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Can culture be reclaimed for Christ?

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Roger Kiska reflects on an example of how God used a man of a humble background to effect massive cultural change and how we can be used to do the same. 

I recently had the honour of presenting at the European People’s Party Enlarged Group Bureau Meeting in Riga, Latvia. The European People’s Party is the majority political group in the European Parliament consisting of Conservatives and Christian Democrats. It holds both the presidency of the European Parliament and the European Commission.

I presented on the competing views of dignity in Europe. I warned against a Bentham style utilitarianism which defines life as having value only in so much as someone can feel pleasure or happiness. Such a view sadly cannot see that life, in itself, has intrinsic value and is quickly rendered meaningless when a consumer culture defines what is happiness. The Italian renaissance philosopher Pico della Mirandola, in his Oration on the Dignity of Man, quipped that man is capable of both flying with the angels and wallowing in the mud with the swine. It is in the former manifestation, that we as spiritual beings created in God’s image, can know the God who created us, whose Son died for us, and who loves us unconditionally despite ourselves. In this context, not only does life have immeasurable meaning, suffering does as well.

For me personally, the highlight of the event was seeing former Polish President and founder of Solidarnosc, Lech Wałęsa, receive the Fourth EIN Merit Award for his contributions in bringing down the iron curtain in Europe. Wałęsa, one of seven children, was born in a small Polish village. His father, a carpenter, was interned at a forced labour camp, shortly after which he passed away. Wałęsa, a devout Christian, was an electrician by trade and began work at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdańsk in 1967. This man of humble beginnings and deep faith, together with others like Pope John Paul II and Margaret Thatcher, played a massive role in bringing to a shockingly abrupt end the reign of communism imposed by the USSR.

As president of Poland, Wałęsa chose principle over popularity, repealing Poland’s liberal abortion law and creating one of the most pro-life abortion laws in Europe still today. While controversy and sharply-divided opinion has followed Wałęsa in the latter years of his life, he stands as a symbol of what one man from humble beginnings driven by faith can accomplish.

Western Europe has become deeply defined by a radical secularist post-modern worldview where Christianity is often viewed with suspicion and intolerance. Rather than embracing higher spiritual principles, today’s politics embraces the pursuit of pleasure, creating a sacred calf from sexual politics. That said, as the popular gospel song says ‘the darkest hour is just before dawn’.

What Wałęsa’s legacy teaches us is that no one can come from too humble of a background to effect cultural change. In the Soviet Union, Christianity was counter-cultural and presented an antithetical worldview to socialism. Without Christianity's influence behind the iron curtain, it is unlikely that the USSR would have fallen as quickly or decisively as it did.

Far too often, in the UK and other Western democracies, where life is comfortable and offending others is increasingly treated as if it were a crime, Christianity is practised only behind the closed doors of our churches. If we are to effectuate change, we will have to learn to go beyond our comfort zones and show the boldness of someone like Lech Wałęsa.

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