Though evangelicals and liberals are often at each other’s throats in the culture wars, this division is best understood as a kind of sibling rivalry. Whereas liberals focus on creating our best society now, evangelicals focus on having your best life now. But either way, the focus is on us, here and now, rather than on God and his story of redemption which culminated in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Join us on this critical edition of the White Horse Inn.
“Priests in the middle ages spoke of nothing but the other life. But preachers in America are continually coming down to Earth. Indeed, they find it difficult to take their eyes off of it. They are forever pointing out how religious beliefs favor freedom and public order and it is often difficult to be sure when listening to them, whether the main object of religion is to procure eternal felicity in the next life or prosperity in this.”
–Alexis de Tocqueville
Term to Learn
The move to the therapeutic in society has been induced by several cultural developments. The intense psychologization of men’s attitudes and feelings as the primary subconscious level of “who we are,” the altering definitions of justice as primarily the accommodation of society to remove all barriers from self-expression and empowering fulfillment of the self, and the movement to the individual subject as the arbiter of that freedom to happiness apart from external structures and forces. The good life of justice, freedom, happiness have been internalized to such a degree that boredom and the external forces which upset that interior life are now seen as the greatest of evils. Justice has been re-defined in the last century as the removal of external barriers and the material empowerment of the individual towards the good life perceived to be desirable.
Men’s attitudes and feelings have come to arbitrate justice and goodness in the late modern society. Safety and security have been held out as the primary good of Western culture above what previous generations saw as essential to promoting the good life, namely liberty, self-reliance, and responsibility. Conventional ideals of moral responsibility have gradually become subordinated to state interpreted therapeutic ideals. “Modern culture is unique in having given birth to such elaborately argued anti-religions, all aiming to confirm us in our devastating illusions of individuality and freedom,” writes Philip Rieff in his magisterial, The Triumph of the Therapeutic.
Jacques Ellul argued in the mid-century that whenever a culture’s ethical outlook could not keep a pace with its technological developments, propaganda was the fated result – the subconscious alteration of men’s attitudes and feelings through technological means of domination. Modern cultural production has moved into the business and technique of manipulating a sense of wellbeing under what Jürgen Habermas has called a “therapeutocracy.”
(Timothy W. Massaro, “Therapeutic Culture,” WHI [blog], October 05, 2015)