Today I was introduced to the idea of Soft Power and the term alone caused so many things to instantly click in my head. Soft Power is a clear paradox to Hard Power, and once you grasp the simple concept, so much will make sense. It’s the reason you always feel like you’re offending someone, or that if you disagree with someone, you’re anathema to the cultural tide.
For example, take the Koreas as embodiments of the two notions. North Korea has nuclear weaponry aimed at the soil of the world, hovering her finger above the launch button if someone pries too closely. Hard Power. The bully with the bigger muscles and the baseball bat.
By contrast, South Korea is a rising star in the music scene with numerous breakout boy bands which my students are obsessed with. K-Pop is infecting radio waves alongside the behemoth of entertainment which is the United States. Soft power is far more subliminal, but perhaps even more powerful that the opposite. South Korea, with its intellectual Soft Power, is growing the ability to influence fans however they want. Of course, this is slow and over time rather than blatant like North Korea’s nukes.
The reason this is so important is because we in the West are far more in danger of giving in to Soft Power than Hard.
For instance, look no further than the third chapter of Genesis. Does the serpent come to Eve with a crossbow and tell her to eat the fruit “or else…”?
No, of course not! He slips subtle lies into her mind. He makes her question things she was once so sure of. Before long, she haas given in and doomed the progeny of the world to death and toil.
I would wager that most of us are not threatened with AK-47’s or barbed wire clubs on the daily, but we face a far more insidious power. We face another term to which I was introduced today: Intellectual Colonialism.
What is Colonialism? It’s the invasion of Western culture into indigenous lands. It was the white man coming in and saying that they’re doing things wrong and they should be done like THIS (to put it lightly).
Without realizing it, Christians living in the West have become slaves to the machine of Intellectual Colonialism. We have been told that the way we have been thinking is wrong and we need to do it like THEM. We need to be sexually liberated (as long as it’s safe and consensual), and we need to be tolerant of every belief, simply because someone feels that it’s true.
Problem is, feelings turn out not to be great dictators of truth.
Just today, someone commented on a YouTube video of mine saying that I shouldn’t be so hard on Christians who may believe something the Bible doesn’t teach. “If they believe it strongly, then it can be true for them.”
That phrase, in addition to being one of the most ridiculous and ignorant things a human can say, was disproven in the 300’s B.C. Something cannot be simultaneously true and false depending on who feels what way about it. No matter how hard I feel that the winter should be sunny and 75, reality is going to keep dumping snow on me.
But now I’m off track.
In the Bible, let’s take another look at Hard Power and how we bend the knee to the same entities who now use Soft Power instead. Nebuchadnezzar strong armed the Israelites into exile where he made them kneel to his gigantic statue under pain of death. Guards were on watch to see anyone who would not bow the knee to his image. If you’ve been in Sunday School at any point in the past century, you’re familiar with the three boys who did not bow to the statue: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. They faced a very real and physical power ordering them to follow its decrees.
Today, we are simply peer pressured into accepting every sexy wind of heresy and affirming every possible sexual orientation our sideways imaginations can conjure up. More often than not though, this peer pressure takes the form of appealing sitcoms and catchy lyrics. It’s taken time, but media has so influenced our culture that to frown upon such media or behavior doesn’t make you pious, it makes you a prude.
We have moved into a new era where pursuing righteousness isn’t just foreign to people, it’s downright offensive. In the past, when I told people I was a virgin, they may applaud my restraint. Now, however, I may be told that I am actually repressing my good desires for sex and am therefore doing something bad. It’s insane.
It seems that these strong and invisible pressures have worked their magic on more than a few Western Christians. They are SO subliminal, and following the way of Christ will always be less popular and more difficult.
Take for instance the recent release of the film Boy Erased. The observant Christian will note that the thesis boils down to this: Either your sexual urges are set in stone or your religion is. If one won’t bend, the other should. I’ll let you imagine which one the movie suggests should be more malleable (Apparently God is not ‘progressive’ enough to keep up with our advanced culture).
In order to end with a glimmer of hope, let’s remind ourselves who Jesus is. The classic verse John 14:6 states simply that He is truth. He does not simply say the occasional truism, but He is the embodiment of all that is right, straight, aligned, and worth believing. He is the definition of reality.
One thing He constantly tells us to watch out for is, essentially, Soft Power. When He tells us how to fight the devil, Jesus does not give some mystical sort of instruction for putting on an exorcism. He simply tells us to listen to Him because He speaks the truth and to watch out for the devil, because “when he lies, he speaks his native tongue.”
Later, in Ephesians 6, Paul draws up a pretty explicit dichotomy between the Hard and Soft Powers: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood (Hard Power), but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Soft Power).”
I think the Bible spends a lot more time warning us against Soft Power because it’s harder to spot. It’s easy to point to wars, child slavery, and spousal abuse as the only evil in the world. It’s harder to identify greed, wandering sexual mores, and self worship in our own hearts.
As Tim Keller often says, “You always know when you’re committing adultery. You’re never having sex and stop and say, ‘Wait a minute! You’re not my wife!’ It’s harder to be aware of things like greed and pride because they are invisible and insidious.”
Beware of America’s Soft Power. Don’t blindly take in media of any form with your brain turned off. Just because every show on Netflix makes casual sex not only permissible, but necessary doesn’t mean that God has changed His mind on adultery.
Keep your brain turned on because it’s far easier to flick it off and slip into the appealing ebb of the cultural current.
Identify the ubiquitous use of Soft Power.
May we be those who cling to truth and think with wisdom. Moreover, may we cling to Truth Himself as we grow closer to the person of Jesus Christ, although it will NEVER be the easy or popular route. May we never lose hope that He will come again to expose every lie and make plain all that is true and real.