As rational creatures that God created with free will, we exist in a world with multiple avenues of choices and messages. While we can respect and admire this creation built on choice, it does allow for a flood of dubious messages should one drift away from God’s vantage point. And this arena that ushers people away from God is commonly known as the “pop culture.” Most people, especially young people sheepishly consume the messages of the pop culture in a repetitive fashion. That is, their main authority or guide on what to think, how to act, how to dress, where to find truth comes from the current social landscape in what’s trending. However, there is a danger to being fully embedded in the ever changing messages floating in the popular culture.
The phrase “pop culture” generally means the popular way of thinking. And the popular way of thinking is channeled through the technology-laced mega-phone of the mass media. The rather shallow messaging in the pop culture boils down to what concepts are new coupled with words and phrases that have an attractive appeal that can play on human emotions. On the surface, these messages might sound innovative and appealing, but when we drill down to what they actually mean we will see that these messages are empty and don’t offer a person anything real and lasting.
What is one thing we know about trends? They are ever changing.
What is “trending” on the news or social media changes as often as I change my one-year-old’s diapers. With new technology and the need for people to constantly be on the cusp of something new, we lose a sense of something firm we can plant our lives on. If everyone wants to follow the latest social trend or phrase in the pop culture they’ll inevitably be pulled in all directions like an ever blowing leaf unable to find any firm, secure home. Another tragic fall in the pop culture is that it strips the truth away from people. Rather than be focused on what is true, the pop culture makes one fixate on what is new. Therefore, the truth is exchanged for the latest trend or mere popular opinion.
All this messaging in our pop culture acts like a cacophony of noise that clutters up the human mind and pulls the person away from the firmness of the truth. Because if the pop culture is ever changing, it can’t be tied down to anything concrete – like the truth.
What do we know about the truth? The truth never changes. Let’s take an obvious truth statement like 2+2=4. Does this truth statement change like the constant evolving messages of the pop culture? No. Therefore, the truth will set us free from this ever shifting false description of reality that one finds in pop culture land. And deep down everyone wants the truth. We don’t want to be duped or lied to. However, the pop culture acts as a fancy lie of who we really are. If you are guided by the pop culture’s message to live for the pleasures of your senses, you won’t be the person you were created to be. Rather, you’ll have a fake version of yourself play the lead role in your life while the real you gets kicked aside to the curb.
The pop culture didn’t create you, so how would it know who you are supposed to be. As Aristotle brilliantly put it, “A thing is best known by the entity in which it came from.” Therefore, the best source for becoming the person we were meant to be comes from the entity that created us – God. This also means we are more free when we become the person we were meant to be. After all, a fish is more free when it is in the water not out of the water. Why? It is because the fish was designed to be in the water. Well, we were designed to be with our designer. As St. Augustine wrote, “Our hearts are restless until we rest in thee oh God.”
We were not designed to be a fake version of ourselves that came from a source that had nothing to do with our creation – such as the pop culture.
Jesus is not just claiming to know the truth, he is claiming to be the truth. As he said, “I am the truth” (John 14:6, 18:37). This truth is a rock we can firmly place our life on to understand who we are.
The second problem with the pop culture is that it does not bring a person ultimate happiness. If it did, we wouldn’t want more and more of it. The fact that we want more of it is proof it doesn’t work. As philosopher Blaise Pascal indicates, “If man were happier, the less diversions [pop culture] he had the happier he would be.” So, if the diversions of the pop culture worked, than we would be content and happy with what we receive from it. But, we are never content in pop culture land. We are in a constant, often restless seeking mode for more and better experiences.
In other words, the fact the pop culture trends and messages keeps changing shows us that its message is weak in actually sustaining us with any lasting happiness. Instead, the pop culture is more like a drug that gives us a little buzz for awhile but never satisfies us. When we keep running to the pop culture for fulfillment we become like that addict that needs their little fix but never finds lasting joy. We are constantly restless in the pop culture looking for that peace. I’m very much reminded of what Bono of U2 sang about: “I have climbed the highest mountains, I have run through the fields. . . I have run I have crawled. I have scaled these city walls but I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”
We can have all these grand experiences and “things” in the pop culture, but we’re still never going to be satisfied by them. They don’t work. We need something more, and that something more is God. All you have to do is look at the lives of the saints to see this.
The saints are like that pointing finger that show us how to gain happiness in this life. The saints have completely detached themselves from the restless world of the pop culture and have set their life in the fullness of Jesus’ message. Unlike a pop culture addict that is never content the saints are content. They have God, and that’s all they need. They don’t need anything else. This is why the saints are able to detach themselves from the materialistic things of this world. By living like this, the saints have reached that place in this world where they have obtained fulfillment. Once the saints know this, they have reached that place where the truth has set them free. They are now free to be the person that God created them to be.
It’s rare to ever meet a saint but I think I had a slight glimpse. I was taking a few theology courses at Aquinas College in Nashville recently. The courses were taught by Dominican Sisters. As Dominicans these women are utterly detached from the world of the pop culture. They live a simple life of prayer, reading, and small manual labor. They have little if any interaction in the pop culture. And yet these women were hands down the most peaceful, happy, content women I have ever met in my life. At one point, I thought they simply must take strong medication to sedate themselves to be in this blissful like state. However, I realized there contentment was because they enjoy a life of inner peace in the world of God, not the world of man. They have the truth and they have God. That’s all they need, and their happiness is a reflection of this fact.
There is another major problem the pop culture can’t do for you. It can’t usher your soul into the next life. In fact the pop culture is largely silent on death – or life after death. The only thing the modern culture can do is make you temporarily forget about death. But, it can’t usher you past death and into the next life. The pop culture gives you absolutely nothing on the three big questions in your life: Who made me? What makes me happy? What ushers me into the next life? So, let’s add it up. On the three most important questions in life the pop culture is batting a paltry 0-3. In fact, the social status image of the pop culture very much distracts people from asking these three pressing questions.
Therefore, our modern day culture acts as a deafening noise to drown us out from asking the important questions that reveal who we are and what truly makes us happy. However, when we enter God into these three questions we are now batting a perfect 3-3. So, in sum don’t live your life completely embedded in the world of the modern pop culture. That is like living as a fish out of water. After all Jesus told us, “You do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world” (John 15:19). In this Jesus is announcing to remove ourselves from the teachings of this world and graft ourselves to his Church.
So in sum, pick the world of God over the world of man. This is the truth and this truth will surely set you free.