Big lies and their cultural consequences

Feb 7, 2022 by

Sharon James explains the background to Western secularism, and sets out the bible’s worldview in response.

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

I recently saw a short video in which two students, members of an evangelical church, were discussing the impact of social media in their lives. What are some of the potential pitfalls? “It makes me compare myself to the ‘good life’ that others are having, and that makes me feel jealous”, said one. “I find myself scrolling through lots of mindless content, and realise how much time I’ve wasted”, came the reply. Both agreed that they should spend more time in Christian activities.

That was it.

The bible constantly warns us that ‘the world’ is not a neutral space where the biggest danger is being diverted into frivolities. Rather, we learn of a system of spiritual powers behind convincing but destructive ways of thinking, human-centred ideologies and worldviews. Today, while social media and the internet can be used for good, for the undiscerning it can be the latest, very powerful vehicle for disseminating these worldviews which are hostile to biblical faith, disruptive of harmony-in-diversity, and sometimes opposed to the common sense or ‘natural law’ necessary to human flourishing.

These Christian young people discussing social media either are not aware of this aspect of their online lives, or feel unable to say anything about it publicly. To me this shows how much our churches need resources to recognise the world’s lies, to discern where they come from and how they’re being spread, and to see in the Gospel the truth which sets us free.

Such a resource is found in Sharon James’ book The Lies We Are Told, The Truth We Must Hold (Christian Focus 2021). It was recommended to me as “like Carl Trueman, but easier to understand”. There’s an element of truth to this. While Trueman’s book focusses on the thought of a small number of thinkers with the most influence on contemporary secular culture, the scope of Sharon James’ (SJ) book is much wider, covering more ground but in less detail. What both books have in common is the underlying conviction that many of the presuppositions and assumptions of our post-enlightenment, post-Christian Western culture is based on lies, which have acted like “environmental pollution”.


The dismantling of old certainties about truth, beginning with God and the ‘given’ structures of creation, led to postmodern suspicion of all truth claims as attempts to gain power. But an unregulated free market of ideas and activities is anarchy, and does not guarantee the formation of humanist utopia. So we’re quickly coming to accept the promotion of a new hegemony, based around ‘progressive’ ideas of ‘social justice’. SJ says in her introduction that we need to understand and expose “the lies we are told”, and then recover a biblical worldview, which is not only important for the church, but “the only solid basis for defending human dignity and achieving justice”.

SJ devotes the majority of her book to explaining secularism and its impact. Lie number 1 is that there is no God. Christianity is then first relegated to a private opinion, and then seen as harmful. A number of voices are quoted as prophets of the atheistic worldview – giants from the past like Nietzsche and Russell, and more familiar recent celebrities: Stephen Fry, Richard Dawkins, Kurt Cobain. But atheism ultimately leads to disregard for human dignity and a culture of death. Marx and his political followers feature here, as the myths of ‘liberation’ from divine authority and their consequences in terms of government are laid bare.

Atheism has also led to a “reversal of moral codes”, particularly in relation to sex. Focus here is on the ideas of those who linked Christian sexual morality with neurosis (Freud) and militarism (Reich), and American abortionist and eugenicist Margaret Sanger. The “spectacular success” of today’s ‘sexual revolution’ (a phrase coined by Reich in the 1930’s) has resulted in a dystopia of fatherlessness, poverty and crime. Meanwhile, the philosophical underpinning of neo-Marxist ideas applied to law, education and family, designed to influence and take over the establishment guardians of culture, were drawn up and communicated by the ‘Frankfurt School’ – activists and ideologies such as Gramsci and, later, Marcuse, along with literary critics who undermined the idea of a meaning in a text (Derrida, Foucault). As the ‘lived experience’ of those with ‘oppressed’ identities trumps common sense and even science which comes to the ‘wrong’ conclusion, SJ concludes: “Critical Theory has taken root in all the main institutions of the West” (p132).

Contemporary identity politics, deriving from a Marxist diagnosis of human society in terms of oppressor and oppressed, leads to the assertion that Western societies are beset with ‘systemic’ racism, patriarchy and heteronormativity. ‘Solutions’ are enacted in the form of what SJ calls the “politics of guilt”, and increasing polarisation and division in society, is the result. At this point in the book (p148ff), SJ helpfully includes some tables, with single-sentence summaries of various beliefs and the agendas which follow.

She ends the chapter on the contemporary culture war with the question: “Why have so many Christians joined in the trashing of truth?” (p157). This introduces an overview of the main tenets of theological revisionism, with its roots in European Protestantism, and fruits in today’s church leaders denying Scripture and taking the side of secular cultural Marxists against authentic Christianity. This chapter could be much longer if it included a fraction of the story of what has happened in British and North American Anglicanism over the past twenty years!

The second, shorter section of SJ’s book deals with “the truth we must hold”, and sets out a biblical worldview, based on God as creator and as the basis for all truth and reality. Humanity has inherent dignity because of being made in God’s image; we are loved and invited to share in management of creation and an eternal destiny. While we are alienated from God because of our inherent sin, we are given moral responsibility – which again confers dignity, but does not allow for victimhood or other-blaming. Instead, God offers forgiveness based on the sacrificial death of Christ.

Biblical concepts of family, work and society based on law and mutual generosity are then outlined. Finally, the Lordship of Christ is presented as a doctrine not just for Christians within the confines of church, or something to look forward to after the second coming, but a present reality which is the basis for mission. This is not only evangelism, but the bringing of institutions under the influence of gospel truth and values. It’s important to understand and be realistic about the extent of the (increasingly enforced) wrong thinking in the world and the suffering it causes, while at the same time affirm the rule of the Son of God, his activity through his people by his Holy Spirit, and the coming judgement and renewal of the cosmos under his headship. The task of the believer is to “love and praise God…don’t be afraid…work for the extension of God’s kingdom”.


This is an excellent book about contemporary culture which is a counter to the pietism sometimes seen in evangelical circles. While of necessity only being an overview, it contains plenty of footnotes to be followed up by readers wanting more detail on all the topics. It would benefit from more practical suggestions for action (this is also true of Trueman’s book), and perhaps more of an appreciation of the demonic spiritual powers behind the ideologies and their effects that she describes. But maybe that is a topic for another book?

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