on your heart. In letters of fire. Bold. Italicised. Triple underlined.

  • You aren’t weird for wanting to limit your child’s exposure. Hyperviolent, hypersexual, blasphemous film and print media are out there, and they’re ubiquitous. It’s perfectly understandable that you don’t want your child’s incredible, impressionable, absorbing young mind to be filled with it from an early age. Ratings are there for a reason.

  • Did I mention Sturgeon’s Law yet? It’s important.

  • Even G-rated media can be harmful. There’s a lot of television and movies which have a putative rating of ‘checked yay for youth’, which still encourage bad habits. Talking back to parents and teachers. Bullying or judging other children for their looks, tastes or socioœconomic status. Conforming to corporate-consumer standards of ‘individuality’. Thinking ‘tolerance’, ‘being nice’ and ‘getting along’, important as they are, are the same thing as genuinely caring about people. Forming poor or shortcut habits of thinking.

  • Not all ‘edgy’ is bad. Believe it or not, even violent, risqué, cuss-dropping films and television can still be spiritually or intellectually edifying. Some of my very favourite films are R-rated, and some of them, like Fight Club and Witness, ask tough but meaningful questions with which our society ought to find it useful to grapple. Keep means and ends in mind, and remember that reality is messy. Of course, YMMV as far as the maturity of the person you’re watching it with.

  • Sturgeon’s Law? Remember it.

  • ‘Christian’ literature often falls in that ninety. Depressingly often. Too many are the Christian authors who think moralising or sermonising in the form of a movie or book makes it worth reading. Or conversely, trying to make Jesus-talk ‘cool’ and ‘hip’ instead of presenting the truly weird, counterintuitive religion that Christ showed and Paul taught: a scandal to the Greeks and a stumbling-block to the Jews. If you’re going to write a book, write a good book with a good story. If you’re going to make music, make beautiful music. Don’t be all weird and twitchy about it.

  • It’s okay. Sometimes you can judge books by their covers. Sometimes.

  • Don’t be the morality police. Better to be ‘Merrie’ – in the sixteenth-century English sense of the word – and risk perdition that way, than to be a self-righteous legalistic Puritan (or Old Believer schismatic, or Jansenist) and ensure it.

  • That’s right. I said ninety percent of everything. Exercise good judgement. Use your experience and good sense. I guarantee you, that way you’ll weed out enough of the poison to stay sane.

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