Friday, January 06, 2023

Too Hot to Handle: Not Quite What They Expected

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

The Atlantic bemoans the failure of secularism to ease cultural conflict in America.

Between 1992 and 2014, the percentage of Americans who reject religious affiliation soared from six to twenty-two — 35% for millennials. And yet partisan clashes today are more brutal than at any time since Vietnam war protests and racial tensions of the late sixties, and the sense of “us” vs. “them” in America is only increasing.

Tom: Is this what happens when we seek peace without the Prince of Peace, Immanuel Can?

Immanuel Can: That’s fair, for a start. But perhaps we can parse this situation a bit more particularly; in just what way is ideology becoming more polarized and conflict become more normalized today? We should go into that a bit.

That Crazy Fascist

Tom: Well, as you know, I live in Canada. We Canadians did not vote in November’s U.S. election, so you might think that by March of the next year, we’d be talking about something else, right? Wrong. Every single restaurant I have gone to since last year, the conversation at the table beside me has been about Donald Trump and his “crazy, fascist” regime. Yesterday, three gay men at the table beside us basically recited CNN’s morning anti-Trump talking points for anyone who could overhear. And people I know who have spoken to progressives in the U.S. are saying the same things about opinions there.

And yet that crazy fascist was elected by what is likely a majority of U.S. voters. You may not like their choice, but you have to recognize that a very significant portion of that country is radically different in its thinking from Canadians and American Leftists. That’s on questions of immigration, globalism, the outsourcing of American jobs, neocon warmongering, social justice … you name it, there are major issues.

IC: Well, and on the flip side, what I’m seeing is that conservative-leaning people, particularly young men, but also a fair number of young women, are becoming more overt about contradicting that in public.

Enabled By Craziness

Tom: Yes, the social justice narrative has taken a major credibility hit.

IC: A few years ago, if you expressed a conservative opinion you could expect to be quietly murdered or witch-hunted to death by all around; but right now, you can expect to draw sizeable backing immediately, from people who probably always felt sympathetic to your view but who would not formerly have had confidence to make it known. Instantly, there are two pugnacious sides, each using its own strident and overt rhetorical style to antagonize the other.

Leftists, having been deprived of their sense of commanding the majority, are resorting to rage, dramatics and violence. And on the Right, people are becoming cynical provocateurs. Everybody’s polarized.

Tom: Yes. The media says Trump provoked this outbreak of “fascistic” conservatism with his inflammatory invective about immigration and so on, but I don’t think that’s quite right. President Trump merely read the pulse of the nation and responded accordingly. He didn’t change many minds. He simply gave the political Right a live body to get behind at a time when people who had kept quiet for years were beginning to recognize it was do-or-die for the Republican party. I’m sure many who voted for him would have been much happier with somebody different to coalesce behind.

Violence in the Streets

What Trump HAS done, as you say, is made it okay to say what you already thought. And there’s nothing fascistic about expressing personal opinions. It’s Leftists that are beating people up in the streets and in restaurants, though invariably some on the Right will feel justified in responding to violence with equal or greater violence, and it’s bound to get even uglier.

So, yes, it’s polarized out there, and there are not a lot of handshakes and hugs coming anytime soon. But as The Atlantic article points out, this level of hostility is occurring at a very secular time in history, and that fact is really coming as a surprise to people who assumed that it was religion that was primarily to blame for much of the cultural conflict in the U.S.

IC: Well, that was always a silly view, wasn’t it? It was like the “religion causes wars” meme that everybody believes but is statistically ridiculous. However, I’m perplexed by the degree to which conservatives — and many evangelicals as well — have jumped onto the Trump train or into the Hillary handcart. Still others have become promoters of social justice causes like #BlackLivesMatter instead of holding any particular Christian perspective. That’s what the article is dealing with. And it suggests that the reason that “religious” people on both the Left and Right are defining themselves by political parties is that they have left church.

Lapsed Christians Get Political

What do you think of that observation, Tom?

Tom: Well, I think the writer, Peter Beinart, is missing a couple of pieces of the puzzle, IC.

First, some of the people who have left church in the last 20 years were probably neither believers nor conservatives. They “did church” because that’s what people used to do, and vague religiosity is not something people bother with in an individualistic society that no longer expects church attendance from public figures. For those people, political identification and church attendance are unrelated.

Second, a statistically significant number of real Christians have stopped going to church because of the decadence and hypocrisy of North American denominations. These folks are all over the Internet, and I can tell you they’re numerous, conversant with scripture, and looking for something more real than what their former churches were offering. Evangelicals have left church because their churches compromised on scripture by ordaining women, pandering to the gay and transgender lobbies, and even some Catholics have stopped attending because of their social justice pope and his pro-Muslim stand.

So Beinart might have it wrong way round here. I don’t think it’s that people are identifying politically because they are really secularized former believers. Rather, I think to some extent, people have left their churches because their churches have internalized Leftist politics, and they’re repulsed.

Let the Games Begin

IC: The reasons people have left the major denominations is an important topic, but I’m not sure we can do it justice here. It’s been noted for some time.

More interestingly, it seems that as nominal (not actual) Christianity and nominal church identification have dropped, identification with political causes and parties has become more radical and unprincipled. And I think that does bear some examination. For even nominal involvement with church does entail people giving a nod to traditional Protestant moral and ethical values, and these have traditionally suffused certain aspects of the culture and influenced the tone of public discourse. It seems their stock is running out, but the appetite of people for identification with causes is as strong as it ever was. Except now their ideological impulses are unrestrained by quasi-Christian moral values. Let the games begin.

Tom: Yes, I think that’s fair. We’re in for a crazy time, and the Lord’s name is going to be tacked on to some pretty questionable causes, as is already occurring. And it’s not going to be simple to sort out the players. You have atheists on both sides. You have real, live pagans on both sides. (I won’t take time to prove this, but I’m not kidding: a small group of hyper-nationalists actually advocate Odin-worship as a substitute for Christianity, which they believe has had its day in Western culture and failed. But there are pagans on the Left as well, in the form of Wiccans and so on.) Then you have the irreligious ideologues on both sides. You also have religious hypocrites on both sides. Finally, you have real Christians on both sides, some of whom are doing things they probably shouldn’t because they have little real understanding of the believer’s heavenly calling or his role in this world.

In short, it’s a mess.

All the Bad News

IC: Nice summary. Is there an opportunity in this new, contentious political atmosphere, Tom, or is it all bad news?

Tom: I think there may be, actually. People are really shaken up at the moment. And they’re asking a lot of questions, and they are not asking idly. They really want answers. The trick, I think, is to concentrate on dealing with the questions that really matter. Which is tough.

Take me, for instance. I’m convinced the globalist agenda is the work of Satan, the rebooted Tower of Babel, and that it cannot possibly work the way its advocates insist. I believe the people who push it are impoverishing my neighbors and hurting my friends and co-workers, because they are. I believe globalism ends in issuing in the Antichrist and all that he stands for, and I’m totally not in a rush to do that. I have people I want to talk to about the Lord first.

That said, dedicating my life to the cause of exposing political untruth is not what I’m here for. Putting Band-Aids on the ailing World Order is not the job of believers. Preaching the gospel is.

So I think there is opportunity if we don’t get caught up in the here and now.

Believing the Word of God

IC: That’s maybe one of the messages the church needs to be sending out … that we know what prophecy says, and that being a Christian means believing that rather than the advertisements of the globalists.

I’ve got another one: that no political solution is God’s solution. And another: that disagreements must not be handled in a media circus, but rather by firmly, gently and reverently giving an answer for the hope we have. What else, Tom?

Tom: Well, I do think the writer of The Atlantic article has a point, though he may not have quite registered it himself, and that is that increased secularism is not the answer to the world’s problems. Secularists don’t get along any better than the worst, most bigoted sorts of archaic religious people so frequently maligned in the media. The evidence is right in front of our eyes.

Morality-Free Rule

IC: That’s a hard sell to secularists, but it’s absolutely true. Secular wars killed 148 million people in just the last century alone. The problem with secularism is that it is morality-free. Once you’ve decided on your political project, you feel justified in doing anything to anyone in order to bring it about. You believe that the only thing standing between the human race and utopia is those people who still refuse to believe in your solution … and because they are standing between you and your “heaven”, you feel completely justified in hating them and reviling them, then in rounding them up and incarcerating, “re-educating”, torturing and eliminating them. The time comes when you think you’re doing the human race a favor by killing some.

Tom: We’re there.

IC: I don’t see that ultimately, there’s more hope for Christians in the secular Right than in the secular Left, do you?

Tom: No, because the “rightness” of either can shift on a dime, depending on what’s actually going on in the world around us. Neither political perspective is moored in eternal values. We need to fix our perspective on the things that matter to God, not the things that reflect the values of our generation.

IC: That’s a good way to put it.

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