This is Your Society on Antithesis

Damon Linker explains:

Slightly (but just slightly) below the level of national politics, reverberations from news of Harvey Weinstein’s allegedly atrocious behavior with women over a span of several decades continued to radiate outward from the movie producer. Instead of a united front of disgust at the details revealed by the story that brought him down, reaction (of course!) split along partisan lines, with leading liberal and conservative writers denouncing one another for hypocrisy and double-standards (the easiest and laziest forms of moral denunciation). So the right accused the left of going easier on Weinstein than they had on conservatives Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly after similar behavior was alleged against them, and the left accused the right of precisely the opposite sin.

Every single event in our public life is now instantly swept up into the centrifugal whirlwind of a political culture in which the center has completely failed to hold. Democrats are increasingly defined by their hatred of Republicans, just as Republicans manage to agree about little besides their loathing of Democrats.

Isn’t this precisely what happens when culture is an outworking of ground motives, and when policy is part of the plan of salvation? Living in God’s two kingdoms sure looks more attractive. But it is not nearly as fulfilling or energizing.

Why Not Address President Obama?

I’m with Chris Bodenner that Brandon Victor Dixon’s remarks to Vice President-elect Mike Pence after a performance of Hamilton was not all that disrespectful or edgy. Here’s part of the speech:

We have a message for you, sir. We hope that you will hear us out. And I encourage everybody to pull out your phones and tweet and post because this message needs to be spread far and wide, OK?

Vice President-elect Pence, we welcome you and we truly thank you for joining us here at Hamilton: An American Musical, we really do. We, sir, we are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us — our planet, our children, our parents — or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us. All of us.

What does President Obama not need to hear in this advice? Should he have been governing in a way to keep BLM protests from happening, opponents of gay marriage from feeling marginalized, and Americans with pre-Affordable Care Act health insurance from having to lose benefits in their existing their plans? Of course, a president has to make choices and not all of the electorate will be happy. But why do the elites in the U.S. — Democrats in D.C., Hollywood, university faculty, and mainstream journalists — think that partisanship in politics only happens when Republicans get elected?

And I wonder what Dixon makes of President Obama acting in a statesmanlike manner in meeting and greeting President-elect Trump? Was the President properly empathizing with those Americans who not only refused to vote for Trump but view his supporters as deplorable?


An excerpt from William F. Buckley, Jr.’s interview with himself on the 1965 New York City mayoral race. Notice how little attention this observant Roman Catholic pays to religion in his outlook or to the “heresy” of radical individualism:

Q. What is it that distinguishes you from these other candidates? Why should only great big brave you consent to run on a program that would really liberate New York, while the other candidates do not?
A. Because the other candidates feel they cannot cope with the legacy of New York politics. That legacy requires the satisfaction of voting blocs, with special attention given to the voting bloc or blocs most fractious at any given election period. But to satisfy voting blocs increasingly requires dissatisfying the constituent members of those same voting blocs in their private capacities. However, since it is more dangerous to dissatisfy organized blocs of voters than individual voters—even if they happen to be members of voting blocs—political candidates in New York address their appeals to the bloc rather than to the individual.

Q. Would you mind being specific?
A. As far as New York politicians are concerned, a New Yorker is an Irishman, an Italian, or a Negro; he is a union member or a white collar worker; a welfare recipient or a city employee; a Catholic or a Protestant or a Jew; a taxi driver or a taxi owner; a merchant or a policeman. The problem is to weigh the voting strength of all the categories and formulate a program that least dissatisfies the least crowded and least powerful categories: and the victory is supposed to go to the most successful bloc Benthamite in the race.

Q. What’s the matter with that?
A. What is the matter with it is that New York is reaching the point where it faces the marginal disutility of bloc satisfaction. The race to satisfy the bloc finally ends in dissatisfying even the individual members of that same bloc. If, for instance, you give taxi owners the right to limit the number of taxis available in the city, people who need taxis to get from where they are to where they want to go can’t find taxis when they most want them. If you allow truck drivers to double-park because it is convenient to them and to the merchants whose goods they are unloading, traffic is snarled and taxi drivers can’t move fast enough to make a decent living. When the traffic is snarled, people stay away from the city and the merchants lose money. If the merchants lose money they want to automate in order to save costs. If the unions don’t let them automate they leave the city. When they leave the city there are fewer people to pay taxes to city officials and to the unemployed. (The unemployed aren’t allowed to drive taxis because the taxi owners share a monopoly.) Taxes have to go up because there are fewer people to pay taxes. The unemployed grow restless, and breed children and crime. The children drop out of school because there isn’t anyone at home to tell them to go to school. Some of the children who go to school make school life intolerable for other children in school, and they leave and go to private schools. The teachers are told they mustn’t discourage the schoolchildren or they will leave the schools and commit crime and unemployment. The unions don’t want the unemployed hired because they will work for less money, or because they are Negroes and Puerto Ricans and obviously can’t lay bricks or wire buildings like white people can, so they are supposed to go off somewhere and just live, and stay out of the way. But they can’t live except in houses, and houses are built by plumbers and electricians who get eight, ten, twelve dollars an hour, which means that people can’t afford to buy houses, or rent apartments, at rates the city can afford to pay its unemployed, so the federal government has to build housing projects. But there aren’t enough housing projects, so there is overcrowding, and family life disintegrates. Some people turn to crime, others to ideology. You can’t walk from one end of New York to another without standing a good chance of losing your wallet, your maidenhead, or your life; or without being told that white people are bigoted, that Negroes are shiftless, that free enterprise is the enemy of the working class, that Norman Thomas has betrayed socialism, and that the only thing that will save New York is for the whole of the United States to become like New York.

Q. What would you do, if you became Mayor of New York?
A. I would treat people as individuals. By depriving the voting blocs of their corporate advantages, I would liberate individual members of those voting blocs.

Imagine that. Treating people as individuals, not as if their identity is bound up with a religion, race, gender, or sex bloc.

Was Buckley the conservative channeling John F. Kennedy, Jr., the first Roman Catholic president, who said that as a public official he would not be beholden to his faith?

The Jimmy-Carter Roots of Jerry Falwell

I have long suspected that the acrimony between left and right in U.S. politics stems not only from the Religious Right and the inevitable upping of the ante of civil matters to moral or eschatological significance, but also to the self-righteousness that accompanies the conviction (w-w alert) that one’s policy or vote is an expression of faithfulness to God. I also have long felt that Jimmy Carter exhibited the latter tendencies — self-righteousness — and was a particularly poor sport in the way he took Ronald Reagan’s victory in 1980. I thought then that Carter believed he had lost to a dumber and inferior man, and so was responsible for launching the Democrats’ sense of intellectual superiority. (Republicans counter with patriotic/civil religious superiority.)

It turns out that I (all about me) not have been that far off, and this from Jonathan Yardley who voted twice for Carter (thanks to John Fea):

Religion is a tricky business, never more so than when it gets mixed up with government. Although Balmer pays due respect to the argument that “religion functions best from the margins of society and not in the councils of power,” that “once a religious group panders after political influence, it loses its prophetic voice,” he does not convince me that Carter, either as governor of Georgia in the early 1970s or as president in the second half of that decade, really “understood that the Christian faith had flourished in the United States precisely because the government had stayed out of the religion business.”

To the contrary, Carter brought religion (religiosity, too) into the national government more directly and intensely than any president before him in the 20th century. He campaigned as a religious man, speaking repeatedly, openly and almost boastfully about his religious convictions, about the centrality of prayer to his daily life, about the joy he took in being “born again.” Balmer sees this as a redemptive response to the cynicism and venality of the Nixon years, and unquestionably there is some truth to that. But Carter made religion a campaign weapon as well as a private belief, which was not appreciably less calculating than Nixon’s disregard for the Constitution and the common decencies.

If Carter’s presidency was indeed redemptive, why is it that in the 31 / 2 decades since it ended, American politics has been plunged into one of the most bitterly partisan periods in the country’s history? Granting for the sake of argument Balmer’s apparent belief in the sincerity of Carter’s religious beliefs and his commitment to “progressive evangelism,” it remains that it was Carter who brought religion into the public arena and thus opened the way for others whose evangelical beliefs are the polar opposite of his own. Balmer would have us believe that the rise of the religious right was in large part due to the clever political manipulations of Paul Weyrich, Jerry Falwell and others, but it was Carter who made it possible for them to present themselves as a legitimate political opposition. If it is permissible to grant a political role to “progressive evangelism,” why is it any less legitimate to grant a similar role to those whose evangelism “emphasized free-market capitalism, paid scant attention to human rights or the plight of minorities, and asserted the importance of military might as resistance to communism”?

For the five cents that it’s worth, my own political views are far closer to Carter’s than to those who carry the banner of the religious right — I actually voted for him twice, though holding my nose the second time — and Balmer is right that there is more than a little to admire in the record of his brief presidency, but he was his own worst enemy: smug, self-righteous, sanctimonious, humorless, vindictive and exhibitionistic about his piety. He was too haughty and aloof to deal effectively with friends and foes in Congress — foreshadowing the presidency almost three decades later of Barack Obama — and he never understood how to talk to the American people, as made all too plain by his well-intentioned but tin-eared address to the nation in July 1979 about the “crisis of confidence” from which the country ostensibly was suffering.

Culture Wars Then and Now

In my course on Christianity and Politics in the U.S., I assigned Thomas R. Pegram’s Battling Demon Rum: The Struggle for a Dry America, 1800-1933 (published by Ivan R. Dee, who remains one of the genuine mensches in American publishing). I continue to be struck, not only by how good the book is, but also by how little the dynamics between Democrats and Republicans have changed. Yes, the contested issues have — abortion and marriage instead of alcohol and women’s suffrage. But Republicans are still the moralists and the Democrats are the libertarians. For instance:

. . . controversies over temperance laws tended to strengthen Democrats and hurt Republicans. Although many Democrats practices personal temperance and even supported some regulation of the liquor industry, the party as a whole expressed its commitment to “personal liberty” in the matter of drinking. “Why do you allow the dyspeptic Boston to tell you want to drink, and when and how you must behave on Sunday?” asked a New York Democratic congressman in 1867. Prohibition not only endangered the preferences and customs of drinkers, including Protestant Germans who normally voted Republican, it also provoked among Democrats the old Jacksonian fear of arbitrary power. The 1870 platform of the Indiana Democratic party denounced Republican intentions [are you listening David and Tim Bayly] “to regulate the moral ideas, appetites, or innocent amusements of the people by legislation.” By challenging anti-liquor laws, Democrats in the mid-1870s won elections in Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. In the highly competitive politics of the Third Party system, issues that energized voters in one party and alienated small groups in the opposition party enough to keep them from voting or even cause them to “scratch” their ballots and cross party lines, were often decisive in elections. Alcohol regulation became such an issue in the decade following the Civil War.

Election Analysis

Two pieces caught my eye. The first is Doug Wilson’s (thanks to the always Moscovite Baylys):

1. The first principle is not just that Jesus is Lord. That wonderful phrase is our foundational confession; it is not simply a sweet sentiment to tide us over until the sweet by and by. Rather we must say that Jesus is the Lord of history, and so He is the one who gave this electoral outcome to us. We don’t fully know why He did, but we know that He did.

2. Given the wickedness of key elements in Obama’s agenda (abortion, sodomy, thievery through taxation, etc.) we know that whatever the Lord is doing, it is for judgment and not for blessing. And in Scripture, whenever judgment is pending, or has begun, the appropriate response is repentance — not mobilization or organizing our remaining tatters.

Postmillennial optimism does not mean the world gets better without repentance. It means that the gospel is powerful to save, and when the gospel is preached rightly it comes in the form of “repent and believe.” Repent of what? Repent of our sins. Believe what? Believe in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. . . .

4. Every unprincipled vote, offerred to the bitch goddess of the state on the left, or the bitch goddess of pragmatism on the soft right, or the bitch goddess of ideology on the libertarian right, was simply thrown away. Professing Christians who voted for Obama were either confusedly or rebelliously heaping up judgment for all of us. Christians on the right who voted for Romney for no other reason than that he was “electable” found out that he was not as electable as all that. And Christians who voted for absolute ideological purity (which is, remember, a form of impurity) found out that that kind of purity wasn’t in the running.

5. Consistent biblical thinking required us to be preparing to oppose the proposals of either a re-elected Obama or a newly-elected Romney. In my judgment, opposition to Obama will be much tougher, which is why I would have preferred to have been opposing Romney. But if the Lord has given us the tougher assignment, our responsibility is to take up that tougher assignment with a gladness that submits to His will.

So my predictions of a Romney victory did not proceed from support for Romney. I didn’t want to vote for Romney, and I didn’t. I didn’t want to work for Romney, and I didn’t. I was preparing myself to oppose either Obama and Romney, and would have preferred to go against Romney.

From a truly conservative source comes this from Noah Millman:

Based on exit polls, Romney has captured a percentage of the white vote comparable to the 1984 Reagan percentage. But, to look at it another way, the white vote still dominates the Democratic part of the electorate – over 60% of the Democratic vote came from white voters. Something like 45% of men will have voted Democratic. 41% of those who attend religious services weekly will have voted Democratic. If the goal is increased demographic polarization, there’s plenty of room for either or both parties to pursue such polarization.

The question is not whether you can win in the future on the basis of demographic polarization. The question is what the consequences would be – for the demographic groups in question, and for the country as a whole.

In my view, the fact that black and Hispanic voters overwhelmingly prefer the Democratic party hurts black and Hispanic voters more than it hurts the Republicans. Republicans don’t need to court these voters – these voters need to court the Republican Party. The fact that highly religious white voters overwhelmingly prefer the Republican party hurts highly religious white voters more than it hurts the Democrats. The Democrats don’t need to court these voters – these voters need to court the Democratic Party. And polarization on the basis of identity hurts the country more than it hurts either party.

Trench warfare is bad for privates – they get slaughtered going over the top – but good for generals – the front lines don’t move much, so nothing is likely to happen that will get them canned.

One way of reading between these posts’ lines is to say that Wilson’s theological interpretation is not conducive getting what (and some Christians) wants. If you continue to treat political elections like those of a synod or assembly’s moderator (as if), you going to be one of those privates who gets slaughtered in trench warfare. In other words, if you continue to conflate the kingdoms and promote Christendom, you’re actually get a politicized church and a sacralized state. Why a Reformed church consisting of members who enjoy quiet and peaceable lives is not enough, I do not know.

The Underbelly of Gay Marriage

The federal court decision on California’s Prop 8 legislation has prompted many responses. One significant theme is that conservative Protestants, who oppose gay marriage, whether from the pulpit or in ordination standards and hiring practices, should prepare for continued marginalization and even legislative harassment if they continue to publicly oppose gay marriage. In this vein, Carl Trueman writes:

Those evangelical leaders, academics and evangelical institutions that prize their place at the table and their invitations to appear on `serious’ television programs, and who enjoy being asked to offer their opinion to the wider culture had better be prepared to make a choice. As I have said before in this column, we are not far from the place where to oppose homosexuality will be regarded as in the same moral bracket as white supremacy. Those types only appear on Jerry Springer; and Jerry generally doesn’t typically ask them their opinion on the ethics of medical research, the solution to the national debt, or the importance of poetry to a rounded education.

(BTW, Trueman adds that the older generation of conservative Protestants dropped the ball on this one and failed to produce an exegetical argument against homosexuality. He remembers that for his peers, “now in middle age, dislike of homosexuality . . . had more to do with our own cultural backgrounds than with any biblical argumentation.” He even admits that “we were basically bigots and we needed to change.” Trueman may be too young and too English to remember – if he is middle-aged, what does that make me? – that when John Boswell’s much read and discussed book came out, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality [1980], this geezer remembers any number of evangelicals responses to Boswell, all before the age of the Internet, peppered with important historical and exegetical arguments about biblical teaching on homosexuality.)

I may be as naive as I am old, but I do not agree with Trueman’s assessment that opposition to gay marriage will become synonymous with white supremacy and other crack pot ideas from the perspective of the cultural mainstream. At a deep level, Americans identify with the underdog. Homosexuals have used this to gain acceptance, even though people with the kind of access they appear to have to cultural elites are generally not eligible for the category of the oppressed.

Minority groups in the United States do oppose homosexuality and they do so without any noticeable threat. For instance, Muslims are not keen on gay marriage, nor are orthodox Jews, or African-American Protestants for that matter. And yet, the thought of the state threatening these groups with penalties for their stances on homosexuality seems far-fetched. If Andrew Sullivan were to come to a place in policy debates where he wound up on the other side of a dispute with Jesse Jackson, I bet Sullivan would have enough sense not to charge Jackson with bigotry – something that rarely sticks on minorities. And if Jackson were a spokesman for African-American ministers opposed to homosexual marriage, I doubt he would be banned from the Sunday morning talk shows for doing so. I could actually see lots of bookings (though I wouldn’t be at home to watch them).

The problem for evangelicals is that they are the minority who thinks like a majority. It would be one thing to look at the numbers, recognize you don’t have the votes, and look for ways to protect your own sideline institutions. This was the approach to public life in the United States by Roman Catholics and they found their political outlet in the multi-cultural Democratic Party. But evangelicals have readily identified as the mainstream tradition in the United States, with claims about the nation’s Christian founding, and an accompanying political theology that says God loves republics and freedom. Evangelicals have also tended to approve of the Republican Party’s efforts to impose cultural uniformity on the nation. In which case, evangelicals may like to think that they are a minority only seeking toleration for themselves what other minority groups want (or have). But they have a uniformity-by-majority disposition that seeks to establish their norms as those of the nation.

This is the main reason for quick and ready dismissals of evangelicals as bigoted and intolerant, not their actual views or practices on homosexuality. Gay marriage is an emblem of a deeper cultural divide that prevents white conservative Protestants from embracing some form of cultural diversity. If they could concede ground to homosexuals (I don’t know if it should be civil marriage), they might be able to gain concessions for their own churches, schools, and families. But for the better part of 200 years, evangelicals have approached public life as a zero-sum game.

Scott Clark is sensitive to the particular consequences that gay marriage would have for the entire culture, and not for a certain sector of it, and argues plausibly for considering the social consequences of gay marriage. Scott is particularly concerned about the fallout for the family:

By analogy it is not possible to re-define the fundamental units of society without a cost. Consider any society. Assuming a certain degree of natural liberty and mobility, if people are living together in a defined space, those people have consented voluntarily to live together. They have made a society. What is the basic unit of that society? It cannot be the isolated individual if only because no mere individual is capable of forming a society or of perpetuating a society. There must be a basic social unit. Historically that social unit has been understood to be a heterosexual family, a father, mother, a grandfather, a grandmother and their children and grandchildren because it is grounded in the nature of things.

I tend to agree with this but sense it is almost impossible to use this line of reasoning in a plausible way. For forty years our society has been experimenting with a host of new social forms. Some of those were surely welcome – racial integration, and redefining women’s roles. But the impetus to overturn unwanted hierarchies did not leave much room for recognizing the value of hierarchy more generally and the way that social order depends upon other kinds of order. And so along came sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll as the baby boomers’ favorite idioms for resisting cultural and moral conventions.

Evangelicals may have taken longer and been more selective in appropriating the cultural shifts of the 1960s and 1970s, but when it came to worship and sacred song they did so with abandon. Granted, it is a leap even to suggest – let alone argue – that Praise and Worship worship was a step on the path to gay marriage. But if Christian rock did to religious conventions what rock did to cultural conventions, it is possible to wonder where the bending of conventions ultimately leads.

Scott points in the direction of his observation when he writes of the generational differences on opposition to homosexuality. The younger generation has:

been raised in a culture which not only tolerates homosexuality but celebrates it. Consider the contrast between the way homosexuality was regarded in popular culture in the first half of the 20th century. Liberace was openly effeminate and made only the thinnest of attempts to protest his heterosexuality. Homosexual movie stars regularly went out of their way to create a heterosexual image and especially when it was contrary to fact. Some movie studios had a policy requiring single male actors (e.g., Jimmy Stewart) to visit a studio-run bordello in order to demonstrate their heterosexuality.

In the second half of the 20th century the old conventions, which has lost their grounding in nature and creational law, were deconstructed. . . . All of this took decades but it happened. It’s a real change of culture, of attitude, of stance, of definition of what constitutes acceptable social and sexual behavior and norms.

If Scott is right, and I think he is about the gradual ways in which the culture has changed since 1960, then evangelicals may want to rethink why it is that their disregard for what the created order reveals as appropriate for Christian worship is okay but homosexual disregard for the created order of sexual reproduction is not. It could be that Trueman’s point about bigotry has a point: can you really sing Christian rock in praise of God and oppose gay marriage with a straight face?