As anyone who reads this blog will know I love a bit of culture, being the cultural sophisticate that I am’n’all. And of course I love a good culture vulture; the person or institute that is slightly ahead of the curve, able to not only pick the zeitgeist, but to explain why such a geist is zeited.
So here are my Culture Vulture Awards for 2016, in recognition of both Christian and non-Christian readers of culture, who like the good vultures they are, picked the eyes out of the dead bloated corpse lying on the roadside that is 2016.
- RR Reno
Okay, he’s my cultural bromance at the moment and he wears a sharp suit a la Don Draper, but the editor of First Things journal has been eerily prescient, especially in the US scene. An Episcopalian who became a Roman Catholic, Reno has the ability to ruthlessly call out progressive and conservative agendas alike when they trample humans under their godless agendas. But he carries it all on the back of a deep love for Jesus, the Scriptures and, yes, the capital “C” Church. His disdain of Trump was matched by his suspicion of Hilary. Reno’s book “Resurrecting The Idea of a Christian Society” is a must read.
Oh, and he wins comment of the year after this withering put down of Obama on Mortification of Spin: “There is no horse high enough for him to climb on to.” Nailed it.
2. David Brooks
The New York Times op-ed (among his many hats) writer has a humility about him that protects him from the progressive/elite bubble he inhabits (though he is billed as a conservative). Humility is the one thing lacking in that cohort, making them blind to their own faults, despite all of the mea culpa handing wringing since November 8.
I first experienced his work on PBS with Mark Shields and was immediately struck by the fact that he (and Shields) were men of enormous intellectual integrity. And that’s a quality sadly missing in the op-ed world these days. He’s walked a careful line between the progressives and conservatives this year, and has a spiritual sense to him that quietens a room when he gives voice. In a year in which “character” was sadly lacking in politics, anyone who has a book entitled “The Road to Character” is on to something.
3. Greg Sheridan
When a rather “ropey” Catholic (his term) comes up with an observation like this below, he’s switched on to the issues:
I think the failing of traditional Christianity across the Western world is the greatest single cultural crisis we face. It is very much an open question whether a civilisation can survive without transcendent belief.
Sheridan, the Foreign Editor of The Australian, writes into a strongly secular context such as Oz, with a deep understanding of what makes societies tick, and how the materialist world view and practice will never quite be enough. In that sense he is swimming against the stream of most Australian commentators who, unlike their US counterparts, don’t tend to take the Christian framework seriously.
4. Mark Sayers
A young, urban pastor living in hipster Melbourne should know a thing or two about culture, but Sayers has consistently shown that he is not swayed or wooed by Vanity Fair and its baubles. In the face of a constant push to be “relevant” Sayers book “Disappearing Church” stared down those bearded lumber-jack shirted types who said “Let’s ditch cultural relevance for gospel resilience”.
Sayers is a breath of fresh air in a sophisticated setting, especially as tired old Boomer types who have run out of spiritual oomph, roll over and play dead in the face of a turning culture. There’s nothing snarky about Sayers, merely an incisive mind with the humility of one who is tasked with shepherding God’s people in a church on a day to day basis.
5. First Things Journal
First Things bills itself as “America’s Most Influential Journal of Religion and Public Life.” Make that the Western world’s most influential, because I can see nothing like it in the rest of our cultural setting. Nor can I see the Protestant-driven equivalent of it. First Things has simply knocked it out of the park this year, critiquing the elite culture of both Left and Right for their godless approach to life that tramples over the poor, excoriates the religious and refuses to remove the log out of its own eye. It is fearless in its opposition to the culture of death, and its critique of the withering anti-intellectualism of the secular academy, hostage as it is to political correctness.
And it’s catholic in every sense of the word. Peter Leithart, David Bentley Hart, Carl Trueman; they’re just some of the “others” who get a regular gig on what has been a mind-saving journal for me.
6. Michael Moore
I can’t stand Michael Moore. He’s a smug, self-satisfied liberal who produces shameless propaganda pieces and passes them off as documentaries. But any man who can sit before a live TV audience and, to the boos of all and sundry, explain five months before Trump wins the election, that he will win, and more importantly, why, gets a gong from me. It was truly prophetic; a Micaiah moment among a bunch of Ahab “yes-men”.
Oh, and he comes from Michigan, where the deplorables have their base camp among the ruins of central station.
7. Brendan O’Neill
The editor of Spiked is no god-fearer, but this year he struck the fear of god into many a QandA guest who assumed they were in for an easy ride on what has fast become an echo chamber for progressive causes. He exposes the lie that progressive politics has a head start in the intellectual stakes.
O’Neill is a champion of free speech in a political culture intent on shutting down such an idea. He’s probably a little further to the right than I on a number of matters, but he’s a fearless libertarian who continues to sweep aside trigger warnings and safe spaces as the anti-intellectual, freedom-suppressing, cry-bullying agendas they are. The best insult given him that I have seen this year is that he nothing but “a troll”, which to mean simply means he won’t allow lazy arguments to rest on their well-cosseted laurels.
8. Tim Keller
Keller is like Tom Hanks was in the 90’s – everywhere. His fingerprints are evident in the Christian cultural setting and his pithy comments make their way down the line across all social media and across all theological spectra. And with yet another timely book this year, “Making Sense of God”, Keller warmly invites the skeptic to explore the idea of God in a time when a social Cold War is our most likely outcome. Add to that his Christmas album, er, book, “Hidden Christmas” (a compilation of Christmas sermons), and you get the sense that Keller actually loves people and wants them to come to know Christ!
Watching him interviewed by secular journalists is a thing of wonder in itself, as his humble demeanour, rich intellect, love of the other person, and warm baritone win over cynical hacks despite themselves.
I predict a bright future for young Keller.
9. Various Scavengers
There are a bunch of friends who read most of what I write, critique it, question it, laugh at it, and ask why I publish some of it. So to Simon Elliott, Tim Adeney, Stuart Heath, Ian Packer,Mark Watts, Damon Sokolowski, Simon Bibby, Rory Shiner, Nathan Campbell and countless others, thank you for being the culture vultures alongside this fellow scavenger.
10. The Bible
Hasn’t missed a cultural trick all year. Yet again. In a year of self-deception among cultural critics who increasingly live within urban echo chambers, any text that states :
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
sums up the problem precisely.