“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”— Peter Drucker
In 1951, Will Herberg, an American Jewish philosopher and sociologist of religion, published “Judaism and Modern Man.” He coined the phrase “cut flower culture” to describe the spiritual rootlessness of modern European and American societies.
He said, “The attempt made in recent decades by secularist thinkers to disengage the moral principles of western civilization from their scripturally based religious context, in the assurance that they could live a life of their own as ‘humanistic’ ethics, has resulted in our ‘cut flower culture.’ Cut flowers retain their original beauty and fragrance, but only so long as they retain the vitality that they have drawn from their now-severed roots, after that is exhausted, they wither and die. So it is with freedom, brotherhood, justice, and personal integrity — the values that form the moral foundation of our civilization. Without the life-giving power of the faith out of which they have sprung, they possess neither meaning nor vitality.”
In his book “Impossible People,” Os Guinness describes a sobering encounter he had on a recent return to China where he addressed a forum of Chinese CEOs in the business school of one of China’s most prestigious universities. Following his presentation and a spirited discussion about the state of the world, the dean of the business school asked him privately, “What am I missing? We in China are fascinated by the Christian roots of the Western past, in order to see what we can learn for the sake of China’s future. But you in the West are cutting yourselves off from your roots. What am I missing? And what happens if this continues?”
Later in his book, Guinness describes the incalculable implications for western culture (in general) and American culture (in particular) if this trend continues, “If allowed to expand unchecked, these forces will destroy the West from within, and the West will no longer be a distinctive civilization but merely a geographic designation on the map. ... The West is still post-Christian rather than non-Christian, but the crisis is well advanced and the difference between the two terms is harder and harder to distinguish.”
Let’s return to the notion of the “cut flower society.” We all want the beauty and fragrance of a fresh bouquet of flowers but how many of us want to pay the price the gardener pays to acquire the seeds, prepare the soil, endure the blisters, wait for the growth, cultivate the weeds, and prune the plant until the blossoms appear? But without the process, there would be no flowers.
We all want well-behaved citizens who are honest, kind, generous and who know how to get along with each other. But, as Guinness also laments, “The West has lost its soul” which is now causing a cultural “mudslide,” devastating just about everything in its path. As Philip Rieff said, “Where there is nothing sacred, there is nothing” because “Religion is in our blood, and the more we deny it, the sicker our society becomes.”
In his famous 1978 Harvard commencement address, Alexander Solzhenitsyn spoke of “ … three failings of the West: rampant materialism, superficiality of the media and the moral cowardice of intellectuals. The West has finally achieved the rights of man, and even to excess, but man’s responsibility to God and society has grown dimmer and dimmer. The line separating good and evil passes not through states, not between classes, nor political parties either but right through every human heart.”
A clear view of our world, on a good day, can discourage most of us. But what can we do when a thumb in the dike seems futile? A few weeks ago Evie and I heard Dr. Barry Black, the Chaplain of the US Senate preach a sermon titled, “Do Something.” He acknowledged we can’t do everything but each of us can “do something” and he encouraged us to do it.
Yes, “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” No plant or nation will survive without roots.
Think about it.Dr. Don Meyer is president emeritus of the University of Valley Forge, Phoenixville. Connect via email@example.com, Facebook.com/DrDonMeyer, www.DrDonMeyer.com, Twitter and Instagram: @DrDonMeyer.