Counter to Culture

For forty years, liberalism has flowered under the banner of that which was termed counterculture. New ideas about authority, sexuality and interpersonal relationships flowered in San Francisco - the offspring of seeds sown in discontent during the years immediately following the Korean War. Veterans of that war came home asking what the war was about - indeed, even what their lives were really about - and rebooted a series of questions into the American psyche.

These questions, primarily about purpose, destiny and the meaning of life are wonderful things given to us to reevaluate our place before our God. Asked in a social petri dish tainted by new strains of atheism and agnosticism, however, the questions turned toxic, leading a generation to question everything and even as they believed they had to answer for nothing. Rejecting both authority and responsibility, they turned on social convention and declared themselves counterculture.

Hit the fastforward button of history with me for a moment. It's no longer 1967's Haight Ashbury. It's today, and in forty years we've found that those things termed counterculture in the sixties are no longer truly counter to culture. They are culture. As the children of the sixties found their way into the halls of power in Washington, the posh offices of Wall Street and the movie sets of Hollywood, they brought their ideas with them and began to live them out Casual regard for drug use, the idea of relative truth and a condescending attitude toward monogamy came out of the shadows and into the light. While never surrendering their claim to the phrase counterculture, they quickly began to shape culture. The aberration became the accepted. The strange became the standard. Weird was the new happy. By the 90's, no one saw the irony of the biggest mainstream FM rock stations declaring their format to be alternative music. Alternative? Alternative to what? All the other big stations were playing alternative music too. When something becomes the norm, it's no longer the alternative. When something becomes a hallmark of culture, it's no longer counterculture.

I've been stewing on this for a few days, after a discussion with someone about the term counterculture. They were using it to describe interaction with and relation to the music, art, and social trends that are popular in our time. My thought was "That's not counterculture. That's culture."

True counterculture movements are always met with stiff resistance of the dominant culture. Movements who seek to change the social trajectory of a people group are by necessity outside the camp. One cannot fit a social set completely and sound a cry for change. The cry for fasting is never heard from the guy who has a sandwich in his hand. You can't hear his good intentions over the noise of his chewing. One cannot both enjoy the evils of a system while working to change it. It's mildly irritating for the system, but only because of the double standard, not because any truth is really being heard.

I'm still stewing on this thought of countercultural ministry. My gut says it's a lot less glamorous than we'd make it out to be. More to come....


Anonymous said...

What about Burning Man! :)

Randy Bohlender said...

Great question. Let's compare. Casual regard for drug use and sex. High value on personal freedom. Disdain for any sort of controlling entity.

And on the other hand, there's Burning Man.

Oh. Wait. They may be at the edge, but it's not counter culture in the classic sense.

Earl Rutledge said...

Your observation that what was considered counterculture at one time later becomes the culture is a very good observation and a fine warning. What we find culturally "distasteful" today could very well be the norm for tomorrow.

The dictionary.com < http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=counterculture&r=5 > definition for counterculture is pretty good.

Todd said...

"The cry for fasting is never heard from the guy who has a sandwich in his hand."

That analogy should provoke us to a higher place in all the "counter-culture" things that we all believe in, but are not very good at breaking away from the pack.

Like all the Starbucks cups that were in the trash cans every single day in DC. We all drank our fair share.

No I am not saying drinking $4 coffee's is evil. It makes me ask these questions, "How many would Daniel drink or John the Baptist?"
or "How many would communist leaders of the past dedicated to their cause, or radical Islamics or soldiers fighting for their nation in desperate circumstances?"

Again it's just a crack in the window but we have to look through these cracks and see where there is opportunity for someone to come out from among the crowd, the status quo and actually do something counter-culture."

Thanks for provoking me Randy!

Aaron said...

Counter-culture ministry in our culture is simply preaching Christ. Evangelism through relationships is great, but the reason there were so many converts in Acts is because the apostles were boldly preaching Jesus Christ against their culture. Counter-culture ministry is effective.