The problem with “Culture Wars” is we don’t know what culture *is*. If we truly want to win back souls to God and the Natural Law, we must do it through redeeming the culture itself.
Chesterton says that the history of Western civilization is a conflict between three worldviews: the Greco-Roman, Judeo-Christian and atheistic-nihilistic. He illustrates this with a parable of a people on an island who worship the sun. They build a round, mathematically perfect, temple. Over time, they come to understand God as transcendent of Nature and nature as corrupt, dangerous and not quite so perfect as they previously thought. So they add a spire to their temple, pointing to the sky, and gargoyles to the outside to show that the world is dark and scary but there is hope in Heaven. Over time, they lose their faith in God completely and create a temple of complete grotesque to demonstrate it: they take away the spire and replace all the gods and saints with more gargoyles.
Chesterton saw 100 years ago what the Twentieth Century was producing and has produced in spades since.
These threads can be seen in smaller amounts in each major historical period and each particular Western civilization’s history. Generally, though, the Greeks and Romans produced art and literature which saw both nature and the gods as orderly and beautiful. Their dramas reflected the need to return to order when civil order was disrupted.
The so-called “Dark Ages” produced literature, art, music and architecture focused entirely on God, and human beings who were flawed in an immoral world. This was the period of Gothic architecture: terrifying and imposing on the outside; uplifting and glorious inside.
The Renaissance saw a general return to the classical worldview. The visual arts became less stylized by the rules of iconography and more stylized by a desire to reflect human perfection as understood by the ancients. Music was made a bit more complicated than the simple, utilitarian chant of the Middle Ages, reflecting the Classical understanding of music as a form of mathematics. Architecture was not directly classical per se but some Greek aspects were returned to architecture. The greatest Renaissance writers drew from classical mythology or the rules of classical drama.
Then the 17th century brought a Puritan flair to the visual arts, while music focused on God. Thus, Bach could say everything he wrote was a prayer–because even instrumental music was understood to express a code that, like a Gothic cathedral, raised the soul up towards God.
The 18th century saw the period we call “classical” or neo-Classical: architecture that was mathematical and balanced, per Greek principles as then understood. The visual arts, like those of the Renaissance, evoked classical norms. Pagan imagery began to be revisited. Music was more strongly mathematical and less otherworldly.
Then came the period we call Romantic. Interestingly, C. S. Lewis considered Jane Austen as the last truly Western author. The Romantic (i.e., “of Rome”) period in Protestant Europe involved a quest for the “past,” but it was a blend of the “Past” of paganism as well as the “past” as well as a fascination with Catholicism and the purported tendency of people in “Romance” (i.e., Latinate) countries to engage in lots of adultery and fornication, lending to the terms “Romance” and “Romantic” becoming associated with affairs of the heart rather than a group of cultures. Interestingly, this is the same time the term “Latin America” was coined as a way to unite French, Spanish and Portuguese colonies against the new United States and the remaining British colonies.
Literature evoked the beauty of nature as well as the quest for God. It also evoked a fascination with the creepy old buildings, the mysterious Catholic past (now thoroughly ensconced in the Protestant imagination as a form of pagan witchcraft, masquerading as “Christianity”) and thus gave us the term “Gothic” as no longer meaning a style of religious art and architecture coming from Germany but now a form of “Romance” focusing on the grotesque and even macabre.
After the Romantic period there was a general shift towards nihilism, which is what Lewis gets at in “De Descriptione Temporum” when he says the above about Austen. Someone once said that “music died with Nietzsche’s God.”
Romanticism gave way to “Realism,” which still had a bit of the Gothic hope in its negative portrayal of life, but that quickly gave way to the gargoyles of “Naturalism” in art and literature. Music came to be atonal and discordant.
This is why simple worldliness of much “contemporary” music, like that of modern art and architecture, is ill-fitting the grandeur of God. Though the attempt to redeem the modern world has its place, slapping “God” and “morality” onto otherwise postmodern literature and music is like Chesterton’s islanders, after burying their temple in gargoyles, saints and angels on top of the gargoyles rather than getting rid of the gargoyles.