by Andy Crouch
Why I Am Hopeful
And this is why I can't share the sense of satisfaction I sense in some of my "prophetic" friends. I believe the first step in culture making is not creating (let alone condemning, critiquing, or consuming) but cultivating: keeping what is already good in culture, good. American Christians, on the right and the left, have been painfully bad at cultivating. We want to jump to "transformation" and "impact" (words generally used on the right) or to "resistance" and "revolution" (favored words of the left). We often seem incapable of seeing ourselves first as gardeners: people whose first cultural calling is to keep good what is, by the common grace of God, already good. A gardener does not pull out weeds because she hates weeds; she pulls out weeds because she loves the garden, and because (hopefully) there are more vegetables or flowers in it than weeds. This kind of love of the garden—loving our broken, beautiful cultures for what they are at their best—is the precondition, I am coming to believe, for any serious cultural creativity or influence. When weeds infest the garden, the gardener does not take the opportunity to decry the corruption of the garden as a whole. She gets patiently, discerningly, to work keeping the garden good.
So why am I hopeful? Because I believe the coming years are going to reveal some pernicious weeds in our culture for what they are. One of the characteristics of weeds is that they suck up resources from other plants. They are quick-growing, quick-spreading, invasive. They do not coexist with the other plants in the garden, they overtake them. Kudzu is a weed not because it is unattractive in its own way or even has no rightful place in the ecosystem, but because it grows over and chokes out other valuable and beautiful things. Weeds are, as every gardener knows, the easiest thing to grow.
And I believe the fundamental weed in the American garden is, in fact, ease. Easy-ness. Effortlessness. Along with the incredible benefits of the rise of technology has been this terrible weed: the idea that things should be easy. The Staples office-supply chain has profited handsomely selling the ultimate symbol of our times: a plastic button that does absolutely nothing but is great fun to push, labeled "easy."
The quest for technological ease has invaded and distorted not just, metaphorically, our culture, but also, literally, our agriculture. When we start to treat cattle as meat-producing devices, it makes sense to corral them in feedlots, where they start to make one another very sick. No problem—we will dose them with huge amounts of antibiotics. Antibiotics are a fantastically useful button to push when your child is sick. But when they are used as all-purpose coveralls for situations driven by fundamentally flawed assumptions—that cattle should be efficient devices, not creatures worthy of respect and patient care; that children with the slightest discomfort should have every possible button pushed on their behalf, even when (as with almost all ear infections) the button will do nothing—they turn on their users. It is very possible that our great-grandchildren will look back with nostalgia on the 20th century as the Antibiotic Century. Singular. I am hopeful that medicine will deliver a new way to ward off the worst that bacteria can do—but it is very likely that fighting bacteria will never again in human history be as easy as it was forty years ago. We have pushed the antibiotic button so hard, so often, that it may very soon cease to work altogether.
Examples could be multiplied. I spent a few days last week in Gwinnett County, Georgia, which for the past twenty years has been one of the fastest-growing counties in America. I was struck by the amazing, beautiful collector roads—Sugarloaf Parkway, Satellite Boulevard—their median strips, wide lanes, and turning radiuses tuned and trimmed to the needs of a huge volume of fast-moving vehicles. There is no better place in the world to be a car, especially a somewhat oversized, top-heavy sport utility vehicle, than the recently developed portions of Gwinnett County. If you are an SUV, it was designed for you: no curves too sharp, no lanes too narrow, no hills too steep. If there weren't so many other people flooding the roads, it would be a place of perfect driving ease.