I think you underestimate the size and scope of the Culture War, as well as the influence of its leaders. But, that’s a whole 'nother conversation. Going back to my comment that it all comes back to which standard we choose, you choose individual rights and the U.S. Constitution. I don’t disagree that those are important, but you’re limiting culture to the political sphere. Culture casts a much wider net than that. It also includes the arts, the sciences, religion(s), economic structure, etc. You could say that it represents the totality of the shared values and traditions of the group in view.
Well, I don’t know about you, but I can see progress in human culture over the last two thousand years, just as I can look at evolution and see progress that culminated in a creature capable of “imaging” God. I don’t need an “objective” or infinite, godlike perspective to say that, either. I think almost everyone without a philosophical ax to grind would agree with me. In great measure, what you’re taking issue with is the “myth of progress” that prevailed in the 19th century, which looked to science to solve all of mankind’s problems. As you noted, WWI and WWII pretty much put that myth to bed.
Here’s what I see, and what bothers me: In the history of our own nation’s culture, Christians were at the forefront of what I would call “progress.” Christians led the Abolitionist movement. Christian women dragged their male brethren along in granting them the right to vote. (Then they got a little carried away and gave us Prohibition, too, but that’s another story …) Christians led the charge on civil rights in the 50s and 60s… All of this “progress” required those in power to loosen their grip on the disenfranchised and the marginalized of society. LBJ was only able to get the Voting Rights Act passed by appealing to the Christian convictions of key Southern politicians whose votes he needed. Would that happen today, or are our leaders too morally bankrupt? Is it happening now, or are we heading in the opposite direction?
This “terrifying portrait” is a portrait of human history. It describes social evolution from our primate roots until today. Primates that live in groups actually do have such a “rating” system. There are alpha males and females, and every member of the group has a rank, which they must constantly monitor vis-a-vis other members of the group. As groups grew larger, the complexity of keeping track of everyone else’s reputation and rank grew exponentially, creating selective pressure on the evolution of the brain to “keep up” with the growing demands. Here are the roots of human notions of morality. What the majority determines is “acceptable” behavior is rewarded, and unacceptable behavior is punished. The reason for “cultural relativism” is that every culture determines for itself what is acceptable or unacceptable behavior, and these are passed on by enculturation (socialization). God does not implant a conscience in us at birth.
Returning to my earlier observation … The “progress” that I observed in culture was the opposite of Nietzsche’s will to power; rather, it involved those in power voluntarily sharing power with the disenfranchised and marginalized. Such progress does not require an “advance” away from Christian belief. In fact, once upon a time, Christian belief actually motivated cultural progress.
The great mistake of the Culture War was to misdiagnose the problem, and thus prescribe the wrong medicine. The Bible does offer a critique of culture, but it isn’t at all what the Culture Warriors think. Take a look at Richard Middleton’s book, The Liberating Image. RJS has a good summary of chapter 5, which deals with Genesis 1-11 as ideological critique of Mesopotamian culture. The image of God, as Middleton unpacks it, is an egalitarian vision of humanity. If we want a truly biblical vision of culture and our role within it, we have to start there, not with a critique of modern philosophy (a la Schaeffer) and a bunch of hand-wringing about who’s having sex with whom.