Dropping back into the Culture Wars

[12/25/11. I can’t believe I wrote this a scant 3 months ago. That issue of Touchtone did a real Huey Long on me, I guess. I leave it here as standing proof that I’m sensitively dependent on initial conditions. Tipsy]

Having announced my withdrawal from the Culture Wars 18 months ago (I actually dropped out before I blogged it), I’m now on the brink of repenting and dropping back in.

What has shaken me up is a feature in Touchstone Magazine‘s 25th anniversary edition, The French Connection, which likens America today not to 1916 Tsarist Russia, but to pre-1789 France.

(And to think, I was ready to let Touchstone lapse!)

In short, I think I may have been a bit facile in seeing as equal and opposite equivalents

  • the threat of secularism to Christianity of all sorts and
  • the threat of the Religious Right to Orthodox Christianity in particular.

The Religious Right threat to Orthodoxy is remote and contingent.

But the secularist threat is imminent and ascendant. Some of the parallels between postmodern U.S. and pre-1789 France are eerie (the article no doubt is written to make them so):

[C]ontrary to stereotype, the philosophes—the French intellectuals of the eighteenth century—sought not diversity of opinion but the replacement of one kind of intellectual unity by another. Feeling themselves to be in the ascendancy, they did not have to confront their opponents fairly, because, in their minds, certain ideas had been so thoroughly discredited as to be held only by the ignorant and deluded, and to take such ideas seriously would be to yield ground in the continuous war of ideas. Thus, perhaps the philosophes’ most effective weapon was the subtle censorship of fashion ….

The “Religious Right” is condemned as intolerant, even fascist, not because it seeks to coerce belief but because it refuses to ratify the sexual revolution of the 1960s and continues to recognize that Americans are a religious people. The pro-life movement is treated as an illegitimate “intrusion” of religion into an area where the issues were supposedly settled long ago by enlightened despots called judges. In recent decades there has been renewed warfare between religion and science, caused partly by religious excesses but even more by scientists and philosophers determined to use science [to dismiss religion].

I have blogged and Tweeted a great deal lately about the lack of serious engagement of liberal journalists with the positions of Republicans they decry. The attitude is sophomoric and flippant — it assumes that the joke has already been made to all right-minded people.

Freedom of expression is still protected by law in the United States, but the most notable exceptions are precisely those centers of self-conscious enlightenment called universities; here, censorship of ideas through “speech codes” and other means is not uncommon, and one can get a preview of what modern philosophes envision for the larger society. Modern philosophes, like those of the Enlightenment, regard themselves as having gained an intellectual ascendancy that must not be lost.

Twenty years ago, campus speech codes and rules that Christian organizations on campus must let heretics and libertines join and vote on leadership wouldn’t have had a chance in court. Now, no less than the Supreme Court has affirmed one such rule. Arguably, Antonin Scalia opened that door in Employment Division v. Smith, but that’s a topic possibly for another day.

During the Enlightenment, Christianity’s critics were divided on whether to dismiss Jesus as a deluded fraud or to claim him as their own. Today, the second strategy is almost universally favored—the most lethal blow against Christianity is to capture its founder and demonstrate that for two thousand years his followers have betrayed his teachings.

Can you say “Dan Brown” or “John Boswell“?

… permitting condemnations of Muslim terrorism only if Christian Fundamentalists are condemned in the same breath.

Heck, I was catching that kind of flak (but on Christian and Jewish dhimmitude in Moslem lands) Thursday in flames in a liberalish friend’s blog comboxes.

I’m still queasy at the reckless zeal with which some on the Religious Right are fighting back, but I do believe they are fighting back; they’re not the aggressors, even if one might question the reasonableness of the force used to repel aggression (and I’m less inclined to do so at the moment).

If the aggression continues, it won’t be long before we’re to the “obey God rather than man” point. Is that my “line in the sand,” or do I re-engage before then? That’s what I’m struggling with.

If I re-engage, I don’t think it will be partisan, and my readers are free to beat me up if I start engaging in reckless talk or outright lies.

One thought on “Dropping back into the Culture Wars

Comments are closed.