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Discerning Culture’s Subtle Messages Using Truth and Logic

Culture has some catchy slogans. So many sound nice on the surface but are lacking in meaning. Some are partially true, but wrapped up in a lie. Some even refute themselves. But many of the world’s lies aren’t so blatantly obvious. They’re subtle and sneak up on you when you least expect it. Let’s examine a few of these sayings using truth and logic to better equip ourselves to spot unbiblical or illogical messages in our daily lives.

I recently spent a few minutes at two local home décor stores (one Christian, one not), and I found dozens of catch phrases that did not pass the sniff test. There were two major themes I noticed: hedonism and humanism.

Hedonism

The first overarching theme I noticed was hedonism, the ethical theory that pleasure (in the sense of the satisfaction of desires) is the highest good and proper aim of human life.[1] I’m sure many of these pictures below feature slogans that aren’t new or surprising to you. Notice how subtle they are:

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We have all noticed these hedonistic themes in our culture. You’ve seen it in the abortion debate, gay marriage, and now transgender ideology. The message: do what makes you happy. As Christians, we should compare these messages with the truth of God’s Word and his nature. God cannot be illogical or contradict Scripture. We also should strive to use logic and reason as we compare messages we consume to what God has revealed to us in his Word.

Look at those messages again: “My Happy Journal” (found in the prayer journal section), “always bee happy,” “This is the beginning of anything you want,” “Happy looks good on you,” and “live more, worry less, and be happy.” These messages pop up more subtly than you know. Hedonism is probably the message that we consume the most, including our children.

A great way to help our kids in this area is by adapting reductio ad absurdum, which is a way to logically take the bad idea to its absurd conclusion.[2] For example, if someone thinks it is good to affirm someone’s desire to live life as a boy that contradicts the reality of them being a girl simply because it will make them happy, a reductio ad absurdum response exposes the illogical position of hedonism. Must we affirm our heroin addict friends for simply doing what makes them happy? And pedophiles and rapists, are they, too, just doing what makes them happy? How dare we get in the way of their happiness! (Insert heavy sarcasm here.) Of course, you don’t hear these arguments blasted loudly, but it is using the same logical foundation that the world uses to glorify abortion, gay marriage, etc. The question Christians ought to ask is not “Does it make you happy?” but “Is this pleasing to the Lord?” Happiness and pleasure are not the goal. In fact, Scripture warns us to not follow our desires or seek pleasure:

By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin (Hebrews 11:25).

But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death (James 1:14-15).

Being happy in and of itself is not bad. But that is not our goal as Christ followers. Our purpose is to love and serve him; whether that makes us happy or uncomfortable.

Humanism/Self-Help

The second major theme I noticed in those home decor stores was humanism. Humanism is a “system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters.”[3] It gave birth to the self-help movement where we were told that the answers to all our problems could be found within ourselves. This mentality is both unbiblical and illogical. As Christians, we know we are fallen and need our savior Jesus Christ to fix the problem of our sin. Author Teasi Cannon exposes the illogical position of self-helpism by stating, “If we are the broken thing, we need our manufacturer to fix us since no broken thing can fix itself.”[4] Just like the hedonistic messages we studied above, you’ll see that the humanistic examples below are subtle:

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I’m not saying that owning a cute sign from Hobby Lobby that says “Believe in yourself” is some big offensive sin. I want to simply point out that these subtle messages of focusing on yourself don’t slap us in the face but are disguised and can unknowingly affect us if we are not on alert. The question we want to ask about these types of messages is whether these claims align with who God says we are. The short answer is they don’t.

  • “Be you,” “Believe in yourself,” and “Self-love” don’t align with what Scripture tells us in Luke 9:23 and Galatians 2:20, which is to die to ourselves and take up our cross and be like Christ (see also 1 John 2:6 and Philippians 1:3-8).
  • “You’ve got this” contradicts the reality that we need Jesus.
  • “Set yourself free” doesn’t align with the Bible’s overarching theme that we are slaves to sin and only Jesus can set us free when we have faith in his death and resurrection (Romans 8:1-2). Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life; knowing him, the truth, will set you free (John 14:6 and John 8:32).

Does the Bible argue for us to have low self-esteem and beat ourselves up? No! We are children of God. But our identity is in him, not in ourselves. If we continue to look to ourselves for the answers, we will be greatly disappointed.

Self-Refuting Statements

Though these claims don’t make for trendy home décor, you’ll hear self-refuting statements in the news or on social media. These claims are illogical and refute themselves. This is where logic is so important and we must be equipped to turn these claims back on themselves to expose their falsities. Here are a few common examples and a quick response: 

  • “Do not judge.” Reply with “Why are you judging me for judging?”
  • “There is no absolute truth.” Reply with “Is that true?”
  • “Only science gives reliable truth.” Reply with “Your philosophical claim is then unreliable.”

If you’d like some more examples, I recommend chapter 10 of Greg Koukl’s book Tactics[5] 

Truth Wrapped in a Lie

Truths wrapped up in lies are dangerous. They catch your attention with a yes and then distort that yes. Satan is a master manipulator who is cunning (2 Corinthians 11:3). He’s the father of lies (John 8:44), and he even tried to deceive Jesus by quoting Scripture in Matthew 4! That scary fact should put us all on high alert. Satan loves using our “good” feelings to lead us astray and has much more success tricking us in subtle distortions of truth than single obvious lies. Think back to the hedonistic and humanistic examples above. Notice there is some truth in them. It is good to have the joy of the Lord and recognize the unique gifts God has given you. It’s the hint of truth in these trendy sayings that make us more susceptible to the world’s perversion of the truth.

Here are two more examples I found:

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Can you spot the truths? Can you spot the lies? Or even, can you spot the incomplete truths? 

Again, this is not to rag on your home décor but to show how easy it is to consume the culture’s messages unphased. These sayings from culture are everywhere; even Christian stores. It is worth being nitpicky and applying these principles to all of culture’s messages to sharpen our discernment muscles.

Conclusion

So what do we do? Truth, logic, reason in everything! Compare what you hear and read to the truth of Scripture using logic and reason to sharpen your biblical filter. The goal is discernment. I find the skill of biblical discernment so important, I pay my children a dollar every time they can spot a lie in culture and explain to me why it is a lie. The goal is not to shelter them from everything (though there is wisdom in what we filter out for them) but to train them to think well. The joy I feel as a parent handing my 7-year-old a dollar for showing me his first grade writing assignment while shouting; “Mommy! Mommy! I spotted a lie! My teacher told us to write about how we take care of Mother Earth. I know Mother Earth isn’t a thing. And she talked about Santa…again!” *Cue the proud mommy tears*

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Translation: I know this is not true. There is no such thing as Mother Earth and Christmas is all what Jesus did.

I know we will be less susceptible to falling prey to the loudest messages our corrupt world spews if we can spot the smallest lies. My son proved he was paying attention and not blindly accepting what his teacher was saying. It’s impossible to completely avoid these false messages. The goal isn’t to avoid reading or hearing them but to not blindly consume them. Be able to spot the lies, evaluate them correctly, and teach others (especially our children) to do the same. Then  we will be better equipped to withstand the louder lies we hear and read daily.

To learn some of the most popular lies of our culture and how to respond to them, check out Alisa Childers new book, Live Your Truth and Other Lies: Exposing Popular Deceptions That Make Us Anxious, Exhausted, and Self-Obsessed.


  • [1] Oxford Dictionary, https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/us/definition/english/hedonism.
  • [2] Greg Koukl, Tactics, 10th Anniversary Edition: A Game Plan for Discussing Christian Convictions (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2019), 79.
  • [3] Oxford Dictionary, https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/us/definition/english/humanism.
  • [4] Teasi Cannon, “Follow Your Heart–It Never Lies! Emotionalism,” in Mama Bear Apologetics: Empowering Your Kids to Challenge Cultural Lies, ed. Hillary Morgan Ferrer (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2019), 93.
  • [5] Koukl, Tactics, 143-56.

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