What Do 21st Century American Values Look Like?

What Do 21st Century American Values Look Like?

The Nature of the Values War
There are more than two value systems at play in modern culture, but there are two which are far and away the most prominent. These two value systems emerge out of two different worldview foundations.

The first value system is based on biblical Theism and corresponds with what is generally called conservative values. It is the worldview system upon which American culture was founded. It was dominant in the culture from the time of America’s founding until around the 1960s.

The second value system is based on Naturalism and corresponds with what is generally called liberal values. This is the worldview system which took over dominance in the culture around the 1960s and has increased in its prominence since that time.

Biblical Theism is belief in the God of the Bible who has revealed himself, his ways and his will. As such, the values and morals which emerge out of it are those which are found in the Bible. The basic foundation of this approach is based on a belief in absolutes when it comes to moral teachings.

Naturalism, on the other hand, believes that there is no such thing as a supernatural reality. With that as a starting place, there can be no God to reveal right morality. It is entirely up to human beings to determine what should be right and wrong in human society. The approach for understanding morality is based on relativism. What is right and wrong are founded purely upon what individuals and societal consensus make it to be. This can change over time based on contemporary circumstances.

In order to grasp more concretely how this plays out in American culture, it is helpful to compare some of the primary values of biblical Theism and Naturalism as they are played out in the culture.

Conservative Values (Based on Christian Theism)

Man Is Essentially Sinful – The belief, based on a biblical understanding of the nature of mankind, that societal constraints must be in place to temper the effects of sin.

Natural Law – The belief that there are such things as inherent rights conferred by God.

Constitutional Authority – The belief that there is an overarching, authoritative legal framework which is the ultimate foundation for all other laws. This corresponds to the biblical concept of an authoritative document given by God.

Free Enterprise – The belief, based on biblical teachings, that individuals should work hard and be rewarded for their labor.

Individual Property Ownership – The belief, based on the biblical concept of stewardship and the priority of the individual, that individuals should hold personal property and be responsible to God for its use.

Freedom of Religion – The belief, based on the biblical concept that human beings are free will creatures created in the image of God, that individuals should make life decisions based on freedom of conscience.

Federalism – The belief, based on the biblical concept of man as a sinner and the priority of the individual, that governmental power ought to be decentralized.

Separation of Powers – The belief, based on the biblical concept that human beings are sinful and that concentrated power allows their moral weakness to disadvantage the population at large, that political power ought to be diluted.

Liberal Values (Based on Naturalism)

Man Can Build Utopia on Earth – The belief, based on the concept of naturalistic evolution, that man has already evolved to a high form and will continue on that path. Social engineering can enhance the evolution of the goodness of man.

Positive Law – The belief that man-made laws are responsible for bestowing or removing specific privileges upon an individual or group. There is no God, so humans must make this determination.

Human Authority – The belief, based on naturalistic concepts, that the highest authority is man. Those in power positions in society are tasked with creating and changing law based on their perception of current circumstances.

Economic Collectivism – The belief, based on naturalistic presuppositions, that human survival is the highest value, and equal distribution of resources best promotes that in society.

Collective Ownership of Property – The belief, based on the naturalistic concept of the survival of the species and the priority of the collective, that corporate ownership of property best promotes the interests of society.

Individual Religious Belief Is Subservient to the Collective – The belief, based on the naturalistic concept that human beings are naturally evolved animal creatures, that governmental leadership is best able to decide what is best for the survival of the collective.

Centralized Federal Authority – The belief, based on the naturalistic concept of the priority of the collective, that concentrated political power most effectively promotes the survival of social groupings.

Concentration of Power – The belief, based on the naturalistic concept that the collective has priority over the individual, that centralized political power is best able to promote the survival of society.

Fighting the Culture War in Our Lives
Interestingly, there is a large percentage of the population which mixes and matches these values to create their own personal philosophies of life and their own value systems. However, this inevitably creates a situation where those individuals end up holding values which conflict.

As Christians, on a personal level, we constantly fight this battle. We consciously affirm biblical values, yet find ourselves struggling to put aside acts which represent values that come from another place. This is the struggle we face as we seek to overcome and defeat sin in our lives. And make no mistake about it, this is our first priority. Unless we win the battle on a personal level, we will never see the influence of God’s righteousness expressed in the culture.

The only way to truly win this battle in our personal lives is to acknowledge the Bible as the plumb line and work diligently to conform our lives to its standard. To do that, it is necessary to be brutally honest about the values we hold and consciously make changes in the places we see deviance. This is not an easy thing to do. To begin with, it is difficult to even see the places in our lives where we stray. Add to that our struggle to overcome the selfishness and pride which make us not want to change, and the battle is on.

It is certainly possible to conform our lives and our thinking to what God desires, but it definitely requires great effort. Unfortunately, this is the nature of salvation. Not only do we have to make that first decision to invite Christ into our lives (justification), we also have to live out our salvation in daily life (sanctification). As we do, we will increasingly conform our thinking to God’s way. And as we do that, we will live those values out in every part of our lives.

But the battle does not end with the individual. The struggle that exists in individuals gets played out in society, as well. Just as we struggle within ourselves to gain personal alignment, society does the same.

There are those who think that we should not take this battle into the culture – that we ought to only focus on the personal side. But the truth is, the influences of the culture are a big part of the struggle we face as individuals. And this not only applies to us, but to our children and our neighbors. If we allow unmitigated sin to run rampant in the culture, what we see is not a generic degradation of the culture, but specifically of our sons and daughters as they are immersed in a culture dominated by sexual immorality, substance abuse, and rampant hedonism.

There are people on both sides of the liberal/conservative divide. As Christians, our number one goal is to keep ourselves in a right relationship with God on a personal level. But that must be extended out beyond ourselves. We must also promote the values of God within the culture in a way which causes society to move toward biblical values. This creates the kind of environment where living rightly and sharing Christ’s love does not bring the derision we see in our current circumstance. As we do this, we will face opposition. It is critical that we make the effort to get up to speed on how to best engage this struggle.

© 2013 Freddy Davis