The Best of the West

"Peoples are entitled to political self-determination. They must also . . . enjoy cultural self-determination!" The words sounded like the defiant manifesto of a Third World nationalist, throwing off the bonds of colonialism. But no: The person speaking was a French politician-complaining about what he called "U.S. cultural invasion." Our military may be in Somalia, but our culture is crossing borders all around the world. During the Cold War, many emerging nations imitated the Soviet Union-from its top-down, centralized politics to the style of its Red Army uniforms. But today the same nations are looking to the United States. In his new book Out of Control, Zbigniew Brzezinski says Third World nations are waging American-style political campaigns, writing American-style constitutions, and, yes, even adopting American-style military uniforms. A few years ago, when Chinese students demonstrated for freedom in Tienanmen Square, their symbol of hope was a replica of the Statue of Liberty. When Czechoslovakians rose up against Communism, a worker stood up before a factory crowd and read, with tears in this eyes, the American Declaration of Independence. The western model of political and economic liberty has captured the imagination of the world. But while the best parts of Western culture are being imitated all around the globe, so are the worst. More than half the movies watched around the world are produced in America. Television programs like "Dallas" and "Dynasty" export to every dusty African village an image of American values and American life. Not long ago the U.S. Coast Guard intercepted a boatload of refugees from Southern China. Their entire knowledge of the English language consisted of a single word: "MTV." This is the "cultural invasion" the French politician was fulminating against. We stand today at a defining moment in the world's history. We are witnessing the decline of totalitarian nations ruled by the iron fist of ideology. But we also face the urgent question: What will come next? The world is looking to the West, but the West is sending a mixed message. On one hand, there is a rich heritage that has blossomed from the soil of historic Christianity. A heritage of free governments, where power flows from the consent of the governed not the barrel of a gun. A heritage of free markets that increase standards of living. A heritage of free thought and religious belief. But undercutting it all are newer, compelling images beaming out from movie and television screens-images that glorify the secular, the sexual, and the sensational. U.S. cultural invasion. We in the West bear a particular responsibility today. The nations of the world are reaching out for western ideals. But they are also falling prey to western materialism and moral permissiveness. This is a unique opportunity for Christians to make a case for biblical principles as the basis of western ideals-the very ideals the world is yearning for. Let us call on America to scrutinize what we are exporting to the watching world-to take stock of ourselves. And to remember that the best of the West, the freedoms we enjoy, are firmly rooted in the biblical tradition.


Chuck Colson


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