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What is the Culture War Really About?

by Kelley Keller

Getting through a day without questioning one’s sanity has become a tour-de-force. Five seconds of the morning news is enough to hurl you back into bed and pretend the chaos is just one big nightmare. But it’s not a nightmare; it’s a nightmare come to life. Although few understand its source or intent, the chaos of the culture war is on full display for all to see and experience. What we do understand, though, is that American culture has absorbed its rage, anger, and vocabulary, and most of us have “had it up to here.” But we’re also at a loss for what to do next. It’s as if all the lights are flashing yellow and everyone’s confused.   

Let’s work through the confusion together, starting with understanding culture itself. 

What is Culture?

Culture comprises a collection of informal rules and norms shared by society and implemented through a network of social institutions. These provide the framework for establishing social order and regulating social behavior. While social institutions cover every domain of society, the most fundamental are the family, education, religion, and government. 

Culture represents what a society values, promotes, and protects through the institutions it creates, supports, and maintains. When a culture war erupts, it signals a severe disagreement about what a particular society should value, promote, and protect and whether existing institutions must change to serve a new set of rules and norms.   


The Four Fundamental Social Institutions


The nuclear family is not only the world's oldest social institution; it’s the bedrock of society and the crowning achievement of God’s creation. When God created man (male and female) in his image, he blessed them and told them to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth (Genesis 1:27-28). With this, he established the human family. Per God’s design, the family provides the structure for procreation, child-rearing, socialization, emotional development, and learning the roles, rights, and responsibilities of individuals within a society. It also provides the structure for religious training and the transmission of family traditions and values.


Education is vital for preparing individuals to become productive citizens from a very young age. Education provides the knowledge and skills required to function well in society, and it provides environments to help students internalize norms regarding social conventions and appropriate conduct in the public sphere. The content and method of education are always determined by its undergirding worldview, which provides the foundation for how we know and understand the world. For Christians, the content and method of education must be faithful to the foundational precepts of Biblical revelation; it must teach students that they are special creations and prepare them to conduct their lives as faithful followers of Christ. The tug-of-war between the Christian and evolutionary worldviews of education is highly intense.


Religion, of course, answers the big questions about ultimate things—Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going?—and gives people meaning and purpose in their lives, both individually and in communities with those who share similar beliefs. Biblical and secular religion both offer an overarching narrative of the world and everything in it. Without religion, no one can situate themselves inside the grand story of their lives. Christianity answers each of the big questions with clarity and consistency. For example, humans are created in the image of God with an embodied and inseparable soul and spirit; this answer is opposed to that of secular religion, which purports that we are accidental organisms of an impersonal universe.  


Governments in politically free countries exist to protect and secure the natural rights of the governed. The United States was established as a constitutional republic, as opposed to a democracy, to limit the government to this core mission and keep its power in check. Governments in politically oppressed countries, such as dictatorships or socialist/communist regimes, exist to control the governed, regardless of their consent, and exercise unaccountable authority without restraint by higher principles or the people. Because all governments encompass politics, economics, and the law, they are extremely instrumental in maintaining or destabilizing social order. 

In the biblical worldview, human government was created by and derives its authority from God, and this authority is limited solely to acting for the good of the governed (Romans 13:1-6). Properly constrained governments provide earthly justice to protect the innocent against those who do evil and provide well-ordered social spheres that promote human flourishing from the womb to the tomb.

It’s easy to see that all of life is shaped by social institutions, making them the prime target for those seeking broadscale social change. If activists can change social norms, they can change the institutions protecting them. Once they change the institutions, they can change an entire society. 

The chaos we’re currently experiencing in America results from the battering ram being used by progressives to crush the old norms and shatter the institutions in their faithful service: the nuclear family, classical liberal education, respect for the Judeo-Christian worldview, and representative limited government.

The Attack on American Culture

The progressives’ primary gripe about the American system is its focus on equality of opportunity instead of outcome. When the founders asserted that all are created equal, they asserted that all are born with equal value, equal dignity, and equal protection of their natural rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They did not assert that everyone is born the same or into the same circumstances. 

Progressives see these kinds of disparities, especially socioeconomic disparities, as a problem. Progressives believe that it is the moral duty of a culture’s institutions to compensate for every issue in the human condition that creates disparity among individuals. Otherwise, they argue, the culture ceases to be legitimate and must be torn down. This is why we see slogans like, “Eat the rich” and “Smash the patriarchy” all over social media. Becoming aware of this oppression in a culture is becoming “woke.” Those pushing for a new and improved woke society feel they must challenge every social norm of the existing culture and recast the institutions that scaffold them. 

This is the culture war.

For the woke, the nuclear family discriminates against LGBTQIA2S+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, two-spirit, and more to come) -identifying people since it defines marriage as an exclusive, lifelong union between one man and one woman. This definition reinforces the sexual binary and the attendant biological differences between males and females, which, per the progressives, exist solely to further the patriarchy.

As for education, classical liberal education is monolithic, exclusive, sexist, and racist, and it has no place in a postmodern society. Progressives argue that classical education should be replaced entirely by a multicultural curriculum focused on the representation of ethnically and culturally diverse authors regardless of the monolithic, exclusive, sexist, and racist ideas many of their works convey.

For the woke, religion, and especially Christianity, is the root of all evil and the cause of all social ills. Naturally, then, religion is “credited” as the ultimate source of the patriarchy and chief architect of rank discrimination in nominally Christian societies. It must be stamped out of existence in the new and improved culture to come. 

Alas, for progressives, the government should replace the nuclear family as the primary social institution. The state, not families, should own and lease all property (land, homes, cars, buildings), develop and disseminate educational content it approves, manage the economy as it sees fit, control the means of production (factories, servers, vehicles, tools, raw materials, airwaves, technologies), and oversee the distribution of any resulting wealth to ensure everyone gets the right share. To ensure equality of outcome, distributions must be determined by group identity, not individual merit, with historically oppressed groups receiving more than historically dominant groups to even the score and make up for “lost time.”

The Battle Lines

The progressive vision for America is anathema to the American creed and antagonistic to a representative government limited in scope and power. Their vision is diametrically opposed to every aspect of traditional American culture.

It’s a battle royale.

So let’s see it for what it is and fight accordingly. 


About the Author: Kelley Keller is writer, speaker, and lecturer specializing in issues at the intersection of law, theology, and worldview. Prior to her writing career, Kelley spent 27 years working on intellectual property aspects of global trade, commerce, and compliance, including 15 years in the private practice of intellectual property law. Among her several writing and speaking projects, Kelley documents her complicated conversion from Marxian Feminism to Christianity through her Substack newsletter Confessions of a Truthaholic, and hosts a podcast on the legal history of abortion, I Am Roe, Hear Me Roar. Kelley holds a J.D. from The Catholic University of America and is a Doctor of Ministry candidate in Christian Apologetics at Southern Evangelical Seminary.


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