Friday, March 10, 2017

Fault Line, by Billy Hallowell

There is no question that Christian influence in Western culture is waning.  Journalist and culture watcher Billy Hallowell writes about the decline and the marginalization of Christian voices in Fault Line: How a Seismic Shift in Culture is Threatening Free Speech and Shaping the Next Generation.  Hallowell starts with a review of the data showing that the millennial generation is moving away from religion, specifically faith in Jesus.  Then he discusses major areas of culture: TV and movies, popular music, higher education, and the news media, chronicling the shifting values that move our culture farther and farther from Christian norms.

Very little of what Hallowell writes will be a surprise to anyone who is aware of the culture we live in.  Some of the best insights were in the first section, regarding the decline of religious belief among the younger generations.  He quotes Barna Group researcher David Kinnaman, who said, "there is a 'new moral code' . . . the 'morality of self-fulfillment'" which "has all but replaced Christianity as the culture's moral norm."  Moral standards are reduced to what's right for you, not what's right according to an objective standard.

Without objective standards, people eagerly consume whatever lowest-common-denominator offerings the mass media serves up.  Cultural norms influence cultural expressions and vice versa, in a spiraling race to the bottom.  And if we believe entertainment doesn't influence behavior, we're fooling ourselves.  "Young people who watched the greatest amount of sexual content were two times more likely to have sex in the next year."  Conversely, "reducing the amount of sexual talk and behavior on television, or the amount of time that adolescents are exposed to them, could appreciably delay the onset of sexual activity."  Hallowell doesn't call for censorship.  Rather, he points out that in the not-so-distant past, "society was once so repulsed by negative content that Hollywood was forced to change its ways--and chose to do so accordingly."  In contrast, Hollywood, in general, now chooses to push the limits of sex and violence more and more every year.

Higher education is a whole separate problem.  It is "often a breeding ground for exclusively progressive ideals and values that are masqueraded, paraded, and marketed to young minds as definitive, unadulterated truth."  Hallowell makes it clear that he is not against liberals teaching in colleges.  But, first of all, he does find it problematic that liberals outnumber conservatives among faculty something like ten to one.  More importantly, he gives examples of a tendency to exclude conservative viewpoints in the classroom.  The college experience should be about being exposed to a variety of perspectives and learning to evaluate and differentiate points of view, but, as Hallowell describes, it's too often liberal indoctrination.

Finally, Hallowell describes the liberal biases in the news media.  Like higher education, newsrooms are weighted heavily on the liberal side.  Further, few journalists are practicing Christians, thus have a limited perspective on news about religion.  Hallowell provides plenty of evidence and examples, but really all the evidence you need is to tune into the nightly news or pick up the New York Times.

Far from being a right-wing screed, Hallowell calls for balance and freedom of speech.  The problem with liberal voices in entertainment, academia, and the media is not that they are liberal, it's that they often drown out and actively inhibit and exclude conservative voices.  He writes, "if Christians and conservatives don't become professors, reporters, cameramen, producers, actors, and studio heads, then having substantial influence in the realms of entertainment, media, and higher education is a virtual impossibility."  There are barriers in place, to be sure, but Christians must not back down from making their voices heard.  Following Josh McDowell, Hallowell writes that Christians must be informed, be rational and sound in our positions, live out our faith with integrity, and listen and interact with others.  Cultural fault lines are clear to all of us; perhaps Christians can deepen our participation in culture and bring people together.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

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