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Volume 14, Issue 3: Childer

The Long March

Douglas Wilson

Few Christian parents know the name of Antonio Gramsci, but nevertheless all Christian parents deal with the effects of Gramsci's strategy and teaching on a daily basis. Gramsci was an Italian Marxist of the early twentieth century who broke with the Leninist approach to revolution (political revolt) in favor of a more insidious revolution (cultural rot). The Gramscian battle cry was and is capture the culture.

He never overthrew a nation, and never ran one, but he did write a great deal in prison. And from that prison cell, long after his death, he still directs the enculturation of many children from Christian homes. This is because these children are far more influenced by the surrounding culture of unbelief than they are by the sporadic references to God at the family dinner table, or the weekly teaching of the church, now measured in minutes. Movies, videos, CDs, and clothing fashions all have a shaping effect, and this surrounding culture of ours is far more imperious and insistent and present than the pitiful vestiges of what used to be a Christian civilization.
One of Gramsci's disciples was a German named Rudi Dutschke. The point in the cultural war was to capture the culture, and to do so by means of what Dutschke called "the long march through the institutions." And by this, Dutschke meant government agencies, media, churches, the arts, and universities. Looking around us, we can see just how successful this long march has been—far more successful to date than the top-down failures of Lenin and Stalin. And because of the communist political failure, we tend to think the revolution itself has failed. Not at all—what this means is that Gramsci is outpacing Lenin. The twentieth century saw a great conflict with the political revolution, which collapsed under its own weight. If God is kind to us, the twenty-first century will see believers finally engage in battle with the dangerous revolution.
Whenever an artist—whether a painter, sculptor, dancer, poet, or director—creates, he is speaking. And whenever he speaks, he is doing so in two fundamental respects. First, he speaks as a man who bears the image of God. In this capacity, he cannot function as an artist at all without "plagiarizing" from the triune God. This plagiarizing is not a sin; this is the only way a creature can be truly creative. God has built certain realities into the story of this world, and no artist can function without drawing on these realities, and then arranging them according to his gifts. An artist may be in high rebellion against the image of God within himself, as most modern artists are, but this does not have the effect of removing that image. The end result of such revolts is that it simply removes the artist's understanding of himself and his work.
This relates to the second aspect of the artist, which is the fact that he is a sinner. Because he is a sinner, his work of art to a certain extent lies about God and about the world that God actually created. No human artist is morally perfect, and so all his works are tainted by sin. But neither are human artists demonic—total depravity does not mean absolute depravity—and so every work of art necessarily displays what Francis Schaeffer called the manishness of man, and the beauties of God's order shine through.
But the ratios vary. As we evaluate the cultural artifacts that come at us and at our kids, we have to learn how to see the patterns that are there—and teach our children to see the relationships between creaturely dependence and creaturely rebellion.
The goal of all cultural endeavor by fallen men should be to highlight the patterns from God—and this is the signature of the imago Dei—and to mortify and suppress the lies. These lies can be muted in several ways. First, the Christian artist is a penitent, and he is seeking sanctifying grace in all of life, including his cultural work. Another way is when a non-Christian artist is surrounded by a strong Christian culture, and is required by that culture to work within Christian categories. And last, sometimes a non-believing artist in a non-believing culture does something wonderful by common grace.
As they engage with every form of cultural endeavor, our children must learn to experience wisely. What are some of the questions our children must learn how to ask, and how to answer, before it is safe to send them off to "problematic" movies, or back to their bedroom with a new CD that the parents know nothing about? I am not asking that all these questions be asked in a clunky fashion, wrecking all possibility of aesthetic enjoyment. The kids should already have a decade or more of being led in Christian aesthetic experience. But as they grow up into a messy and seductive world of the arts, our children must be conversant in these categories, and must taste wisely in terms of them.
What are the central metaphors or symbols? What is the source of beauty? With whom are we asked to identify? What emotional response is called for? Who is the protaganist? Who or what is glorified? What is the source of law? What is the source of truth? What is being said? What is the point? How is the artist borrowing from God's order? Is the artifact trying to lie about God? Is the artifact trying to not lie about God? What is man? How is sin defined? What is the nature of salvation? Does the artifact seduce by seducing or seduce by repelling?
When we learn these things, we will learn what has been done to us. And we might be able to think about launching our own long march.

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