Public Conformity: Nothing Less

16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17 If this be so,our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king.[d] 18 But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18)

The cultural flames in the West are seven times hotter than before.  The flames are being stoked by a rejection of the Christian worldview that the Western framework has been built upon.

There is a concerted push from our elite institutions to not simply have Christianity accommodate other perspectives, but to make way for them – and it’s all very public.

Witness the push by the Students’ Union at the University of Sydney to have the campus evangelical union conform to its non-discriminatory regulation, or be deregistered. The union and the evangelicals are in a stand-off over the former’s requirement that membership cannot be restricted to students who claim “Jesus is Lord”.

That’s hardly surprising. The biblical view of the world is totalising. The New Testament claim that Jesus was Lord also meant that Caesar was not.  And modern day Caesars, without the tools of military tyranny at their disposal like the good old days, will use legal and cultural tyranny to shut down those who make such exclusive claims. Not that they are against exclusive claims, no, not at all.  Just that exclusive claim.

That’s always the issue for the worshipper of the one true God. God doesn’t share his podium, privately or publicly.  The great irony, of course, is that those who truly believe this of God have, nonetheless, managed to construct a public culture in the West that is safe for heretics.

Let’s be clear, the Bible doesn’t just say that God alone – the God of the Bible – should be worshipped, it claims that all other gods are in fact not gods, but the construct of human imagination or demonic influences (occasionally a bit of both). Yet the freedom to refuse the biblical view in both belief and public practice are fruits of that same worldview.

Let me repeat, the only worldview that has over time been able to accommodate not simply different worldviews, but practice opposed to its own, is Christianity.  It’s no surprise, therefore, marinaded as it is in not simply post-Christian, but anti-Christian frameworks, that the Sydney University Student Union cannot return the favour.

Why have so called progressives and post-Christian institutional leaders constantly rejected a diversity that is actually diverse?  Why are they so committed to rejecting true diversity publicly?  Why are they so belligerent towards cultural heretics?

Simply put, the brittleness of their own belief system.  For all its supposed advantages, for all of the claims that a new era of love and tolerance will be ushered in when “hateful” positions (read “traditional Christianity”) are exposed, there’s nothing spontaneous about their system, primarily and foundationally because it isn’t true!  And anything untruthful has to be cosseted, coaxed and compelled into existence, because it repeatedly proves incapable of standing on its own two feet in the public square.

What a contrast to early Christianity. In those early centuries Christianity spread quickly. There was a spontaneity about it that became self-evident even in the midst of public persecution .

And what a contrast too to the Old Testament people of God.  King Nebuchadnezzar’s decision to unite the culture behind an untruth in Daniel 3 is a prime example. The decision by Babylon’s despot to maintain his grip upon his empire required three public strategies currently mirrored in the modern cultural elites’ resolve to unite everything, publicly at least, behind their untruth:

1.Public Conformity

King Nebuchadnezzar is looking for public conformity to his untruth.  And with no student union by-laws at his disposal, he settles on a gold statue.  This is the new norm.  The new public conformity.  You must bow down to this, and, more importantly, be seen to do so.

Of course the king did not believe that this would make everyone trust in this gold statue, much less worship it, but that was not his aim.  His aim was to ensure a totalising system in which his will was obviously and publicly paramount.

This much is made clear when he growls at Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego upon their refusal to comply: “Who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?”  What, not even your statue of gold, oh king? The one you are forcing us all to bow down to?

The new cultural ethic is totalising, and cannot cope with rebels who refuse to publicly bow.  It just can’t.  That’s why this is a zero-sum game.  Christians can throw as many roadblocks as they wish into its pathway; eking out an exemption clause here, a “freedom to..” there.  But the cultural totalising machine will simply ride over the top of these eventually. Make no mistake about this.

Any Christian or Christian group that thinks somehow the post-Christian cultural elites will ever be sated, will ever say “Ok, that’s enough, we’re drawing a line here”, are destined for disappointment.

The primary difficulty will be watching on, just as Daniel’s three friends undoubtedly did, when those who once stood side by side with them, are themselves eventually worn down, dropping like flies when the oompah band shows no sign of abating. What was in it for them, you wonder? Public affirmation by the king.  The chance to continue to dine at his table.

That much hasn’t changed. The constant requirement for public conformity to the new ethic has seen, not surprisingly, a large number of former evangelicals with public ministries, decide that in order to remain publicly acceptable, they must make public confession of their previous position, and public affirm their new position.  And how does the public respond to them?  By showering them in public praise.

2.Public Spectacle

All untruths require the effort of spectacle to reinforce them. That’s what the sound of the harps, zithers and assorted stringed instruments of the cultural oompah band is designed to do. Is it designed to invoke drama on the public stage.

If the king had had social media, memes, slogans and QandA at his disposal he would have utilised them.  The public spectacle is paramount to all totalising systems, because it is designed to show the vast majority of people, who, let’s face it, are fairly disinterested at what is going on at elite level, that resistance is futile. Sure, believe what you will privately, but the public battle is effectively over.  You might as well vote “Yes”, because that’s what everyone is doing anyway.

What about pockets of public resistance? The method is to shut them down noisily and quickly, and to ensure there is some form of social media to record and disseminate it.

The new sexual ethical campaigns have been brilliant in their accommodation of language at the social media level for public consumption.  Words such as “equality” and “safe” have been commandeered and cordoned off for exclusive use only in the war effort.  Those positive words are no longer available to their opponents who have to settle for “Yes, but..” reactionary language in order to respond. All very negative in the public eye no doubt.

It’s interesting that the Arts departments of universities were empty of Christians during the 80s, whilst Christians were busy becoming engineers, nurses and doctors. We sure blew our chance to compete at the cultural and language level.  I have yet to see Christian public responses to the sexual ethics campaigns that have anywhere near the sophistication level or ability to capture the public imagination.

3. Public Punishment

The king could not stand by and watch his authority being flaunted.  That would give people ideas.  Hence the fiery furnace looms as punishment, not once, but several times in Daniel 3.

Actual fiery furnaces have fallen out of fashion (so far) in the current cultural upheavals. But the fiery furnace of public opprobrium appears to be just as effective.  If Bruce Springsteen can cancel a concert in your state for the government’s refusal to sign off on certain sexual ethics laws, thereby depriving your people of the Boss; if Paypal can refuse to engage with your district for its non-compliance; if  Susan Sarandon can throw money towards a legal campaign against your freedom of conscience, that’s when things get hot under the collar.

And things are destined to get seven times hotter.  Public punishments always need to be taken to a new level in order to maintain their ability to capture public attention.  That’s why ISIS videos of beheadings would never have worked in 16th century Tudor England. “A beheading?  So what?  I saw eight of them last month.  I even got splattered by the blood.”

Where will it all end?  I am not sure.  But history surely tells us that lies cannot coexist with the truth. Not forever at least.

What encourages me about Daniel’s three friends is that they were willing to lose everything so publicly. God may indeed vindicate them here and now they believed, but they weren’t banking on it.  They were prepared to go down as public losers in the searing agony of the flames as examples and warnings to all who refused the king’s tyranny.

Those three men are a constant challenge to me as the furnace heats up, and they are a portent and sign of judgement to the increasing number of Christian leaders who have, for the sake of the praise of men, women, and everything in between, pulled back from the furnace, and refused the public shame of the people of God. Would it be that even if the flames are stoked seventy times seven hotter, that we would stand publicly with the Lord Jesus who faced such public shame for us.

8 Comments

  1. I’m curious about the expression ‘elite institutions’, here. Do you have more in mind than universities?

    I just ask because some elite institutions — e.g. finance, Murdoch media, super wealthy, and politicians they buy — are busy defending the worship of the other great idol of our age, Mammon. (Their strategy’s often more slow-boil than fiery furnace, but they’re also increasingly clamping down on public dissent where seduction fails).

    Not saying the blog post needs to cover everything; just wondering which forces you see arrayed on the sex side.

    1. Interestingly, First Things has a series of great articles that say the money and the sexuality go together. RR Reno has an insightful piece on this, demonstrating clearly that the elite university institutions who set the sexuality agenda have also effectively locked out those lower down the financial food chain from their halls. There is a power that money affords one that provides a safety net for all forms of sexual and ethical experimentation. I will find a link and get you the article. But let’s face it, when large corporations take out full page ads in the national broadsheets extolling the new sexual ethics, and when Paypal et al, along with Silicon Valley, Hollywood and the entertainment sector effectively black bans dissenters, how many other elites are left? Money is the means to the individualistic freedom to self-express that we all crave – or so it appears.

      1. Yeah, I completely agree that a lot of social engineering is done by people who won’t feel the effect of it, because they’re cushioned by their wealth and privilege. In large part, this is why I’m an (old-style) conservative — because strong institutions like the rule of law, marriage, and the conservation of the commons protect the interests of the vulnerable against the powerful.

        (I also think this points to a difference between, say, Rupert Murdoch and Tim Cook: I think Cook is trying to protect the interests of the vulnerable, even if we disagree about what marriage is, what it’s for, and how SSM might contribute to the decades-long decay of the institution. In contrast, I don’t think Murdoch or ‘the 1%’ are guided by a concern for the vulnerable.)

        Also, I feel like major corporations taking out advertising space in favour of SSM is (mostly) cynical and reactive — not an indication of being thought-leaders, but a pitiful attempt to be ‘with it’. Maybe I’m being naïve.

  2. “The only worldview that has over time been able to accommodate not simply different worldviews, but practice opposed to its own, is Christianity.”
    Well said as always. A religion that says ‘turn the other cheek’ might expect to get slapped in the face a lot.

    1. Indeed Birdflower.
      Stephen has the anointing to tease out these truths that we tend to overlook.
      It’s a tough call following Christ when the natural senses are to strike back. Still, at my age I can attest to the truth of anger begets anger and so on, and so the command to turn the other cheek has much going for it, despite the difficulty one might experience in implementing it.

  3. Thank you Stephen for another insightful summation of our present world position. One can only agree that things are heating up, and quickly.
    Thank you also for a your insight to our three hero’s who, as you say, offer us encouragement to stand firm in the face of it all.
    As individuals we are not yet sorely tested, that is to come no doubt. I pray, that like these three men in the fire, I will hold fast to my Lord and resist the Devilish onslaught.

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