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We are in the midst of a full-fledged culture war. Much of what passes for music, art, and literature today is hostile to virtue, beauty, honor, and piety. It does no good to decry the corruption of modern culture without doing something about it. Books full of horror stories detailing cultural decline are not the answer. Culture is not changed by arguments. We need to fight the culture war with culture -- that is with art, literature, and music that enriches the soul, delights the eyes, and challenges the conscience.
This shouldn’t be a problem for us as Christians. We have a great treasure -- a cultural heritage surpassed by none. We need to educate ourselves in that tradition and to bring that heritage to our children. We must become true culture warriors.
It isn’t terribly difficult. We can decorate our homes with Christian art. Every room can have a religious picture done by a master. If you are poor, frame a Christmas card and put it on your desk. If you are spending money on redecorating -- and many of us are -- consider making an investment in high quality sculptures or well-framed reproductions of great Catholic paintings. Put a copy of Raphael’s Madonna in your baby’s room. Use the Church calendar with religious art. Icons displayed with proper respect set the tone for a home. Choose religious art books for your coffee table. Look at them with your children. When I was still a child, long before I became a Catholic, I can remember being fascinated by books with pictures of Catholic art.
Classical Christian music can be an antidote to the harsh ugliness that characterizes so much of contemporary music. Ancient Gregorian chant is admired even by those who don’t understand the words. In our family on Good Friday we keep the three hours by playing Handel’s Messiah.
Children need a healthy diet of good reading material. The best way to teach virtue is with a story. A parent who wants to teach a moral lesson needs a story to which the child can relate. If the parent and child must share a common cultural heritage -- a collection of stories they both have read -- the parent can refer to a character in making a point. Remember our Lord didn’t just lay out a list of moral do’s and don’ts, He illustrated His teachings with parables. He knew that people would remember the story, identify with the characters, and then understand the moral.
There is a rich treasure of excellent literature to choose from. “The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi” has wonderful bedtime stories for children. My daughter told me that Henryk Sienkiewicz’s “Quo Vadis,” with its strong promotion of virtue, was a book that positively influenced her during those critical teen years.
We are fortunate that the great classics -- C.S. Lewis’s “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and J.R.R. Tolkien’s “ Lord of the Rings” -- have been made into movies. While it would be best to read the book before you see the movie, seeing the movie can motivate a person to read the book -- or in the case of Lewis to read the entire Chronicles of Narnia.
If you as a parent or grandparent haven’t read these classics yourself, do so, then you can discuss them with your child and they can become a common vocabulary.
Supplying the good is of course only half the battle; you have to counter the bad. While parents might like to ban all the evil culture, often this simply isn’t possible. Sometimes the effort to protect children, particularly teenagers, from a corrupt culture only serves to make it more appealing -- forbidden fruit.
Even if you keep the garbage out of the home, school texts often include material that is antithetical to our faith -- and this doesn’t happen just in sex education classes. Living in a hostile culture requires constant vigilance. Parents need to be aware of the literature their children are reading in school and history they are being taught.
If both parent and child have read the material, the parent can ask “What is this story teaching? Is this true?” History texts often distort or neglect to mention the role of religion. Fortunately with the Internet one can research a country or period of history being studied and discover the spiritual heritage, for every age has had its miracles and its saints. For example, children studying the Spanish explorers should also learn the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Finally while the treasures of the past are great, we need new masters. “The Passion of the Christ” was an effort to use the masters of modern moviemaking to bring the message of the crucifixion to life. It proved that there is an audience for authentic Christian culture. We need more of this. We should not settle for second rate. We need a true cultural renaissance.
Dale O’Leary is an internationally recognized lecturer and author of “The Gender Agenda: Redefining Equality.”