Mascot Wars

The New Idolatry – Postmodern Times Series # 1

It’s not every elementary school that can boast a rich historical heritage. But Hugh Mercer Elementary School can. The school is named after a local boy back in colonial days, who grew up to become a revolutionary war general. The school mascot was none other than Hugh Mercer himself, standing proud with his musket in hand.

But a few weeks ago, Mr. Mercer faced an enemy more powerful than the Redcoats: the local mascot police. Worried that a gun-toting figure was a bad influence on second-graders, protesters insisted that Hugh Mercer be disarmed. School authorities agreed to replace the musket with a flag.

So much for historical heritage.

Mascot mania is sweeping the land, transforming mascots into ideological battlegrounds. American Indian mascots have become taboo. Bradley University replaced its tomahawk-wielding Indian with a bobcat.

Students at the University of Alabama turned thumbs down on “Blaze,” a cartoon-like Nordic warrior. Students objected that the mascot was overly Teutonic.

At the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, the school’s mascot—the “Minuteman”—came under multiple attacks: for being sexist (because he’s male), for being racist (because he’s white), and for being violent (because of his ever-ready musket).

In the nineties, even mascots are supposed to be multicultural.

We might be tempted to dismiss the mascot controversy as trivial, even silly. But there’s a serious theme underlying mascot madness. The attack on cultural symbols signals a new way of thinking, a philosophy called postmodernism—which Christians desperately need to understand.

Until recently, Americans were immensely proud of our tradition of individual rights and individual dignity. Many of our great freedoms derive from our high view of the individual.

But today individualism is being crowded out by the new philosophy of postmodernism, which replaces the individual with the social group. Postmodernism teaches that there is no real self—that individuals are merely constructs of social forces, like culture, race, gender, ethnic background. The important thing is not self-identity but social identity.

This explains why all aspects of education— from mascots to classroom curricula—are being scrutinized for sensitivity to blacks, women, Native Americans, and every other conceivable social group.

In a new book called Postmodern Times, Gene Edward Veith says the social group has become the new icon of our times. Whereas Christianity teaches that God creates reality, postmodernism teaches that social forces construct reality. Culture has been elevated into a god.

As Christians we are called to stand against the spirit of the age, whatever it may be. But first we need to identify that spirit, as it changes from generation to generation.

Today’s spirit is a worship of race and culture, and we need to help people to see that the petty posturing over mascots and logos is really a symptom of something much deeper.

Over the next few days I’ll be explaining more about what the postmodernist spirit really is. And why mascot wars are symptoms of a dangerous new idolatry.


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