As a Boy Scout three decades ago, I remember on a particular campout one of my buddies mixed up all of his food in the pot from his mess kit and said enthusiastically, “It all gets mixed up in your stomach anyway!” right before he gulped down another big clump of the sticky heterogenous mixture of both raw and burned “food.” Despite my inability to counter his rudimentary logic, I wasn’t about to mix my s’mores in with my tin foil dinner of charred potatoes and cold pink uncooked hamburger. Those are to be enjoyed separately.
When then-candidate Bill Clinton played the saxophone on Arsenio Hall’s late night comedy show back in 1992 it turned a few heads; it busted the mold, because serious presidential candidates were simply not supposed to show up in sunglasses and belt out some jazz to an audience gathered strictly to be entertained. Though a little risky, Clinton’s unexpected detour into the entertainment realm was refreshing for many, a boost to his likeability.
This past week, sports apparel company Nike thrust themselves into political controversy by elevating Colin Kaepernick to the center of a new ad campaign. The first wave featured the controversial former quarterback in a close-up face shot overlayed with with the words “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.” A second advertising burst featured Kaepernick narrating an inspirational video encouraging athletes to reach their highest dreams.
While Nike did not include any footage of Kaepernick taking a knee and not a syllable of his narration referenced how police relate to minority communities, the message was clear. What other middle-of-the-pack athlete would ever be elevated by Nike to such a prominent place? Kaepernick’s not known these days because of his athletic prowess.
It could be said that entertainment exists to meet a human need for escapism. Religion emerged to feed our spiritual hunger. Political systems provide a legal framework for our desire to have an orderly society. Academia’s primary mission is to educate and foster an elevated intellect. I believe healthy societies have healthy boundaries between these loci of human needs. These boundaries are permeable with some overlap, but they are boundaries nonetheless. These areas should be as distinct as our needs for them.
But something fundamentally problematic has developed in the last two or three decades. Like my fellow scout’s camp food, our culture is getting scrambled more and more as time moves forward. We are increasingly frustrated because we don’t know where we can go anymore to have these various distinct needs met reliably. We are craving a reliability that is dwindling. We are frustrated because of it.
Today we have a former (but recent) reality television star as the President of the United States. We stage chicken sandwich boycotts over the religious leanings of a restaurant CEO. It’s almost impossible to find a retail environment that isn’t telling us how environmentally or LGBTQ friendly they are. Creditors are making funding decisions based on political acceptability aside from financial viability. Late night political propagandists are masquerading as comedians. People who play a once-a-week game for a living are now telling us what to think about highly-charged racial issues.
One example of this corrosive culture scrambling is in liberation theology, essentially a marriage of Marxist ideology to Christian teaching. While its roots began sixty five years ago, we have seen a recent surge in its influence. But Christ himself was pretty clear on keeping the boundaries intact dividing religion and politics when he taught. “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.” In liberation theology, it’s hard to tell where Caesar stops and God begins.
I have a good friend who has a saying she uses often: Stay in your lane. It reminded me of a college biology class I endured years ago. It seemed the professor was unable to go a single class period without a political diatribe against the Republican president this or Congress that. It was a biology class. Biology. We were supposed to learn about mitochondria and ribosomes. It was tiring — not because I was unable to handle an opinion different than my own — but because he wasn’t staying in his lane. He wasn’t teaching biology, reliably, when it was so laced with his political invective.
Perhaps one big source of our frustration is not that we disagree or that we are irreparably divided, but that we are missing a cultural reliability that we crave.
Associated Press award-winning columnist Neal Larson of Idaho Falls is the author of “Living in Spin.” He is a conservative talk show host on KID Newsradio 106.3 and 92.1, and also at www.kidnewsradio.com. “The Neal Larson Show” can be heard weekday mornings from 6:00 to 10:00. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.