Submission to a Government

  • Jeff Crotts
old government building

An admission and explanation: 

I pulled this post together from an introduction to a sermon I gave pre-president Trump.  So, a while ago…and I recognize a lot has happened since…  However!  Before you move on, I want to argue this might be worth 15 minutes of your time. It is relevant, very relevant to the cultural moment.  Here I have compiled several direct and indirect quotes from compelling writers who were prescient about how we now see our world and each other.  Give it a look. 

The late Neil Postman, author/media theorist in published a prophetic book 1985, Amusing Ourselves to Death. Popular media has shaped and shapes the discourse of the world.  Television has negatively affected public communication in modern-day America.  Our wild media-boom makes this even more relevant today!

Postman paints a dystopic (frightening) literary vision comparing fiction-writing authors, George Orwell’s “1984” with Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World.”  Orwell’s “1984” warned of a tyrannical state banning information to make the public powerless.  Huxley’s “Brave New World” depicted a population too amused by distractions — entertainment, leisure, and laughter — to realize that they had been made powerless.

For Postman, by 1985, television had turned our world into a Huxleyan one.

“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.

Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism.

Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.

Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies…

Huxley in Brave New World Revisited, said those on alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.”

Postman set out to prove this from Amusing Ourselves to Death that Politics, religion, news, athletics, education, and commerce have been transformed into congenial adjuncts of show business.  America favors all those who possess both a talent and a format to amuse.  The concept of truth is intimately linked to the biases of forms of expression.  In the middle of the 19th century, transportation and communication are disengaged from each other.  Space was not an inevitable constraint on the movement of information.  This came with the invention of electricity.  And, subsequently the telegraph.  The telegraph wrapped the continent in an information grid and created the possibility of a unified American discourse.  Telegraphy brought into being a world of broken time attention.  Its main strength was the capacity to move information, not collect it, explain it or analyze it.

“The telegraph is suited only to the flashing of messages, each to be quickly replaced by a more up-to-date message.

Facts push other facts into and then out of consciousness at speeds that neither permit nor require evaluation.”

The question of relevance is key!  Something that just happened in Virginia was suddenly relevant in Texas? What does this mean for you?  This is now a million times more of a question.  The Age of Show Business has meant that the television is devoted entirely to supplying its audience with entertainment.  The average length of a shot on network television is only 3.5 seconds.  The eye never rests and has always something new to see.

“The problem is not that television presents us with entertaining subject matter but that all subject matter is presented as entertaining, which is another issue altogether.”

Thinking does not play well on television, as there is not much to see in it. It is now a performing art.  Culture likes to watch, moving pictures — millions of them, of short duration and dynamic variety.  People no longer talk to each other but entertaining each other. We do not exchange ideas, we exchange images. We do not argue with propositions but with good looks, celebrities, and commercials.

“Now … This”

Nearly every half hour is a discrete event, separated in content, context, and emotional texture from what precedes and follows it.  News is fragmented and without context, consequences, value, or seriousness; they are pure entertainment.  The average length of any news story is forty-five seconds, which is not enough time to explore the whole depth of a story.  No matter how grave the news, it is followed by a series of short commercials.

Reach Out and Elect Someone

Show business’ main business is to please the crowd. With the switch to television, politics became show business.  The idea is not to pursue excellence, clarity, or honesty, but to appear as if you are.  The opposite with smear campaigns!  Commercials are still a primary vehicle to present political ideas in political campaigns!  On average 15 seconds long using visual symbols to learn the lessons being taught.  Being sold solutions is better than being confronted with questions about problems.

The Huxleyan Warning

Postman concludes:

“[Aldous Huxley] was trying to tell us that what afflicted the people in Brave New World was not that they were laughing instead of thinking, but that they did not know what they were laughing about and why they had stopped thinking.”

Ironically, our wildly media-driven culture makes both Orwell’s and Huxley’s warnings more relevant.  Our culture is beginning to wake up to Amusing itself to Death.  The response seems to be both panic and with more media.  And with increasing skepticism and fear of Government tyranny!  I think conservatives and liberals both fear of “Big Brother!”  Whichever side is “Big Brother” on!  Conservatives and liberals have polarized narratives of concern!       

“What is the Christian response?”  Return to the printed word.  To the inspired Word.  Not moving pictures, but inspired, timeless, transcendent Truth.  Here we find how to think and what to do. Scripture takes us to ground Truth in terms of how to view Government. 

How are we supposed to approach our Government?  In terms of its authority and our posture of submission?  What about America’s Government?  How do we trust and submit to a government that this at war with itself? 

1 Peter 2:13-17 provides the answer:

ESV  1 Peter 2:13-17 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.