Religion is culture internalized

Family watching TV

As Henry van Til observed, culture is "religion externalized," meaning that your family's religious values will find their expression in a set of specific cultural choices:

  • how you spend your "free" time
  • what music you listen to
  • what you watch (or refuse to watch) on TV
  • how you dress (i.e. modesty, extravagance, fashion-following)
  • who you spend time with and emulate as behavioral examples
  • how you talk to others
  • etc.
Amish Family
The Amish are intentional
about culture

This is true of families who are "intentional" about culture — those who are careful about what they and their children participate in, what example they set as parents, and what they say to others (online and off).

This is an old idea, which (like many old ideas) has a Latin aphorism: Lex credendi, lex vivendi (loosely translated: how we believe is how we live).

But in families that are not so intentional about culture, the influence gets reversed: lex vivendi, lex credendi. Restated in Henry van Til's idiom: "religion is culture internalized."

For example, if your children watch typical TV fare, they will start to value what is promoted on TV (particularly commercials). If they go to the typical government (and even typical Christian) schools they will internalize government propaganda1 and the value systems of their peer groups2. There is almost always an implicit disregard of God's law, even in (so-called) Christian schools.

There might be exceptions to this, but they will be just that: exceptional, not typical. We all want to believe that we are the exceptions, or that God will somehow "protect" us from the consequences of our choices. If you believe this, I have to doubt that you've read the Bible. An important aspect of God's love is that He often allows us to experience the consequences of our free choices. Read Deuteronomy 28 (in full).

Unless you are "intentional" about cultural participation, your value system will be affected. Unless you are prepared to "hate" the non-Christian modern culture (in the way that Jesus meant "hate" in Luke 14:26), you and your children will be "evangelized" by it. You will stop seeing the difference between Athens and Jerusalem: 2 Cor. 6:14-18.

  • 1. Most Christian schools teach civil government propaganda as well, in its "classical" forms. Things like formal (rather than "substantive") rule of law, the rightness of democracy of law, and the "right" way for civil government to interfere with voluntary economic transactions. If you don't understand the last sentence, you may be a victim yourself.
  • 2. If you send your children to a Christian school, you might find the answer to this question instructive: "What are your friends' favorite TV shows?"