The Actual Culture War, October, 2020
It's not between Republican and Democrat, rich and poor, urban and rural, Pro-Trump and NeverTrump, or blacks and whites. The war is older — and deeper.
Dear friends and supporters,
The great cultural conflict exhibited in the chaotic social environment surrounding each of us, is, whether we want it or not, not between Republican and Democrat, or urban and rural, or Pro-Trumpers and NeverTrumpers, or blacks and whites, or men and women, or rich and poor, or, strictly speaking, between Christians and non-Christians. Rather, it is between the residue of a Christian culture on the one hand, and all forces hostile to Christian culture on the other.
This is the culture war, and any other lines of social warfare are ancillary, and fit within this single, overarching battle.
Christendom and Christian Culture
Christian culture was at the heart of what been termed Christendom. Nobody reading these lines has ever seen Christendom. Christendom began with Constantine’s public affirmation of Christianity (and religious liberty) in the 4th century; engulfed both Eastern and, later, Western Europe; and then shaped the European colonies in the New World. It was Byzantine and Roman Catholic and (later) Protestant.
Christendom died incrementally, first in Western Europe by the mid-18th century under the pressures of the Enlightenment and its subsequent 19th century reaction, Romanticism.
In the United States after the Civil War, Christendom was shredded by Darwinism, higher Biblical criticism, and secular democracy.
Christendom in the East was always subservient to the state, and when the state became atheistic (Marxist) in Russia in 1917 and in Eastern Europe in 1945–1946, Christendom simply collapsed.
What was Christendom? It was the visible, public affirmation of Christianity by nations and cultures. It was Christian civilization marked out by trinitarian baptism, profession of the ecumenical Christian creeds, and allegiance to the Bible and to the Faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).
Christendom was a ubiquitous, transnational way of life shaped by the Bible and Christian tradition. National political leaders weren’t just Christians in their private lives; they were expected to apply their expression of Christianity (however warped and imperfect) in the state.
Likewise, law, music, education, literature, science, technology, poetry — all aspects of life were expected to pay tribute to Jesus and Savior and Lord. Society was to be a Christian culture.
Christendom wasn’t perfect (far from it) but it was a concrete historic reality.
Neither Christendom nor Christian culture meant that everybody living within it was actually a Christian, and perhaps only a sizable minority were Christian.
What it did mean — and this is the crucial point — is that the way of thinking and living of the vast majority of citizens was shaped by a broad, Christian understanding, a Christian worldview. Even most unbelievers recognized the moral absolutes of Christianity and the unique authority of the Bible, even if they refused to obey it.
Criminals broke the civil law, and God’s law, but didn’t try like moderns to redefine ethics to conform to their criminality: “Your honor, I mean, after all, what right have you to say that having sex with nine-year-old girls is wrong.” No, none of that. Society reflected what Francis Schaeffer called “a Christian ethos.”
The United States as a Christian ethos
This is the basic heritage of the United States, which was founded by either Christians or Christian-influenced people. This was their worldview.
At its heart was the belief in a sovereign Creator God, in his moral law, in ethical absolutes, in individual liberty, in personal responsibility, in religious and political and economic liberty, and, therefore, in the free society.
A grotesque heritage
What many advocates today of Christian culture and the original U. S. founding fail to understand as they observe the protests and violence of Black Lives Matter, wokeness, and “social justice” is that their perpetrators aren’t simply upset by specific evils like, for example, the killing of George Floyd.
Rather, what we consider to be America’s glorious heritage, they consider America’s grotesque heritage. This is where the New York Times’ Project 1619 came from. The U. S. is not a nation founded on sound principles that has often failed to live up to those principles. Its original principles themselves were greedy, oppressive, venal, and depraved.
To live in a truly virtuous society, we must get rid of our nation as it has been historically understood. The U. S. must be purged of everything thus far that made it what it is.
The perpetrators of this worldview are progressives, roughly equivalent to and overlapping with the newest New Leftists and the Cultural Marxists. The underlying tenet of progressivism is that human consciousness and, in particular, moral standards evolve historically, always from relatively worse to relatively better: later is always better.
Political Liberalism: Theological Presuppositions
This booklet shows that the grand political vision of our time, liberalism, is based on apostate theological presuppositions. Christians must overthrow those religious convictions to finally destroy political liberalism.
Order the book here.
The father of progressivism
The broad philosophy behind progressivism is Hegelianism. The towering German thinker Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel broke with the traditional perception of “solid-state” reality, that life is perceived in terms of specific permanent externals to which every generation has, and must have, recourse. Even Descartes’ radical skepticism posited the knowing self as an objective, universal reality. Hegel didn’t deny objectivity, but he wanted it cut it away from static reality. Hegel wanted to argue that being is in becoming. In contrast to “solid-state” reality, he embraced “motion-picture” reality — with no remote to pause, rewind, and resume. Everything is in unstoppable flux toward universal improvement.
The 19th century was full of this way of thinking. It’s hard to imagine Darwinism apart from it, and modern progressivism is a particular sociopolitical outlook that takes its cue from this basic Hegelian interpretation, whether it knows it or not.
The young Hegelians
Ironically, Hegel’s view at the time was considered conservative politically, identifying the nationalistic Prussian state as the latest, highest (and, strangely, final) evolution of society.
The so-called “young Hegelians” like Karl Marx took his thought in a different direction. They didn’t want the flux to end with the Prussian state, but wanted to create a philosophical system that threw off every barrier to the fulfillment of human personality and freedom, moving into the interminable future. They found this in an exclusively materialistic, atheistic socialism. This is classical Marxism, which birthed the Cultural Marxism mentioned above.
Today’s progressives are in line with Marx’s vision. They are willing to gut the family to do this, and this is why they support abortion and pornography and homosexuality and homosexual marriage.
They support radical egalitarianism in family and church and the wider society, because God’s order is based on benevolent hierarchies. They start right in Genesis 1:1 with the Creator-creature distinction; God himself is the highest, absolute hierarch. The egalitarians’ goal is to fashion the perfect society without God. The war on hierarchies is actually a war on God; it’s God they’re really after.
They decry “white supremacy” not because they especially care for blacks, but because they wish to overturn traditional Christian society. If you don’t believe this, simply read the objectives of Black Lives Matter, some of which were only recently scrubbed from their official website. Accusations of “white supremacy” are simply a convenient tool by which to overturn Christian culture — within which, by the way, the scourge of racial slavery was first abolished.
In radical contrast stand the conservatives: conservative not because they believe the past is inherently superior to the present, but because they believe that Christian culture and Christian-influenced society is inherently superior to every non-Christian society, in whatever historical epoch.
Even honest, knowledgeable non-Christian conservatives would prefer to live in a Christian society rather than a non-Christian society, which has no ingrained barrier to persecution, inhumanity, and nihilism. Christian culture is more conducive to the peaceful lives of atheists than atheistic culture is.
The conservatives don’t envision utopia. They envision the best possible society in a fallen world. They recognize the necessity of simultaneous insistence on both freedom and virtue, not sacrificing one for another. They oppose both anarchy and statism. This balance has historically been preserved best in Christian societies that see in the Trinity the age-old solution to the problem of the One and the Many. God is both one and many (three), and neither unity nor diversity is ultimate; they are equally ultimate.
Whether conservatives know it or not, this reality undergirds their social paradigm.
The U. S. presidential election is almost exactly a month away. Many Christians and other conservatives are voting for Donald Trump, not because they believe he embodies a faithful Christian testimony (he certainly does not), but because they perceive him as a visible champion against progressivism. Many, perhaps most, of his policy decisions have impeded or reversed the recent progressive onslaught, despite his sometimes abysmal personal character.
It’s important to recognize, however, that politics is downstream from culture, and even another come-from-behind victory by Trump will not of itself reverse the smashing progressive successes of the last few decades.
Only an installation of Christian culture can do that, and a Christian culture presupposes a return by Christians to a serous, comprehensive Faith, a “Crusading Christianity,” refusing to be sequestered within the family hearth or church sanctuary.
This is the culture war, and all cultural battles simply contribute to it.
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On Sunday I’ll be speaking at Trinity Evangelical Church, Pratt, Kansas, Doug Enick, pastor. My topics are: “Dead to Sin, Alive to God” and “Our Promissory God.” Audio should be posted next week.
The 2020 Center for Cultural Leadership symposium is set for November 7, four days after the election, and again in San Francisco.
The theme is: “2020 Vision for a Blurry Year: The Election, COVID, Wokeness, the Supreme Court, and Social Justice Analyzed.”
Presenters include David Bahnsen, Brian Mattson, Jeff Ventrella, and me; but everyone will get a chance to contribute.
There’s no charge, but the event is by invitation only, so if you haven’t yet done so, please contact me privately (FB message, or sandlin[at]saber[dot]net) if you wish to attend.
Meanwhile, be bold for the righteous claims of Jesus Christ in every area of life and thought.
Yours for the King,
More great stuff:
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List of Coronavirus-related posts and podcasts:
“What the COVID-19 Drama Has Revealed About Our Institutional Character”
COVID-19 and Legality: An Interview with Jeffery J. Ventrella
COVID-19 and Economics: An Interview with David L. Bahnsen
COVID-19 and Theology: An Interview with Brian G. Mattson
“COVID-19 and Our Crisis of Liberty”
“Thinking Christianly During Covid”