The Purpose of Culture
People and families live in the midst of societies and cultures. In a utopian world, everything about a culture would be aimed toward helping each member of society become the-best-version-of-himself or -herself. In our very human world, however, we know this is not so. It is therefore important to examine the motives of the culture in which we live. What is the purpose of culture? In general, the role of culture is to offer a broadening experience for the people of a society. But even this broadening should serve some greater overall purpose. Broadening simply for the sake of broadening is dangerous, irresponsible, and reckless. In its truest expression, culture would expose people to a broadening set of ideas and experiences that would be aimed at inspiring and assisting each member of that society to become a-better- version-of-themselves. Every aspect of the human experience should be seen with our essential purpose in mind. Culture is therefore only valuable to the extent that it helps the members of a society celebrate their best selves. It is needless to say, and blatantly obvious, that our modern culture fails to deliver in this regard in too many ways to list. At every turn we are assaulted by ideas and experiences that not only do not assist us in our quest to become the-bestversion- of-ourselves, but even worse, often introduce obstacles that significantly prevent us from embracing our best selves and following our destinies. Music, movies, television, magazines, theater, a visit to the mall, concerts . . . it has become increasingly rare that we emerge from any of these inspired to become a-better-version-of-ourselves. So, what exactly is our culture trying to achieve? This is where we stumble upon the alarming truth. The vision of our culture is a nonvision. The agenda of our culture is a nonagenda. Our culture is not so much the presence of something as it is the absence of something. The stark reality is that our culture does not have a vision for the human person. If that sounds a little confusing, imagine how confusing the actual experience of such a culture is for the average teenager. We inevitably arrive at this haunting question: If there is no grand vision or agenda for our culture, what is driving it? You know the answer. Think for a moment. What is driving the modern popular culture in which our society is immersed? The answer: advertising and consumption. The goal of much of what drives our culture today seems to be nothing more than to create and encourage consumption. Last year’s clothes, though there is nothing wrong with them and they remain as perfectly useful as they were last year, are now magically no good, even inadequate, because they are out of fashion. The same is true of cars, cell phones, furniture, electronics, and hundreds of other items in dozens of other categories. The practical reality is that the modern culture does not elevate a person; it consumes a person. The purpose of the family and the nonpurpose of the present culture are therefore directly opposed to each other. This places the family right at the heart of a cultural war. Matthew Kelly
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