Border Patrol with Big Green Letters

Joe Carter wants us to be cautious about attributing “cultural Marxism” to AN NEE BODEE!!

Over the past decade online culture and political tribalism have combined to bring ideas once relegated to the margins into the mainstream. We can add the tendency of politicized terms to be used in ways that have one or more connotations for a non-tribalized audience and quite another for those committed to tribalism.

A prime example is the term “cultural Marxism,” which is included in Earnest’s grievances for which “every Jew is responsible.” … When those on the political right make claims about the people at the Frankfurt School conspired to bring down Western culture or equate cultural Marxism with multiculturalism, they are—whether they recognize it or not—using the redefined and racialized meaning given by Lind.*** Of course most Christians who uses terms like cultural Marxism are not kinist. Many of them are merely repeating a term they heard used by fellow Christians and are unaware of the anti-Semitic and racialist origin. Yet it’s disconcerting when conservative Christians use language that originated from a racist worldview perpetuated by anti-Semites.****

. . .Because the term CM has become tainted its continued use by Christians undermines our ability to warn about the dangers of concepts like Critical Theory. We should invent a new term or use words already commonly accepted to refer to the concepts we are discussing. Doing so will help us to be better communicate what intend in a loving manner.

At Tablet Magazine, Alexander Zubatov is not so sure:

A short tour through some notable landmarks should suffice to show how 19th-century Marxism evolved into 20th-century “cultural Marxism” and the culture war of our present day: . . .

It is a short step from Gramsci’s “hegemony” to the now-ubiquitous toxic memes of “patriarchy,” “heteronormativity,” “white supremacy,” “white privilege,” “white fragility” and “whiteness.” It is a short step from his and Marcuse’s reconceptualization of the role of radical intellectuals to our sensationalized and politicized media outlets playing the part of a self-styled progressive vanguard riling up the allegedly oppressed and turning their incoherent rage loose on the rest of us. …It is a short step from the Marxist and cultural Marxist premise that ideas are, at their core, expressions of power to rampant, divisive identity politics and the routine judging of people and their cultural contributions based on their race, gender, sexuality and religion — precisely the kinds of judgments that the high ideals of liberal universalism and the foremost thinkers of the Civil Rights Era thought to be foul plays in the game. And it is a short step from this collection of reductive and simplistic conceptions of the “oppressor” and the “oppressed” to public shaming, forced resignations and all manner of institutional and corporate policy dictated by enraged Twitter mobs, the sexual McCarthyism of #MeToo’s excesses, and the incessant, resounding, comically misdirected and increasingly hollow cries of “racist,” “sexist,” “misogynist,” “homophobe,” “Islamophobe,” “transphobe” and more that have yet to be invented to demonize all those with whom the brittle hordes partaking in such calumnies happen to disagree.

Whatever the merits of phrases like cultural Marxism, I do find it peculiar that Joe Carter has not objected to pet categories by the Gospel Allies’ most celebrated members.

For instance, is Christian hedonism a very good way to describe sanctification?

What about Gospel Ecosystem? Why wouldn’t something like — well — church or communion work? And what’s up with using organic metaphors for urban locales? (Wendell would not approve.)

Can we produce a gospel city movement? No. A movement is the result of two sets of factors. Take for example, a garden. A garden flourishes because of the skill and diligence of the gardener and the condition of the soil and the weather. The first set of factors—-gardening—-is the way we humanly contribute to the movement. This encompasses a self-sustaining, naturally growing set of ministries and networks, which we will look at in more detail below.

If we “should invent a new term or use words already commonly accepted to refer to the concepts we are discussing,” why are some celebrity pastors immune?

A Girl By Any Other Name

That student of the American language, H. L. Mencken, almost always had his finger on the pulse of usage:

Every lover of the true, the good and the beautiful must needs be interested in the Hon. A. Toven Worm’s campaign for a reform in the nomenclature of chorus girls. Hitherto, as we all know, the terms used to designate girls of different heft, altitude and talent have run to a distressing vulgarity. The smaller girls have been called “ponies,” “broilers” or “squabs,” and the larger “hillhorses,” “amazons,” “welterwetghts” or “beefs.” It is the aim of the Hon. Mr. Worm, who represents Miss Gertrude Hoffmann in the capacity of confidential fictioner, to remedy this curse by substituting names of a romantic and poetic nature. Accordingly, he takes space in the current Sunpaper to announce that Miss Hoffmann will be surrounded on her coming appearance here by a choir of “chickens” and “canaries,” with a few “violets” and “rosebuds” for good measure.

A benign reform, but one which Mr. Worm has failed to workout to more than one place of decimals. His invention of “canaries” deserves all praise, but he makes concessions to current slang in “chicken.” Why not rename the whole hierarchy of chorus girls, from “squabs” to “hillhorses,” with the names of pretty birds? Why not begin with “humming-birds” and run up the scale to “swans,” or even to “penguins” and “cassowaries”? Why not attempt to differentiate between girls who can sing and girls who can merely stand and wait by calling the former “nightingales,” “canaries” and “mockingbirds”? I submit the following provisional and partial list to the Hon. Mr. Worm for his consideration and judgment:

CANARIES—Singing blondes of less than 120 pounds weight, but of a generally rotund aspect.
DOVES—Small, sylphlike creatures, demure and dumb.
PARROTS–Large, gaudy girls with aquiline noses.
PENGUINS—Stately beings in ball gowns, heavy on their feet.
OSTRICHES—The grenadiers of the chorus, none less than 170 pounds in weight.
FLAMINGOES—The so-called “showgirls” of yesteryear: Florodora sextetters.
SWABS—Tall, resilient, necky girls, vocal only in the final chorus.
PHEASANTS–Bunchy little ones.
CROWS–Inky brunettes, large and sad.
TANAGERS—All red-haired girls, regardless of size. (Formerly called “Zazas”).
HUMMING BIRDS–Hundred-pounders.
STORKS–Long, panatella girls, voiceless and austere.
SPARROWS–Happy little chirpers, unbeautiful but industrious.
THRUSHES–Half-portion sopranos.
BULBULS—Deep-chested contraltos, gurgly and amiable.

And so on and so on. I offer only few suggestions. Let the Hon. Mr. Worm engage a competent ornithologist and proceed to the completion of the list. Again, he might try a list of flower-names, beginning with “violet” and running up to “chrysanthemum.” “Sunflowers” would be apt and excellent for towering, gawky blondes, and “dahlias” would fit the auburn-haired admirably. Let the hon. gent. proceed to the business at once. He has launched a laudable and long-needed reform. All connoisseurs of nomenclature look to him to give it substance and permanence.

The Bible Liberated

E. J. Hutchinson argues that sola scriptura follows directly from capacity of language to communicate and worries what a reliance on infallible interpreters does to God’s design in communicating by holy writ:

if we wish to affirm the full humanity of Scripture, we need to have a doctrine that does something like the work of sola scriptura. Why? Because, at a certain level, human communication is perspicuous, even if not exhaustively so. Every interaction we have throughout each day presumes this–and that not only for oral communication, but for written communication as well (which are only two modes of the genus “communication”). The entire edifice of contractual law, for instance, is built upon this presumption, and, if one violates his contract, he is accountable to the law for it, for he should have known–and did know–better.

The same is true of written literature. Take Homer’s Odyssey as an example. If one wishes to know what the Odyssey is about–what it means–one reads the Odyssey. In neither instance, that of contractual law or that of ancient literature, is there a need for an infallible umpire to secure understanding. If such were the case–which is to say, if human communication were deeply opaque by nature–we would need such an umpire for everything (though he could still only use human communication to grant us understanding, and so still and all we would be likewise befettered). 1 In other words, the assumption that we cannot understand each other, even in writing, requires a nihilistic and despairing view of an animal that is social by nature, and neither nihilism nor despair are Christian virtues.

Indeed, it is in principle possible to understand something of a text with no help at all from others, though it is also possible (and perhaps likely) to misunderstand a great deal more. For that reason, it is profoundly unwise to ignore all of the assistance that is available. With respect to the example of contract law, that is why we have lawyers (I knew I would find a reason eventually). With respect to the example of the Odyssey, that is why we have people who specialize in Homer and the reading of archaic Greek poetry. As Solomon says, “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” Eric Parker helpfully explicated this principle yesterday via Zanchi. Expertise in exegesis is a great good, whether it is the exegesis of a contract, a poem, or the Bible, and in the case of the latter it is perhaps an even greater good, because the stakes are so much higher. None of this, however, requires infallibility, as we see if we are being honest and reasonable: these are, rather, questions of prudence. All three kinds of texts are instances of human communication, and in that respect there is no reason in principle why their reading should be generically different–and, again, the understanding of an interpretation, or of an interpretation of an interpretation, presumes the basic communicativeness of human language in any case. Perhaps paradoxically, then, Scripture’s humanity requires perspicuity (in the sense used above), which is ingredient in and fundamental to any construal of sola scriptura. If perspicuity exists, then sola scriptura is perfectly reasonable.

Where You Can't Buy a Vowel

I have some Welsh in me from my mother’s side but then again so do most people who have a Jones in the family. While singing in church I have long observed the similarities between Welsh and Hebrew, as in both languages feature consonants. Here are the top ten Welsh hymn tunes according to one list compiler:


I’d love to see anyone of these featured on Wheel of Fortune.

Now it turns out the Quaker descendants of the Welsh in the suburbs of Philadelphia are abandoning vowels altogether:

Bryn Mawr College is announcing today that it is dropping the vowels from its name and questioning the use of vowels generally. The college will now be known as Brn Mwr. The move is being described as the first major initiative of the college’s new president, Kim Cassidy. A statement from Cassidy said: “This is the age of Twitter, every character counts. And really, what’s the difference, no one can pronounce our name anyway.” The college also announced plans for an academic conference related to the institution’s new skepticism of vowels. The conference is “The Hegemony of the Vowel: Incontinence and Lipogrammatics.” One of the planned sessions is “The Habermasian Response: Communicative Ir-Rationality?”

I am speechless (that’s with 3 e’s).

Epistemological Self-Consciousness, Intellectual Theonomy

What kind of a worldview does a wren exhibit when it sees the neighbor’s cat crouching in preparation to pounce and flies to the nearest telephone line? Is the bird’s knowledge of the feline species somehow diminished because he can’t theorize about his knowledge of cats and their objects of backyard prey?

What about a baseball player who can spot the difference between a curve and a four-seam fastball, all within a nanosecond, and swing his bat while uncoiling his body to launch the baseball into the right field stands? If the batter can’t explain his theory of hitting, if the Phillies won’t hire him when he retires to be a hitting coach, does that make his knowledge of crushing mistake pitches illegitimate? Does every batter have to be a Ted Williams for his hits to be certain and his runs-batted-in certified? Did Richie Allen not win the American League MVP for 1972 because he could not theorize about what he did in the batter’s box?

I have contemplated these two sets of questions recently while continuing my reflections on neo-Calvinism, worldview thinking, and a certain sector of the Reformed world’s infatuation with philosophy. Countless times I have encountered the argument that someone’s knowledge is not really knowledge because they have no epistemological foundation for it. The public high school teacher may be able to teach algebra but because she doesn’t know where the truths of math come from, she doesn’t really understand math. Or the elected official may understand that human life should be protected and vote for harsher penalties for manslaughter but unless he understands that human beings are created in the image of God, his vote is inauthentic.

Perhaps the best bumper sticker expression of this outlook comes from the Greg Bahnsen quotation that adorns Rabbi Bret’s blog:

In various forms, the fundamental argument advanced by the Christian apologist is that the Christian worldview is true because of the impossibility of the contrary. When the perspective of God’s revelation is rejected, then the unbeliever is left in foolish ignorance because his philosophy does not provide the preconditions of knowledge and meaningful experience. To put it another way: the proof that Christianity is true is that if it were not, we would not be able to prove anything.

But as the two examples above indicate, creatures have knowledge and understanding of the created order all the time without being able to give a theoretical account of such ideas or activities. Why isn’t knowledge of math and batting the human equivalent of the instincts and cunning that birds show when fleeing cats? Granted, human beings are more than natural; we have souls, minds, language capacities. But even these higher ranges of human existence are part and parcel of the way human beings operate on planet earth. Those higher ranges are natural to human beings. I see no compelling reason why we need to spiritualize of philosophize human activities that are simply analogous to what other creatures do.

Some neo-Calvinists and theonomists will object that such an understanding of human activity denies God and the relationship that all people have with him by virtue of creation. In other words, human beings should do everything that they do to the glory of God. To fail to connect the dots between algebra and doxology is to operate in a world of autonomy from God.

One possible response is to say that God may be as delighted by the batter’s ability to hit the ball as he is by the wren’s capacity to elude the cat. Which is to say that human beings in their creatureliness, in the games they play, the poems they memorize, the bridges they build, and the voyages they take, delight God because he created human beings precisely with the capacity to do these things. And if all of creation can praise to God, from the movement of the stars to the way cats clean themselves, then why can’t human life in its naturalness also give God glory as creator whether or not a human being is engaging in eating or playing or learning self-consciously to the glory of God. Why can’t it be the case that even despite the sinful natures that afflict all people, their existence and range of activities as created beings delight God simply as the fulfillment of his creation and providence in the same way that creatures without souls also give glory to God in accomplishing the ends for which they were created?

Of course, the paleo-Calvinist answers to these questions seem plausible to this paleo-Calvinist, but I would also venture an example from the spiritual world that could throw a wrench into the seemingly perpetual philosophical motion machine of neo-Calvinists. Aside from the batter or the wren, what about the regenerate believer who can’t tell the difference between Plato and Kant? What about the Christian who is not given to self-consciousness? Is his plumbing any less valuable or virtuous because he can’t conceive of a philosophically coherent system that will explain how his knowledge of the leak and his experience with fixing such leaks depends upon the ontological Trinity? If he simply begins his day asking for God’s blessing, thanks God for strength and sustenance, goes about his job, provides for his family, and leads family worship – that is, if he simply goes about his routine and seeks to honor his maker, but cannot fathom the theories that would turn his activities into the self-actualized doings of an epistemologically self-conscious believer, does that make his knowledge of plumbing, his love of family, and his enjoyment of pizza invalid?

I hope not.

Obsessive Cultural Disorder — Over Thinking Culture

Okay, I guess H. Richard Niebuhr was not a pietist, but I am struck by how much attention Protestants give to culture – whether to imbibe, whether to avoid, or how to engage properly. All of this compulsiveness feels like fundamentalists who are spooked by the world and their surroundings and can’t live comfortably in their skin.

Hesitation and self-awareness about culture is unnatural if culture is as basic to human existence as walking upright (if no physical impairments prevent it). We are cultural beings even when we withdraw from culture – hence the phenomenon of Christian rock bands, Christian novels, and Christian radio stations. We are also worldly beings because our bodies are part of the substance of the created order. To live as a human being, even a hermit, is to be in the world and part of a culture – even a culture of one.

What provoked this way too underdeveloped of an idea was an article (via Justin Taylor, via Martin Downes) from the British Evangelical Magazine by Ted Turnau.

Turnau’s main points, below, look less weighty if we insert the word, “language,” for every time he uses “popular culture.” In fact, this is a natural substitution because language is one of the building blocks of culture. For ethnic groups in America who want to preserve their culture, language retention is usually one of the most important battles between first and second generation immigrant communities. And the hierarchy of high, low, and middle-brow culture also lines up with people who know and use language: linguists are high-brow language users, people who know some grammar are middle-brow, and vulgar language might correspond to low or pop culture.

But every human being uses language (with rare exceptions). So why aren’t we so worked up about how to use words? Why no books about Christ and Language (Logos and Words)? Why can’t we simply use it, be careful with it (avoid vulgarity), and learn how it works and how to excel in using it (study more Shakespeare)? In other words, is language threatening? Is it any less “culture” than movies, education, or painting? Can’t we just use it without having to think so much about IT?

To that end, here are Turnau’s main points with my added wrinkle of the thought experiment proposed here. I think it works but I’m sure Rabbi Bret will detect some viral strain of infidelity.

Whatever else popular culture language is, it is not trivial, because it is an expression of faith and worship.

Not all popular culture language is equally meaningful.

Not every piece of popular culture language is appropriate for engagement.

Popular culture Language works by creating imaginative landscapes for us to inhabit.

When thinking about a piece of popular culture language, it pays to know the tricks of the trade.

Every piece of popular culture language is a complicated mixture of grace and idolatry.

Think carefully about how to undermine the idol, and how the gospel applies to the piece of popular culture language you’re sharing with friends.

Look for occasions where you can experience popular culture language together with friends and family (both Christian and non-Christian).

By the way, I am uncomfortable with the formulation that every piece of pop culture is an expression of faith and worship. The reason is that I don’t think we would say the same for language. Language, like culture, is part and parcel of being created in the image of God. It’s not a function or effect of redemption.