Social Change: Religion, Television and Automobilies, and a few more

“The paradigm is
shifting” is an overused phrase, but “The paradigm is
shifting.”

The principal sin
of neoconservatives
is overbearing arro-
gance. It is not so
much that they have
ever been wrong. It
is that nobody has
ever convinced them
that they have been
wrong.
David Keene
American Conservative
Union

(In NY Times Multimedia
see link to Graphic for a
collection of quotes)

As NBC announces it will cut 700 jobs and change its primetime strategy, a group of conservative Christians prepares to go to court to defend a mutual aid-type payment plan for health care, and Chrysler, anticipating another big quarterly loss, plans more cuts.

It’s cliche’ to say, “The paradigm is shifting,” but the fact is, the paradigm is shifting. In each of these examples underneath the public discussion is a basic reality–the old way of doing things is changing radically. We can try to dress it up in other clothing, but the organizational models of the past century are worn and tattered and they are being challenged to put on newer style.

NBC, as virtually every other mainstream media operation, must contend with the cost of acquiring content for news and entertainment as viewers move to digital media. Much of the content delivered on the Internet is free. In an article in the NY Times, Jeff Zucker, CEO of NBC Universal Television says, “I don’t know if it is irreparably broken, but the economic model is under a tremendous amount of pressure.” Another article on newspaper revenues discusses the challenges print media face, and they are not dissimilar to broadcasters.

I hear this everywhere I turn. Old systems are under pressure. It’s change or die, according to some analysts.

The evangelical mutual aid association Christian Care Ministry, gives members the ability to share in paying medical costs. A story in the Times, reports it isn’t an insurance company but some regulators say it acts like one, and it’s beyond their regulatory oversight so they’re pressing legal challenges. But underneath the legal particulars is a broken health care model in the United States. Given the opportunity, some opt out and others are excluded because they can’t afford insurance. The old model is broken.

The U.S. auto industry slept through the market sensitive practices of the Japanese automakers and continued to rely upon the same formula–producing vehicles that gave them greater profit while ignoring the growing demand for low-cost, fuel efficient models. While some automakers attribute their problems to high wages and health insurance, the handwriting has been on the wall in form of Japanese and Korean calligraphy for a long time, but they didn’t read it.

I don’t think it’s far-fetched to view the turmoil in religious communities today through this lens of paradigm shift. As the paradigm changed with the Protestant Reformation, the encounter of enlightenment with post-modern is creating swirling changes that haven’t yet reached their fulness and probably indicate that religious people are in for some interesting and unsettling days ahead.

The debate among religious conservatives and their counterparts in the political right reveals fractures in the coalition that has served them well for the past two decades. But beneath the obvious political differences is a deeper issue–which values are enduring and should be retained and which can give way to new understandings of faith in the 21st. Century?

Political analysis is inadequate. The need for an anchor in a world of change leads to claims for religious verities. In an age of anxiety, this is not surprising. Nor is it surprising how divisive the claims are. Religious folks are saying some pretty horrible things about others who differ with them, even their allies. I read the criticisms by evangelicals of Brian McLaren, the emergent church architect, and I wonder how he absorbs these strong words. A conservative independent seminary training United Methodist students fired its conservative president recently in a manner that will besmirch the institution for years. And at least one theologian in the United Methodist Church has made a career of sharp theological critique and his detractors roll their eyes while followers love him. Across the religious spectrum ferment and nastiness are evident.

Lines are being drawn, true believers are lifted up, and those who don’t measure up are cast aside. As the paradigm shifts and people become uneasy with the loss of certainty, they struggle to preserve what worked in the past and, in some cases, they devour each other.

Some days the only theologian I want to listen to is Tom T. Hall.

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