Reader Jones (who is ethnically East Asian) comments:
Something is bothering me.
The stuff people on the left have been saying has me disturbed. Not for any dramatic reason. I just don’t understand where they’re coming from. To me they almost seem mentally ill. For the most part, I suppose, it’s the inability to take any sort of enlargened perspective — the commitment to play your part in fighting it out, without any regard whatsoever for the greater good.
The thing is: all the people doing this stuff are white. OK, not every last one of them, but huge numbers of them.
This bothers me because I don’t understand how either side can see this as essentially a race issue. Shouldn’t all the people of the same race be on one side, then? I mean, this is only really a problem for the alt-right types — if you’re working on behalf of the white race, why are virtually all of your enemies also . . . white?
But never mind. I still concede that the intensity of rhetoric from progressives seems nutty. And I can’t figure out where they get it from.
But I’ve had an idea. Why am I, a non-white person, having to show up and tell tons of white people to stop castigating people just for being white? Part of it is that I am more keenly concerned about the underlying stupidity of this as political strategy, because it’s actually going to affect me.
But that goes to the deeper question, why for them it’s just a matter of saying the right things and making some perfunctory gestures.
They need some answer to the question: why me? Why, in a profoundly unequal society, have I been elevated above all these other people? Our moral psychology doesn’t let us just enjoy this kind of situation. And, increasingly, meritocracy doesn’t nearly suffice to justify the disparities.
They need an absolution of guilt. They need there to be a moral code, so they can perform the appropriate rites and make themselves pure. Without it, there’s no metric at all that allows them to say — even to themselves — whether they’re good people. And there’s a lot of evidence against it. Like those homeless people you keep passing on the street.
The shrill protestations of commitment to the code just speak to how steep the dropoff is. Because behind it, in our society, there is nothing but a moral vacuum.
My point is, this is about ways to distinguish white people from white people. Ways that they can say they are superior to those people they left behind in their hometowns, that they really deserve a better fate than those people. And it’s not inherently sinister — it starts, for most, with the earnest desire to actually do something morally valuable with the privileged position you’ve acquired.
Guilt is not necessarily a bad thing. But it’s increasingly been cut loose from any sensible moral outlook.
Yesterday, a mob in Durham, NC, tore down a Confederate statue that had been in place since 1924. David A. Graham was there. Excerpts from his Atlantic piece:
Around 7 p.m. Monday, a group of protestors, inspired by the violent riots over the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia, decided that if Durham County was in no hurry to take down the rebel soldier, they’d do so themselves. As Durham County commissioners met inside the building, which now houses county offices, a group of protestors wrapped a yellow rope around the statue and pulled. In what might seem a blunt metaphor for the fate of Confederate symbols in progressive Southern cities like Durham, the statue tumbled down with barely any effort, crumpling at the feet of its imposing granite pedestal. (Although the icon was allegedly made of bronze, one doubts.)
By the time I arrived, less than an hour after the statue had fallen, the street was blocked off by sheriff’s deputies’ cars. The protesters had marched a few blocks down Main Street, toward where the Durham Police Department is building a controversial new headquarters. A mix of young and old, black and white, graying hippies and black-clad anarchists, yelled “Fuck Trump” and held signs saying, “Black Lives Matter” and “The Whole Damn System Is Guilty as Hell.” “Street medics” stood to the side, ready if anyone was hurt. One man toted a guitar, seemingly more as prop than instrument.
And it’s hard to imagine that Durham will prove unique in this matter. Video of the statue coming down zoomed around the web, where it will inspire protesters elsewhere. There are plenty of potential targets. Just down the road from Durham is Chapel Hill, a quaint, liberal college town like Charlottesville. On the campus of the University of North Carolina stands a monument to alumni who fought and died for the Confederacy. “Silent Sam” has stood for more than 100 years, but he’s increasingly controversial, and has been repeatedly vandalized recently. If Silent Sam continues to stand watch over campus, will Carolina students and Chapel Hillians wait patiently for his removal through legal processes, or will they, too, turn to extralegal means?
Police did nothing, arrested no one. What an appalling scene — even if you think that Confederate statues should come down. Why was it appalling? Because this is how the rule of law ends: in the violent frenzy of mob action.
This is the ultimate end of identity politics of all kinds. You cannot reason with it. It grounds Truth in identity — in race, in ethnicity, in religion, in sex, and so forth. Its lethal alchemy turns people into arguments, or rather, assertions masquerading as arguments. You cannot argue with an identity politics zealot, because to deny their assertion is to deny their personhood. In turn, you aren’t simply wrong when you disagree with those zealots; you are a threat to their existence. Having depersonalized you, they owe you no respect. The higher cause of asserting and affirming their identity excuses everything.
Again: this is how the rule of law ends, and law is replaced by will to power. An angry mob, no matter what it stands for, is always the enemy of the truth.
That Durham mob (and what it represents) is a far, far greater threat to this country today than Confederate monuments, and what they represent. Where were the police yesterday? Why did they let this happen?
This is a very big deal. You want to see far-right white mobs descending upon civil rights monuments, desecrating them and even tearing them down? That mob in Durham has just laid the groundwork for it. And when the white nationalist mob comes in with clubs swinging, to what is this left-wing mob going to appeal for protection, having defied the same law that protects them and public monuments in their zeal to destroy what offends them? Here’s the video:
UPDATE: You can see in the comments here the toxic effect of identity politics. There are people saying that the racial evil the statue represents is so intolerable that people who tore it down are justified in so doing. What will these people say when a right-wing mob tears down a statue of Dr. King? What would these people say if a mob of pro-life zealots tore down an abortion clinic, in which pro-lifers believe something akin to murder takes place every day? The rule of law is a precious thing.
UPDATE.2: Reader Steve S. writes:
Over the last week and having read Rod’s many posts on recent events, I’ve had many incomplete thoughts and posts of my own swirling in my head. Zapollo’s comments have resonated with me. I feel I have to chime in now because, like Rod, I am somewhat flabbergasted at the many commenters here who seem to support this vandalism.
To keep myself honest, I imagined if I saw a Margaret Sanger statue in front of a Planned Parenthood getting torn down by a mob of anti-abortion Christians (my tribe). I’d like to think that I would be as disgusted by that extra-legal exercise of raw power, even when it was done by “my side” against someone revered by my ideological “enemies”. When I joined the Army, I took an oath to swear to defend the Constitution, and I’d like to believe that I still would defend the right of my fellow citizens to their freedom of speech. I can’t believe so many of my fellow Americans are ready to toss that aside and celebrate violence and vandalism against people with whom they disagree. It’s the naked worship of power, and it is nowhere in the Constitution that I swore an oath to defend when I wore the uniform.
As an aside, when I was in east Baghdad, I saw firsthand a society where there was no rule of law. Shia militias ruled by force and intimidation. They were effectively the government, and they didn’t think twice about eliminating people, including other Shias, who they thought stood in the way of their political goals. I know because they murdered some of the local (Shia) Iraqis who translated for us, men whom I considered friends. Americans who have never been anywhere near this sort of thing lose all credibility with me when they celebrate, excuse, or wink at political violence. They have ZERO clue what they are promoting.
(By the way, to commenters who are defending the people in NC by saying that there was no violence against people, give me a break. Imagine if there had been Sons/Daughters of the Confederacy there to try to stop the vandalism. Do you think reasoned debate would have ensued? Like Rod and others on the thread have said, violence against things is the precursor to violence against people. If you deny this, you’re being deliberately obtuse.)
Now to avoid falling into my own version of self-righteousness, I want to share a quote that (I believe by Divine Providence) I stumbled on today. It was from Thomas Merton:
“Instead of hating the people you think are war-makers, hate the appetites and disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed – but hate these things in yourself, not in another.”
This was exactly what I needed to hear today and going forward because I have been feeling that self-righteous wrath building up inside me. The Gospel reading on Sunday was about St. Peter beginning to drown in the storm because he feared and didn’t trust Christ. More and more in light of recent events, I feel like Peter in that story. For my fellow Christians who read this blog, I would invite you to pray for me and for all of us that we can keep our eyes on Christ even as we keep an eye on the devil within our hearts.
The campaign for transgender rights has left many small-o orthodox Christians reeling, desperate for guidance in how to think about it and act faithfully in the face of this challenge. Fortunately, Andrew T. Walker, director of policy studies for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, has just published a book designed to help the ordinary Christian do just that: God And The Transgender Debate, in bookstores today. I spoke to him recently about the book. Here’s the transcript:
RD: After gays and lesbians won the right to marry, transgender rights became their movement’s main cause. Is there a way in which the transgender movement is different than the debate over homosexuality?
AW: Yes, definitely. But first, let me note that they demonstrate some similarity because underlying both issues is the question of teleology. In the case of sexual desire, the question becomes: How are sexual desires to be directed and for what purpose? In the case of the transgender phenomenon, the question is: Does human embodiment have an objective and discernible nature? Both assume some degree of plasticity to human nature that I think violates both Scripture and natural law.
Transgenderism, though, is actually an antecedent to homosexuality, because transgenderism is seeking to discern who or what man is before answering the question of how desire and reproduction function in light of man’s nature. I don’t want to sever the two, though, for fear that sexual desire becomes irrelevant to human embodiment. The two are intertwined (obviously). Seen in this light, transgenderism is a far more foundational and consequential issue because it makes us unable to direct the totality of the person toward any concrete goal of personhood, not just their sexual desires.
RD: The Bible’s teaching on homosexuality is clear, but there’s nothing there that’s explicit about transgenderism. Are Christianity and transgenderism compatible?
AW: Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 6 v 9-11 offer a helpful way to answer this question:
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
Paul’s words show that there are practices and lifestyles that, if left unrepented of, can prevent someone from inheriting—that is, having a place in—the kingdom of God. To live as a Christian is to accept God’s authority over our own.
Transgender identities fall into that category — they are not compatible with following Christ. A person’s gender identity reflects how they define what it means to be a human being. That self-definition will either correspond to God’s revelation in his word or it will not. God has created human beings in his own image as male and female. Our identity, therefore, is defined by God in his purposes for his creation and in his new creation in Christ. The design of humanity is purposeful and good, and part of our design is that we are men and women. To deny or overturn that distinction is to nullify God’s revelation both in nature and in Scripture. The Bible calls it suppressing the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1 v 18).
That doesn’t mean that someone who struggles with gender identity conflicts is not a Christian. All Christians wrestle with life in this fallen world in one way or another. Let me underline that experiencing gender dysphoria does not mean you are not a Christian.
But it does mean that a settled rejection of God’s purposes for us as male or female cannot be reconciled with following Christ. Someone can embrace a transgender identity or find their identity in Christ, but not both.
Having said that, it is possible to sin in all kinds of ways in ignorance, rather than willfully and knowingly. A new Christian might not know that they are called to honor their parents, or that lust is sinful. The key is that when they read in Scripture that obedience to God means changing in these areas, they will work to do so, with God’s help. Likewise, it would be possible to identify as transgender and also be trusting Christ as Lord because they have not yet realized the implications of the lordship of Christ in this area of their life and identity. As and when they do realize it, a Christian person would change their behavior in this area, with God’s help.
RD: I talked to a small-town pastor not long ago, who told me that a man walked into Sunday services wearing a dress. Nobody knew how to react. The pastor told me that people who think transgenderism is not something they’re going to have to deal with sooner or later are deceiving themselves. What steps should the church take to shore up its its teaching and witness in this area?
AW: While this should be obvious, I fear it’s not: Pastors ought to see their pulpit as a vehicle for the proclamation of the gospel, but also for moral formation (the two, I should add, are not in tension). When you stop to consider the teaching function of the pastor, it’s mesmerizing. Where else in America do people voluntarily gather for moral formation? Sure, Americans are formed by any one of their habits, but most aren’t seeking out intentional formation. This means that the pastor has an obligation to speak to this issue as he would on any other issue pressing in on the culture. The pastor-shepherd can cultivate the instincts of his people.
We live in an age of anthropological heresies, so we need voices willing to teach, correct, and heal. As I told you when you interviewed me for The Benedict Option, I grew up in a wonderful church, but I cannot recall any message that centered upon the goodness of the human body or why, in God’s economy, the idea of maleness and femaleness are integral to human flourishing and social stability. A theology of the body is missing in most churches, and if there is one, it’s usually done through kitsch euphemism or sermons series that tout “See, we Christians are having sex, too.” We must do better than that. Youth pastors and parents must work in tandem to catechize their children on this issue, or else the culture will do so quite enthusiastically.
No one wants to focus on these issues because they are controversial, but I can envision few things more pressing than the local church making intentional effort to study this issue.
RD: A prominent religious liberty activist told me that after Obergefell, he and his fellow activists thought they might have a year or two before they would face the trans tsunami. Turns out it started right away, and has been startlingly successful. How do you explain that?
AW: Anthony Kennedy. (laughs)
But seriously, progressive judicial philosophy means picking a desired outcome and reasoning backwards until the Constitution can justify it. I imagine this issue will make its way to the Supreme Court sooner rather than later. We see this similarly happening where bureaucrats re-interpret statutes to include sexual orientation and gender identity, enshrining into law contested categories upon citizens.
All the other expected answers apply, though: It’s a cause célèbre for those who see trans liberation as the next frontier of human progress. That’s backed up by aggressive organizations like the Human Rights Campaign who work in entertainment and corporate spheres to bully legislatures into compliance.
RD: Is there any sense in which the transgender movement is overreaching in what it is asking society to affirm?
AW: Yes, its impact on children and adolescents.
Children who express gender confusion are now encouraged to explore it. Think about that for a second: We are putting decisions that have a lifetime of consequence into the hands of children unable to do algebra let alone understand the ramifications of their gender. Most kids grow out of their confusion, but society’s affirmation makes it more likely that children will go down this path. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
An article recently highlighted a transgender day camp. One of the paragraphs reads, “Some change their name or pronouns daily, to see what feels right.” That sounds polite, tolerant, and very social justice-y. But that’s unbridled radicalism dressed up as effete 21st century parenting.
There’s also the impact of puberty suppression in adolescents that has untold consequences — consequences that go ignored because medicine must now operate under the guise of political correctness. We are doing damage to children under the rubric of tolerance. It’s awful, but there’s a growing number of voices that are talking about transgender skepticism and some who regret transitioning and who have transitioned back — what’s called “Desisting.”
Perhaps the most outlandish example of transgender overreach is the attempt to brandish “genital preference” as some form of transphobia. What is that, you ask? Without getting too graphic, if a person has a revulsion against having attempted intercourse with someone of the same anatomy, but who has a different “gender identity” — that’s transphobic. So, for example, imagine a scenario where a man dates a transgender woman (a biological male). If the man objects to having intimate relations with the transgender woman because the transgender “woman” has a penis, that’s now bigoted, because anatomy is irrelevant to gender identity.
As a friend described it to me, this is the Left’s version of conversion therapy.
RD: The issue of “harm” is paramount in this discussion. We often hear that if someone refuses to wholeheartedly affirm transgenderism, you’re accused of denying people’s lived experiences and inflicting harm on a person who is identifying as transgender. What do you say to that?
AW: If I can be honest, this is the most absurd element to the cultural discussion. Reason and moral debate gets held hostage to emotivism: “Affirm me, or else you’re harming me.” How can conversation and debate ever occur when such zero-sum inanities are thrown about? When did it become acceptable in public discourse to reduce disagreement down to the level of personal harm? People who hate Christianity do not do me any harm. In fact, the Scriptures portend a future where that’s to be expected. Now, if there’s actual harm, or threatened harm, that’s a different situation. But a mature society recognizes that moral debate is the sum and substance of free societies. We can’t quarantine moral debate just because someone’s feelings get hurt. Where a society shuts down debate, it forsakes opportunities for prophetic reform, and it’s my conviction that history is going to look back poorly on how our society handled transgenderism. We can’t, as a society, run in the opposite direction of human nature without human nature eventually striking back at some point.
The harm argument is the problematic conclusion that comes from “dignitary harm” arguments taking hold: A subjective “experience” — often wholly psychological in nature — becomes normative and insulated against any type of moral critique, and where critique does occur, we’re told it is tantamount to violence. If I can be so blunt, this has the seeds of totalitarianism in it. If you can get society to believe that men can become women, and women can become men, what can’t you get society to believe? The language of “dignitary harm” is ever-expansive in its use today, and it may be the most weaponized asset used against religious conservatives in the years ahead.
“Harm” arguments rely on the underlying assumption that social affirmation is what is at the bottom of transgender people’s distress. Studies don’t show that — transgender persons demonstrate great instability even after transitioning. Affirmation isn’t enough, which means there are deeper issues at stake than just cultural acceptance. Personal insecurity does not get to be the last, and most authoritative word in this debate.
Additionally, though, ending debate about transgenderism assumes that everyone has reached the same conclusion, which neither psychology, philosophy, or science have. My friend Ryan Anderson’s book is going to tackle that angle, and I recommend it.
But let’s state the argument in the reverse: Why must I affirm their understanding of the issue but them not affirm mine? Why must I assent to the belief that suppressing one’s innate biology and nature is healthy? I will never subscribe to the idea that psychological impairment which incites troubled souls to take irreversible action is ever loving, kind, or compassionate. Conservatives and Christians can play the affirmation card, too. So use progressives’ language and arguments against progressives. Make them play by their own rules. Tolerance and inclusion are two-way street.
RD: The “bathroom debate” appears toxic politically. Is it important to draw a line in the sand politically there? If so, how should proponents of bathroom laws talk about them?
AW: First, as a general principle, parents ought to have the right to send their children to a school that does not teach contrary to what the parents believe — especially on a subject like this. Parental rights are at stake because a child is being exposed to conversations and situations that some parents are wholly opposed.
Second, student privacy is a legitimate concern. Who wins in a battle of pitting one child’s privacy right versus another? That means win-win scenarios ought to be strived after. Installing single-stall restrooms seems like one effective policy strategy that brokers compromise. It’s wrong, especially in public school settings, to subject one sex to the presence of another sex in such places as locker rooms.
Restroom policies separate men and women based on privacy concerns. Individuals of the same biological sex share the same anatomy. Sharing the restroom with those who are of the same sex and who have the same anatomy prevents the embarrassment or vulnerability that comes from the possibility of viewing the opposite sex in a state of undress. For the sake of protecting women from sexual assault or the fear of it and to prevent men from viewing, or being in close proximity to, women in a private situation, restroom policies are wise to base access upon biological sex distinction. Please be clear: I am not calling transgender persons predators; but there are documented instances of predators using lax bathroom laws to their advantage.
All that to say, it isn’t unreasonable to make privacy concerns based on anatomical distinctions and for law to recognize the difference between males and females. So, yes, of course, it’s necessary to draw a line in the sand and stand up for good public policy.
The book is God And The Transgender Debate, by Andrew T. Walker. If you are a pastor, youth minister, teacher in a Christian school, or a parent, you need to read this book. This discussion cannot be avoided. If you don’t catechize your children, or those under your spiritual care, the culture certainly will.
Trump has not literally used the phrase “white lives matter,” but many of his policies have played on white identity politics. As I detailed earlier this year, Trump started his administration off with a series of moves that seemed aimed at defending and protecting conservative Christians, police officers, people who fear that Latino immigrants are taking their jobs or redefining U.S. culture, and broadly pushing back against the goals of liberal multiculturalism. In the last few months, he and his administration have continued in that direction, proposing to bar transgender people from serving in the military, preparing to file lawsuits against universities that have affirmative action programs, limiting the Department of Education’s investigations of colleges for sexual assault, and unveiling a plan to restrict legal immigration.
Wait … what?! Let’s take each one of those claims:
- “Protect conservative Christians”. How is that white identity politics? There are non-white conservative Christians, you know.
- “Protect police officers.” How is that white identity politics? There are non-white police officers, you know. Favoring law and order policies is not automatically racist.
- “Broadly pushing back against the goals of liberal multiculturalism.” That’s pretty vague. What are the goals of liberal multiculturalism? Is opposing racial quotas, for example, necessarily a manifestation of white identity politics? Or is it about favoring race-blind policies as a matter of fairness?
- “Barring transgender people from serving in the military.” That may or may not be a good idea, but it has nothing to do with racial identity.
- “Limiting the Department of Justice’s investigations of colleges for sexual assault.” Ditto. What on earth does this have to do with race? Exactly nothing, that’s what.
The only item on Bacon’s list of deplorables that fits within the white identity politics is restricting immigration. Sure, this is a big deal to white identitarians. But it is deeply unfair to say that anybody who wants immigration restriction is therefore a white identitarian. There are people who favor it for economic reasons. According to a March 2017 Gallup poll, 48 percent of Democrats worry about illegal immigration. A majority of black voters (57 percent) worry about it, and far more Hispanic voters worry about it (67 percent) than either white voters (59 percent).
Got that? Two out of three Hispanic voters worry about illegal immigration. Are they white identitarians? Give me a break.
This silly FiveThirtyEight article is a classic example of a liberal journalist labeling political views he doesn’t like as racist, or at least race-conscious. Turn the piece around and you’ll see how stupid it is. Look at Nos. 1, 2, 4, and 5 above. The Obama administration’s policies were by and large the opposite of what the Trump administration is doing on each of those fronts. Ask yourself if it makes sense to say that Obama chose those policies to promote black identity politics. Of course it doesn’t. Perry Bacon Jr. is just flailing here. It’s another example of Lithwickism.
The post is filed under “Charlottesville,” so I guess it’s open season on conservatism. It is certainly true that white identity politics are present on the Right. If we’re going to have an intelligent conversation about the phenomenon, we have to at least understand what it is, and is not. This article helps not at all.
My name is Pearce Tefft, and I am writing to all, with regards to my youngest son, Peter Tefft, an avowed white nationalist who has been featured in a number of local news stories over the last several months.
On Friday night, my son traveled to Charlottesville, Va., and was interviewed by a national news outlet while marching with reported white nationalists, who allegedly went on to kill a person.
I, along with all of his siblings and his entire family, wish to loudly repudiate my son’s vile, hateful and racist rhetoric and actions. We do not know specifically where he learned these beliefs. He did not learn them at home.
I have shared my home and hearth with friends and acquaintances of every race, gender and creed. I have taught all of my children that all men and women are created equal. That we must love each other all the same.
Evidently Peter has chosen to unlearn these lessons, much to my and his family’s heartbreak and distress. We have been silent up until now, but now we see that this was a mistake. It was the silence of good people that allowed the Nazis to flourish the first time around, and it is the silence of good people that is allowing them to flourish now.
Peter Tefft, my son, is not welcome at our family gatherings any longer. I pray my prodigal son will renounce his hateful beliefs and return home. Then and only then will I lay out the feast.
His hateful opinions are bringing hateful rhetoric to his siblings, cousins, nieces and nephews as well as his parents. Why must we be guilty by association? Again, none of his beliefs were learned at home. We do not, never have, and never will, accept his twisted worldview.
He once joked, “The thing about us fascists is, it’s not that we don’t believe in freedom of speech. You can say whatever you want. We’ll just throw you in an oven.”
Peter, you will have to shovel our bodies into the oven, too. Please son, renounce the hate, accept and love all.
Lord, have mercy. Now would be a good time for all white parents to ask their sons what they think of white nationalism and the alt-right.
Ryan Booth, a conservative white Evangelical, writes:
[Hezekiah] broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan). – 2 Kings 18:4
At Mathnasium a couple of years ago, we had a sweet little girl enroll who had just immigrated from India. We let all of our new students design their own binder spines to help them find their binders, and she proceeded to draw a swastika on hers. Shocked and confused, I quickly went online and found out that the swastika in Eastern cultures has meant “good fortune” for many centuries, and indeed, it basically had the same meaning in Europe, which is why the Nazis chose it as their symbol. Unfortunately for that little girl, the symbol that she drew as good luck symbol will not be interpreted that way by Americans who naturally see it as a symbol of hatred and evil.
Symbols don’t have an intrinsic meaning. The meaning comes from a cultural understanding, and those understandings change over time, as the culture changes.
When the Israelites were wandering in the desert, some of them spoke against God, so he sent venomous snakes among them, and they bit people who died, but God told Moses to make a bronze serpent and put it on a pole, and anyone who looked at it was healed.
In John 3:14, Jesus said that the serpent was a symbol of him. It was a symbol of his death on the Cross. We will all die, but those of us who can gaze upon his sacrifice on the Cross will live. What a wonderful symbol the bronze serpent was — a promise of eternal life!
Unfortunately, by the time of king Hezekiah a thousand years later, the serpent had become a false idol. Instead of a symbol of God’s salvation, the serpent itself was being worshipped as a god, which they called Nehushtan. As such, it was better for it to be destroyed, rather than be an occasion for the people of God to fall into idolatry.
The Confederate battle flag, and monuments to Confederate generals, were not constructed as symbols of racial hatred. For many Southerners, the Civil War was not about slavery, and many Confederate generals were honorable men fighting for what they believed to be a good cause.
But, unfortunately, the little Indian girl doesn’t get to choose what a swastika means in America, and those of you who think that a Confederate flag honors Southern heritage, or who think that Confederate monuments honor valiant men and are an important part of our history — you don’t get to decide what those symbols mean to our culture.
And what’s happened is that the Confederate flag and Confederate monuments have become a Nehushtan. They have become gods to a group of people bent on hate and violence. As such, we’re better off without them.
On principle, I am against taking down monuments. I think it was wrong to take them down in New Orleans recently. Yet I agree with Ryan Booth. After Charlottesville, the “heritage, not hate” argument is never going to be taken seriously. The Klansmen, neo-Nazis, and other alt-right protesters in C’ville have made it much harder to defend those monuments and Confederate insignia.
The problem here is one of the interpretation of symbols. One of my Southern students insists that the flag does not represent racism or slavery to him; when pushed, he suggests that if it represents such things to other people that’s their problem. In this view, the interpretation of a symbol is purely a matter of personal preference and no one has the right to criticize anyone else’s interpretation. I am afraid that I cannot accept such perspectivism. Symbols have histories; and the world we live in is historical. Whatever I or anyone else might think about the flag, it is a matter of record that it was created to serve as the symbol of an institution whose members disagreed about many things but agreed about the moral and legal acceptability of slave-holding. It is also a matter of record that today’s racists and segregationists still make regular appeals to that flag as the symbol of their cause, though less often and less publicly now than when I was a boy (which may help to explain the difference between my attitude and that of some of my students). That still-living history cannot be erased by waving the magic wand of personal interpretive preference—which, by the way, is a strange magic wand for someone to wave who seeks to represent and defend a traditional way of life.
I have already said that the ineradicable history of that flag does not convict my students of racism. Furthermore, it is perfectly appropriate for them to believe and to contend that this flag need not be associated with racism and slavery, that the flag and the Confederacy have received a bum rap from both historians and the popular press. But until they successfully make that case, they should not wear their shirts. The symbol on the shirt speaks before its wearer does and leaves him unable to make his case for the dignity and value of Southern culture—while simultaneously failing to exhibit the required charity to those of his Christian brothers and sisters who are profoundly offended by that symbol.
UPDATE.2: Ryan Booth responds to critics in the thread:
So, so many of you are ignoring the primary point of the article. Yes, Robert E. Lee was a great man in many ways, and I personally think statues honoring him would be appropriate, except for what they are becoming. The bronze serpent was as honorable as a symbol could get, but it was appropriate for it to be destroyed, because its meaning had been distorted into evil.
Those of you who want his statues to remain don’t need to defend them from the Left — you need to defend them from the alt-Right! They are the ones who are ruining any chance you have for keeping them.
If there are so many of who are not racist who honestly honor Southern culture and heritage so much, why wasn’t there a giant protest group in Charlottesville, pushing away the Nazis while chanting “heritage, not hate”? Why did you leave the opposition to the Left?
I’ll tell you why. It’s the same reason that the Confederate flag became associated with racism in the first place. It’s because a great many of you, all protestations to the contrary, secretly support the racists. I know too many who say “heritage, not hate” and belong to the League of the South, or who subscribe to American Renaissance, including people in my own family.
Most of you who support Southern heritage are just a little bit less racist than the Nazis in Charlottesville. You would probably say that you aren’t racist, yet you probably would prefer that a black family not live next door to you. You would be less likely to hire a black person for a job, and you definitely wouldn’t want your child to marry a black person, but you don’t think of yourself as racist.
And that’s why the Confederate flag has become verboten by our culture, and why the monuments are coming down. Because of you and people like you.
Did you see this profoundly sad interview with the single mother of the 20-year-old far-right man arrested for mowing down protesters in C’ville?
When pressed by The AP reporter about what Bloom was told by her son, it does appear that he had indicated it was an alt-right gathering.
“Like I said, I don’t really talk to him about his political views,” she said. “He just — so I don’t really understand what the rally was about or anything, so… I just know there was — he did mention it was ‘albright’? What is it? Al–?”
The reporter then interrupts her, saying, “Alt-right?”
Bloom responds, “Albright”
“Albright”. Good grief. The cluelessness!
This AP interview with one of the man’s former high school teachers said that his pro-Hitler radicalism was well known at the school. Was the kid’s mom really so out of touch with her fatherless son that she didn’t know he was a Nazi sympathizer? I think it’s possible, yes.
A reader — a mom — writes:
I tried to read the comments on your blog post, “The Curse of Identity Politics,” but I just couldn’t finish them. All I can hear or see is “white men are evil and have oppressed so therefore . . . burn them at the stake.” Of course, they don’t use those words, but it feels that way.
Let me say this before I continue, when I saw the photos of Friday night’s march in Charlottesville, I was shaken to the core. I showed my family, all white and middle class and educated, and we just . . . it was devastating. We all unequivocally denounced these idiots and mourned for all of us.
But next, I want to add something as a mother. I have two boys. They are white and as a school teacher, I suppose we are considered middle class or somewhere there about. I am divorced, and their dad shows up when he feels like it. We also live in rural west Texas, and frankly, that doesn’t feel so “privileged.” Nonetheless, I will grant that they have the benefits of their class, race, and sex. And yet . . . I am so afraid for them. It feels as if everyone (other than stupid alt-right morons) hates them. I mean it. That is what it feels like. I am raising them to be Christian. I have already started to teach them that this racist, neo-Nazi crap is evil. They are only 8 and 10, but it is never too early!
Today, after watching all the news commentary and my Twitter feed, I have little hope for them. It won’t be enough that we condemn the alt-Right, we will have to join the Left, and that we cannot do.
That probably sounds a little crazy and dramatic, but nonetheless seemingly necessary. I will now start to teach them, and show with my own witness as much as I can, that our lives are not our own. They must not bow to the Alt-Right nor to the Leftists. And that will mean martyrdom of some kind. I hugged them so hard tonight and the oldest asked, “Mom, why are you so sad?” How the hell am I supposed to answer that? All of these idiots with their personal agendas and “white structures” and “white privilege” bulls***, tell me: what would you say to my sons? Do you actually think any of this ends well for them? Either they capitulate to the Left, join the alt-Right, or martyr themselves to both.
How does one raise a son to be a martyr? I feel like I don’t have the training for that or even the strength. I also feel that I am no longer being over dramatic. I think we are here. It is time.
America, 2017. It is for people like this, people who get that we are not living in the normal America anymore, that I wrote The Benedict Option.
Another reader writes:
Speaking as an alt rightist who identifies with the Richard Spencer faction, let me ask this: If the left isn’t going to give up their identitarianism and they’re not because it’s rooted in the powerful twin motives of religious zeal and financial self-interest, what concrete, specific path of action do you propose for non-elite white men and boys?
I’m not trying to be a wiseguy. What do you want white men and boys to do? Vote Republican? We see where that got you and other orthodox Christians.
It’s a good question, one that relates to the agonizing dilemma the West Texas mom has. The question, to me, had the effect of putting the Benedict Option in stark relief. I think that ultimately, religion is going to be the only way to save anybody from this stuff — and not just religion, but the Christian religion, because it teaches the virtue of suffering, and not returning hate for hate. I fear that conservative Christians who aren’t digging in deep, and raising their kids with a much more serious and engaged form of Christianity than they’re now doing (and I’m absolutely not talking about more youth-group jibber-jabber), are going to lose their kids either to the identitarian left or the alt-right. The cultural pressures toward tribalism are going to be too strong.
But: I recognize that the church in the US, despite its numbers, is weak. Most, I fear, don’t even understand they world we’re in, much less have the resources (theological and otherwise) to disciple people to live in it. They had better learn now. You ask about “non-elite white men and boys”? As we know, the working class has largely left the church behind. The church’s influence over them is severely limited, to non-existent. I frankly don’t have a good answer for your question. I know that as an alt-rightist, reader, you will disagree, but from my point of view the GOP leadership has to be strong and consistent in its condemnation of the alt-right, but had also better shift its rhetoric and its policies towards condemning identity politics and policies based on them, in the name of justice and the common good. And then follow through. Otherwise, with no hope in either politics or religion, we know who is standing there ready to receive them.
Reader Dave Kuntz gives me permission to share this letter he sent me:
I just finished “The Idea of a Christian Village” in The Benedict Option. I commend you for steering your readers away from Utopianism, and including the tale of “Ellen” whose totalitarian parents drove her to atheism.
That being said, I think that your views are still too Utopian, and that Ellen’s experience is likely to be the norm for a child raised in a Benedict Community. Here’s why: Making a conscious decision the leave mainstream society requires huge commitment. While many parents may make the choice for the right reasons of preserving their faith, I would gamble that a large portion of potential “Benedictines” would do because they crave a strong sense of control. This isn’t the fault of the Benedict Option, but rather, the consequence of it self-selecting the exact types of people it wouldn’t work for.
Let me elaborate from my upbringing. I am a 28 year-old male who was homeschooled. My parents are both college-educated, and I grew up near a large city. We joined several communities that were similar to how you describe the Benedict Option, including a large homeschool group, conservative church, and Christian debate club. Like your book describes, we had daily Bible readings, prayer, and theological discussions.
My parents did not start out extreme, but a large faction of our Benedictine peers were. As time went on and not all the promises of our community were fulfilled, my mother especially dove deeper into system, thinking we were not committed enough. Here is a list of things that were common in those circles. According to my fiance who was raised in Austin, Texas, these traits are ubiquitous in homeschooler Benedictine-like communities across the country as well:
Chaste Daughter Fetish: I was forced to “interact” with many families whose daughters were not allowed to talk to boys. This made playing Monopoly almost impossible. You wouldn’t want to risk giving your heart away and becoming chewed gum over a property trade, would you?
Militant Fecundity Fetish: This is the flip side of the Chaste Daughter Fetish. Once you get married, you got to have as many kids as physically possible. I’m not talking about just liking big families. I’m talking about the homeschool patriarchs who described their family size the way my gym buddies described their you know what. I never saw much difference between the two forms of “masculinity.”
Scandals: The homeschool leadership never could quite keep their hands to themselves, despite all the chastity talks. Two of the three most influential homeschool leaders who are still alive (Bill Gothard and Doug Phillips) turned out to be predators, as you’ve written about. On the local level, literally all my parents’ churches broke up.
No Real Vocation for Next Generation: Before its leader went Militant Fecund on his Chaste Daughter’s babysitter, Vision Forum was one of the biggest homeschool textbook/activist organizations out there. One of its core positions was that higher education was bad, all while the “Inner Party” and doctorate-laden board of directors touted their own expertise. Vision Forum romanticized the working-class lifestyle while selling their prole followers $400 conferences and $200 “pioneer” toys. I am one of the few to have a real career, although the homeschoolers from the debate club did better than average.
No Marriages: Ironic, considering how much focus was put on it. But perhaps when you can lose your innocence by just talking to people of the opposite sex, you don’t. I more or less tried six different courtships and always got rejected by the parents, despite (or perhaps because of) making more money and being more educated than the father in almost every case.
Conspiracy theories: It is not merely enough to believe that the onslaught of secularism is pushing Christianity out of the West. Rather, many of my conservative friends feel the great need to identify large, secretive organizations, satanists at home and abroad, and weirdly specific plots that were ripped off from “24” as the “real reason” Christianity is dying.
Weird eschatology: I literally had just walked into a conservative church, and when people learned by profession (artificial intelligence in the natural scientists) I was asked if I thought that the anti-Christ was a computer.
I’ve come to believe that a lot of this group-think was inevitable, and would occur in any close-knit community. We are herd animals, and the people trying to make “intentional Christian communities” simply switched their peer-orientation from the culture toward themselves, where everything became an obsession toward “godliness.” I call them BJWs, with “Biblical” instead of “Social.” Many young people in these communities ended up more apostate than their worldly peers. How would a potential Benedict Community possibly hope to avoid these pitfalls?
Thanks, Dave, for your provocative letter. I have not encountered any of this personally. I invite readers who have to share their strategies for dealing with it.
I think Dave’s experience — which I believe is real, let me be clear — is what a lot of Christians tell themselves that homeschooling and other forms of Ben Opping are going to be, as a way of relieving themselves from the responsibilities of raising faithful, morally sane children in this culture. Matt Walsh writes about that here. Excerpts:
Granted, there are still some parents who are utterly determined to guard their children’s hearts and protect their innocence at all costs. But I fear that this is a rather small group, and getting smaller. Every day, more and more of us put up the white flag. There is no use in fighting it, we say. Especially if it means our kids can’t watch much TV (meaning, horrifically, that we have to spend time with them). We bow our heads submissively and hand over our children. “Well, I tried,” we say. But we didn’t really try. We didn’t even try turning the TV off.
I hear from these surrendered parents all the time. They behave much like the apostate priests in the book “Silence,” trying to convince those who’ve retained their faith and their dignity to stop resisting and join them in their treason. These parents, looking at the children whose moral formation they have not concerned themselves with, rationalize their failures by declaring that it would be unrealistic and harmful to even attempt to raise their kids in a way that diverges from the mainstream. “You can’t keep your kids in a bubble,” they explain.
Ah, yes, the mythical Bubble. I encounter this supposedly pejorative phrase every day. Indeed, I’ve been told of the Bubble ever since my kids were born, and all I know about it for sure is that, according to most people, I must not let my children enter it. Christian parents are warned constantly that they can’t raise their kids in the Bubble. The Bubble is bad. The Bubble is scary. Children of the Bubble are weird and different, and they don’t get invited to sleepover parties.
At any rate, whenever I am accused of keeping my kids in a Bubble, it is always because I have taken some step to preserve their innocence. That is the one thing we absolutely must not do, according to society. Let the TV and the school system decide when its time for your child to stop being a child. That time, by the way, is right around their second birthday and getting younger.
Well, no thanks. I will proudly house my children in this kind of Bubble for as long as I can. They may have fewer friends and a less expansive knowledge of the most popular cartoon shows and sex acts when they emerge from it, but at least they will have their souls. That’s a pretty good trade, as far as I’m concerned.
UPDATE: Reader John comments:
I was homeschooled from 2nd through 12th grade and attended a college catering largely to homeschoolers, so I’ve had a lot of experience observing the phenomena you describe. I didn’t personally experience the controlling environment Dave Kuntz writes about — my parents are both STEM professionals who believed strongly in higher education — but I have many, many friends who were brought up in subcultures like the one he describes.
First, I think the dynamics Mr. Kuntz writes about are seriously affecting how many conservative evangelicals are responding to your Benedict Option proposals. Whether fairly or not, this kind of “hyper-control” is the specter that pops into people’s minds, because these groups have had an outsize presence in evangelical culture for the past few decades. I think the Benedict Option, properly understood, withstands this critique: it invokes the authority of the historic Christian tradition rather than the authority of one charismatic person. But that’s why people can’t get the “head for the hills and join my cult” caricature out of their heads.
Second, in my experience, the single biggest factor influencing whether “children of the bubble” remained in the faith was their degree of exposure to the historic Christian tradition – that is, basically anything prior to 1800. Many, many, many young Christians raised in these environments have no idea what Catholics believe, have never even heard of Eastern Orthodoxy, and don’t know what the “creeds” are. Long lost is the richness of the Christian theological-philosophical tradition – Augustine, the Eastern church fathers, Aquinas, and so forth. The intellectual figureheads of this subculture are shysters like Kent Hovind and David Barton.
In some ways, it’s a dark mirror of the Moralistic Therapeutic Deism you’ve written about at length: it claims to be
Moreover, the intellectual boundaries of these bubbles are rigorously policed. To maintain good standing in an environment heavily influenced by Independent Fundamental Baptist theology, you’re expected to embrace a whole host of positions that would’ve been unthinkable to Christians before the last couple centuries: six-day creation, anti-sacramentalism, dispensationalist eschatology, and so forth. When students brought up in these environments go off to college, scientific and historical research hits their faith like a sledgehammer. So many theological eggs have been placed in the Ken Ham basket that the whole edifice collapses as soon as real questions come up.
The overwhelming majority of my still-Christian friends who came from these “bubbles” have since gravitated to Catholicism or conservative Anglicanism or Lutheranism. I know many homeschooled ex-“bubblers,” however, who’ve walked away from Christianity entirely. The determining factor, in every case, has been the degree of engagement with “pre-American” Christianity.
“Pre-American Christianity” is a great designation.
UPDATE.2: Another reader e-mails:
I am a long-time reader of your blog, and I read the Benedict Option with great interest. I want to comment on your recent post, “Children of the Bubble”, as I have a great deal of experience dealing with these children.
Without going into too much detail, a substantial fraction of the children at our church have been home-schooled for some fraction of their lives, and some were home-churched as well. I can fully support Dave Kuntz’s assessment – these stories are not the exception, they are common. I’d say one-in-five or one-in-four.
To give one example: a family of six children decided to home-school their kids using the Bill Gothard curriculum, and the kids were subject to regular physical and verbal abuse. The primary causes were an angry and negligent father, and a controlling and neurotic mother. While it is likely that these issues would have arisen under any context, the fact remains that the Gothard curriculum installed a belief system that justified and enabled the parents’ abuse. The church was clueless; by all outward appearances, they were the model family. It was only until the police were called to their house by neighbors for domestic violence that the facade was shattered. I have been a mentor and teacher to some of the children for a few years, and I started a few years after this was discovered.
Because there are six children, there is a substantial age gap between them, and the older children were able to form a protective environment for the younger children. This is common in abusive families, and, as a result, the sibling bonds are incredibly strong, but also co-dependent. The older ones are more consciously-aware of the abuse and able to verbally process their pain, but the wounds are incredibly deep. However, as they age out of college and into the workforce, they are gaining more perspective and maturity. It remains to be seen if they will remain in the church. For at least one of them, the answer is decisively no. The younger ones remain in denial, they project cheerfulness but are quiet and timid. It will be sometime yet before they are willing to confront their anger and fear. (And yes, they and the entire family are in professional counseling; rest assured that I am very aware of my limitations as a lay leader in the church.)
This leads me to my greater point – the church has very little defense against sociopaths. A sociopath that can clothe his depredations with the right religious shibboleths will not be recognized or stopped until incredible damage is done. This includes abusive parents, “churchian” hucksters, and the real McCoy, narcissistic sociopathic pastors. To take a more secular-sociological analysis, the true-believers of a memetic system (such as Christianity), especially one that includes provisions such as “judge not, lest ye be judged”, “he who is without sin, cast the first stone” will have a difficult time discriminating and expelling impostors that are skilled at deploying defensive arguments within that meme structure.
This is doubly-true for home-schooled kids. Because they are in the “bubble”, they have been socialized among high-agreeableness, high-conformity, high-trust true-believers, and they have not learned to recognize predatory or sociopathic behavior. They are simply too trusting and too credulous, and this can be easily exploited by people both inside and outside their social circles.
As far as I can tell, the only defense for any church from sociopaths is to have people in the church who have experience swimming with the sharks. In other words, you need people who have proven themselves in the secular world, with high levels of competency and success by the standards of that world, who are placed in positions where they can serve as an early-warning against such people. They don’t need (and don’t really have the time to) be responsible for everyday church activities, but, like an immune system, can activate as necessary to repel sociopaths. They must establish trust with the body of the church prior to the attack, otherwise the sociopaths will too easily sway the church against them.
Our church has had to recently defend against an …. overly-ambitious, shall we say, pastoral intern. However, because our church has many very competent people in professional fields where dealing with sociopaths is routine, this person was put through a oversight process that lasted several months and led to his eventual resignation.
These experiences lead me to believe that the church must have one foot in each world. We must protect the innocence of children from the social insanities that lurk behind every glowing screen, yet we must also harden them for eventual battle against the same. The home-school bubbles fall prey to sociopaths from without and within. I personally think it is incumbent upon the lay leadership, the elders and deacons, to advise the (often somewhat sheltered) pastoral staff of these dangers, while still submitting to their spiritual leadership. There are many archetypes for this leadership model. The gentle and wise leader who appoints an energetic war-chief in times of conflict, or FDR and Eisenhower.
If you were sickened and horrified by the images of Nazis openly marching through a town and its university, brandishing weapons and symbols of mass extermination, please know that Donald Trump and his attorney general are attempting to enact and effectuate policies that ring in the key of “You will not replace us” every single day. Their programmatic efforts to disenfranchise minority voters, gerrymander minority voting districts, end affirmative action, ban transgender soldiers from serving in the military, increase deportations, curb immigration, and foment racially discriminatory policing, sentencing, and incarceration systems are all the modern-day equivalent of this week’s ugly battle cry, “You will not replace us.” The same courts that have largely thwarted such efforts over time are the ones Donald Trump now seeks to pack with racists and homophobes. If you cannot see a straight line between this project and that espoused by Richard Spencer and his “blood and soil” pals, please look again. If you don’t recognize the inspiration for James Alex Fields Jr., the man charged with ramming his car into protesters opposed to the alt-right and killing one of them, know that his mother told the Associated Press she believed he was simply going to support Trump, that he couldn’t possibly be a white supremacist. Because he had a black friend.
This is madness. Half the people who voted for president in this country voted for Donald Trump. Are every one of them closet Kluckers and crypto-Nazis? Really?! Of course they aren’t, not by a long shot. I didn’t vote for Trump, but most of my friends did, many of them with heavy hearts and great distaste, doing so only because they considered the alternative to be worse. These are people who are disgusted by what happened in Charlottesville, and who would no more cheer for a Klansman than they would a Maoist. But Dahlia Lithwick, a leading progressive journalist, cannot see half the people in her country — including my friends — as anything other than Nazi supporters. The reader who sent in Lithwick’s article writes:
Essentially, she says anyone not precisely as progressive as Dahlia Lithwick is a dangerous goon on the wrong side of history. Really? If that’s the case, and people have to choose… they might just choose. I am pretty sure nobody will like the outcome.
I disagree with quite a few of the Trump policies she mentions. But even in those instances, is it REALLY a direct line from the bumbling skinheads to Jeff Sessions? Great balls of fire. Look at that list of supposed evils. A desire to increase deportations is not an obviously wonderful policy. But isn’t it POSSIBLE to think that more robust enforcement of existing immigration laws is not “the modern day equivalent” of a Nazi battle cry? Is it POSSIBLE to have reservations about people with penises serving as women in the military without being a heartless bigot? Because until about three days ago, that was a policy that pretty much everyone on earth agreed with. ANY desire to “curb immigration” is, on it’s face, racist. And by the way, are there ANY measures meant to verify who people are at the voting booth that do not qualify as attempting to disenfranchise minority voters?
Is Neil Gorsuch a racist and a homophobe?
In her eyes? Yes.
I don’t want to be too glib here, but if Neil Gorsuch is a racist and a homophobe, if we can all agree that he is a racist and a homophobe, I guess I am OK being considered a racist and a homophobe.
If supporting Neil Gorsuch makes me a neo-Nazi … I guess I am a neo-Nazi.
You know, I really don’t think I am a neo-Nazi. But if that’s the standard that Dahlia Lithwick, Slate and polite society is going to set, I think that I and a lot of people are going to fall into that category.
Not so long ago you could disagree with someone on these major issues and still respect them. I thought Andrew Sullivan was wrong about SSM, but I thought that he was a smart guy who really challenged my position, made me think, etc. I did not think that he was a Dan Savage kind of radical. Such people existed, of course, but I could make those distinctions. I have long thought liberalizing drug laws made sense, but I never thought that all people who disagreed with me were Fascist dictators in waiting, eager to enslave another generation of inner-city people. I thought they were wrong. I thought some of them were disingenuous. But mostly I thought they were just wrong.
I think it is entirely possible for people to genuinely and sincerely disagree about the proper level of immigration to the country and how it should be administered.
Lithwick? Nope. Racist. Homophobe. Wrong side of history.
To me, long term, she’s just as dangerous as the losers marching through Charlottesville. She is BUILDING the goon squad who marched through the streets. Not so long ago, the policies she decries were the platform of the Democrats. Bill Clinton was against gays in the military, he was for more restrictive immigration, etc. Obama was against SSM.
Or were they? I think people have the sense, more and more, that they were lied to. Duped. Invited to the cool kid’s party, but as a joke. No they realize the nature of the game. And they are saying well, Ms. Lithwick, we tried to stay in tune with polite society. But if you are saying even these things make me a neo-Nazi, then F it. All the sh*t I was lying to you about is out the window now, too.
Again, I didn’t vote for Trump, but I support some of his policies. If the sanctimonious, witch-hunting progressives come for me and my friends, there’s no doubt on whose side I’ll be. Note well: fear of a Lithwick-style progressive persecution is exactly why many conservatives who don’t particularly like Trump voted for him. They saw a Hillary presidency as handing over the government to a left-wing culture warrior who sees them as “deplorable,” and therefore worth running over.
Another reader sent me a link to this piece from what appears to be a Miami-based conservative Christian blog. Notice this bit:
Third, this entire event lies outside the purview of Christians, even though the left wants to make white nationalism justification for persecuting us. Like a friend of mine says, “Not my circus, not my monkeys.” Christianity is not compatible with white nationalism or any other type of identity politics. It doesn’t matter if some of the racist nuts claim they’re Christians. The movement is not primarily Christian, and it does not have the backing of white Christians, generally.
This was not a battle of Christians versus “progressives.” It was two collections of Satan’s drones, pitted against each other for his amusement. Christians don’t have a dog in this fight.
Trump isn’t involved, either. Maybe most white nationalists support him. So what? Most people convicted of violent crimes support Democrats, as do most terrorists. Doesn’t make Hillary Clinton a murderer or terrorist.
People who go to rallies like this one, on both sides, should leave Jesus out of it. They certainly aren’t consulting him when they plan these disgraceful events.
The murderer is a wicked buffoon, and prison is better than what he deserves. The people who showed up at the rally to pepper-spray white supremacists are the devil’s puppets. White supremacy is a joke, and the tiny fringe group that keeps it alive is an embarrassment to everyone who uses sunblock. They need to go back to their Section 8 housing and part-time jobs at convenience stores and beg God for forgiveness.
As for Christians, this isn’t our party, but we will be presented with the bill. We are the Clevingers of the world. It doesn’t matter what we do or say. We will be blamed and attacked. “Christians are the problem” isn’t the conclusion. It’s the premise. Just like, “Jews are the problem.”
I had a funny thought the other day. I realized I would rather live among white racists than among progressives or in areas thick with minorities. At least white racists wouldn’t come after me. They wouldn’t see me as a threat; they would tend to give me the benefit of the doubt. I would be hassled less, unless I were put in a position where I had to speak up.
If I had to choose, I would rather live among alt-right nuts than in Baltimore. It’s not much of a choice, however.
People complain about “white flight,” especially in Miami, but the simple truth is that people leave places where they’re mistreated. This is why Chicago is full of black people; they moved there from places like Mississippi. “Black flight” isn’t even a recognized phrase, and if it were, who would criticize? I certainly wouldn’t. I would not want to live in a place where I had to get off the sidewalk when a person of another race passed by.
Here’s something else that’s sort of funny. A black friend will be house-sitting in my dad’s Miami house after we move. I’m going to leave him a signed document saying he has the right to be in the house, and I’ll put my contact information on it. Cubans have serious racial issues, and Cuban cops here are just too itchy. One hassled him the other day while he was riding his bicycle through the white neighborhood where he lives. I don’t want to have to come back to Miami and bail him out of jail once a week, because he has been arrested for serious crimes such as having an unregistered bicycle or walking on the wrong side of the street.
It would have been nice had integration been more successful, but we seem determined not to get along.
I’m moving to an area where, as far as I can tell, there are a lot of nice Christian people with good intentions. Supposedly, there is not much racial tension there. Hope I’m right.
To get back to the Virginia nightmare, I won’t bother to watch the news. I don’t have to. With leftists in charge, I can predict it.
Indeed. The key to interpreting the media coverage are these two tweets by Sheryl Gay Stolberg, who covered the events in Charlottesville for The New York Times:
Rethinking this. Should have said violent, not hate-filled. They were standing up to hate. https://t.co/3O9QpC0NQ3
— Sheryl Gay Stolberg (@SherylNYT) August 13, 2017
The conservative Christian author of that blog post despises white supremacists. But notice: “If I had to choose, I would rather live among alt-right nuts than in Baltimore” because “at least white racists wouldn’t come after me.” What people like Dahlia Lithwick are doing is teaching conservative people who can’t stand the alt-right to sympathize to some degree with them, because unlike the Dahlia Lithwicks of the world, the alt-right won’t come after them. Actually, the alt-right will, if they ever get power; the Nazis persecuted dissident Christians. The point here is that if Lithwick and her allies insist that every Trump voter in this country is a fascist, and if they write and broadcast as if all the states in Red America are 1934 Bavaria, they will send many more of them into the welcoming arms of the alt-right.
The Lithwicks are living in a dangerous bubble. I’m serious. They are feeding a movement that they rightly loathe, but the potential appeal of which they do not understand.
UPDATE: Go to Twitter and read the great thread that starts with this tweet:
I’m worried that the Charlottesville riots are breaking the left psychologically in the same way that Trump’s election broke them. 1/
— Robert Tracinski (@Tracinski) August 13, 2017
His argument is that there are lots of people who want to be united against white nationalism, but the Left, by demonizing anyone to the right of them as Nazi, is making this issue “repellently partisan.” He’s right about that.
UPDATE.2: I’m not going to post comments accusing me of blaming the alt-right on leftists. I do no such thing. I have been crystal-clear on this blog in calling on conservatives to condemn white supremacy with no equivocation. The point I’m making here is that some on the Left speak and act in ways that make it harder for us all to unite against the racialist right. I’m not blaming the Left for creating the alt-right, but I am saying that many on the Left inadvertently give it fuel. If you wish to speak to that point, please do. If you want to mischaracterize my views and this post, save your time, because I’m not going to approve the comment. — RD]
Charlottesville is the kind of America that identity politics is calling into being. It’s time for straight talk about that.
On the Right, the story is fairly straightforward. Neo-Nazis, white nationalists, and their ilk have to be condemned in no uncertain terms, and marginalized. The president’s coy rhetoric, dancing around these people for fear of alienating them, has to end. (I don’t expect it to end, but others on the Right need to speak up to condemn him.)
It is not enough for conservative politicians and thought leaders to condemn these incidents. In their rhetoric, they need to start criticizing the principles of identity politics, across the board. They should emphasize what unites us as Americans. And this: pastors and other leaders within the church have to start teaching clearly and directly on this front. More than that, they have to recognize that racial tribalism is a strong god — a false one, but a strong one. The mild, therapeutic God that they preach, teach, and proclaim is weak in the face of it. Don’t misunderstand: I’m not talking about the actual God of the Bible. I’m talking about the way our priests, pastors, religious teachers, and families present Him to their flocks — especially their young men.
There’s a great book coming out in November — oh, how I wish it were available now! — called God Is Not Nice, by the Catholic theologian and college professor Ulrich Lehner. It’s a shocking title, but it’s meant to be: Lehner wants to wake up the church. It’s a broadside against Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, and the way every institution in our culture — including many churches and families — think of God (“as some kind of divine therapist … a psychiatrist who treats each of his patients the same way, a friend whom we can call in times of need”).
“Why change your life for such a God?” Lehner asks. “He makes no demands.”
Lehner writes that “we all need the vaccine of knowing the true transforming and mysterious character of God: the God who shows up in burning bushes, speaks through donkeys, drives demons into pigs, throws Saul to the ground, and appears to St. Francis. It’s only this God who has the power to challenged us, change us, and make our lives dangerous. He sweeps us into a great adventure that will make us into different people.”
Christians: if you don’t want to lose your sons to the false god of white nationalism, then you had better introduce them (and yourselves) to the God of the Bible, who is rather different from the God of the comfortable American middle class.
It is widely acknowledged among conservative Christians today that the white church in the South failed terribly in the civil rights era. The failure was not primarily because they stood for white supremacy (though some did). The failure was mostly because the churches did not preach against white supremacy, preferring instead to stay neutral, and cultivate an ethos that was suited to supporting the Southern white middle class at prayer.
Today, I am aware of young white men who attend comfortable middle-class churches, but who identify as white nationalists. I doubt very much their parents or their pastors know. But it’s happening. These aren’t young men who have been downtrodden by society; that would at least give some sort of social and economic rationale for their race radicalism. These are relatively privileged young men. Why do they find no anchor in the church? Why is the god of racial nationalism more appealing to them than the God of the Bible?
Finally, we on the Right have to start speaking out without fear against identity politics — and calling out people on the Left, especially those within institutions, for practicing it. The alt-right has correctly identified a hypocritical double standard in American culture. It’s one that allows liberals and their favored minority groups to practice toxic identity politics — on campus, in the media, in corporate America, on the streets — while denying the possibility to whites and males. By speaking out against left-wing identity politics, and by explaining, over and over, why identity politics are wrong and destructive, conservatives strengthen their position in chastising white nationalists on the Right.
But none of this will matter at all as long as the Left refuses to oppose identity politics in its own ranks. As I keep saying here, you cannot have an identity politics of the Left without calling up the same thing on the Right. Left-liberals who want conservatives to stigmatize and denounce white nationalism, but conservatives who do so will be sneered at by white nationalists as dupes and fools who advocate disarmament in the face of racist, sexist forces of the Left.
When the Left indulges in rhetoric that demonizes whites — especially white males — it summons the demons of white nationalism.
When the Left punishes white males who violate its own delicate speech taboos, while tolerating the same kind of rhetoric on its own side, it summons the demons of white nationalism.
When the Left obsesses over ethnic, sexual, and religious minorities, but ignores the plight of poor and working-class whites, it summons the demons of white nationalism.
When the Left institutionalizes demonization of white males in college classes, in political movements, in the media and elsewhere, it summons the demons of white nationalism.
When the Left attributes moral status, and moral goodness, to persons based on their race, their sex, their sexual orientation, or any such thing, it summons up the demons of white nationalism.
When the Left refuses to condemn the violent antifa protesters, and treats their behavior as no big deal, it summons the demons of white nationalism.
When the Left refuses to stand firm against aggressive manifestations of illiberalism — like we have seen over the past several years on certain college campuses — it summons the demons of white nationalism.
When the Left encourages within its ranks identification as a victim, and stirs up political passions based on perception that one is a victim of other groups in society, it summons the demons of white nationalism.
And on and on. The problem is not pointing out perceived injustices and inequities that afflict people of particular groups. This is a normal part of politics. The problem is in teaching people to identify passionately and wholly with their own tribe, to think of themselves and others in their tribe as innocent victims of the Enemy, and to conflate the interest of their tribe with the common good. In his new book The Once And Future Liberal, the liberal scholar Mark Lilla argues that identity politics is a dead end. In this passage, he talks about how corrupting identity politics is to college students. In this passage, he invites his reader to consider a young, politics-minded student entering a liberal college environment today:
She is at the age when the quest for meaning begins and in a place where her curiosity could be directed outward toward the larger world she will have to find a place in. Instead, she finds that she is being encouraged to plumb mainly herself, which seems an easier exercise. (Little does she know. …) She will first be taught that understanding herself depends on exploring the different aspects of her identity, something she now discovers she has. An identity which, she also learns, has already been largely shaped for her by various social and political forces. This is an important lesson, from which she is likely to draw the conclusion that the aim of education is not to progressively become a self through engagement with the wider world. Rather, one engages with the world and particularly politics for the limited aim of understanding and affirming what one already is.
And so she begins. She takes classes where she reads histories of the movements related to whatever she decides her identity is, and reads authors who share that identity. (Given that this is also an age of sexual exploration, gender studies will hold a particular attraction.) In these courses she also discovers a surprising and heartening fact: that although she may come from a comfortable, middle-class background, her identity confers on her the status of one of history’s victims. This discovery may then inspire her to join a campus groups that engages in movement work. The line between self-analysis and political action is now fully blurred. Her political interest will be real but circumscribed by the confines of her self-definition. Issues that penetrate those confines now take on looming importance and her position on them quickly becomes non-negotiable; those issues that don’t touch on her identity are not even perceived. Nor are the people affected by them.
Notice the last two lines in that passage. It explains why those on the Left most committed to identity politics make themselves blind to those outside their circles. They have little to no idea how others perceive them. The kind of identity politics dramas that work on college campuses or other highly liberal polities are not only ineffective in more moderate to conservative polities, they are positively harmful. Again: you cannot hold that identity politics is fine for non-white, LGBT, non-Christian people, but forbidden to those outside the circle of the Sacred Victims, without unavoidably providing a justification to all others in the polity to organize and advocate along the same lines.
And there’s this:
Rethinking this. Should have said violent, not hate-filled. They were standing up to hate. https://t.co/3O9QpC0NQ3
— Sheryl Gay Stolberg (@SherylNYT) August 13, 2017
Wrong, wrong, wrong. This is where ordinary liberals go off the rails. This attitude justifies violence as long as it’s being committed by people whose cause they agree with, against people whose cause they hate. It is exactly at this point — construing left-wing hate as a virtue — that conservatives are tempted to stop caring what kind of violence the fascists visit on leftists. People on the Right who don’t sympathize with the those thugs get so sick of this double standard by the media and other left-wing institutions that they may cease giving a damn what kind of damage the extremists do.
Few people on the Left want to hear any of this, because the ethos of the Left is so heavily characterized by identity politics, and the sense of righteousness on which it feeds. But they had better recognize that there are a lot of white males in this country, and it benefits no one to push them toward radicalization around race consciousness. Thirty-one percent of the US population is white and male. The percentage of whites relative to non-whites is declining, and demographers expect the US to become a majority-minority country in the 2040s. If America is going to manage this transition into greater pluralism without a rise in racial hatred and violence, people on both the Left and the Right have to abandon identity politics, and stigmatize it.
We had better find some other way to bind Americans together, and to conceive of a common good, or what happened in Charlottesville is a picture of our nation’s future. Given how both parties, and the strongest forces in American culture, have formed the moral imagination of all Americans around the individual Self and its desires, I have my doubts as to whether or not we can pull it off. But if we don’t try, the alternative is Charlottesville, and beyond that, Yugoslavia as it broke apart.
If you think the responsibility for preventing that future is exclusively on the Left or exclusively on the Right, you’re lying to yourself, and not without consequence.
UPDATE: Philadelphia’s Catholic Archbishop, Charles Chaput, gets it right in his public statement:
Racism is a poison of the soul. It’s the ugly, original sin of our country, an illness that has never fully healed. Blending it with the Nazi salute, the relic of a regime that murdered millions, compounds the obscenity. Thus the wave of public anger about white nationalist events in Charlottesville this weekend is well warranted. We especially need to pray for those injured in the violence.
But we need more than pious public statements. If our anger today is just another mental virus displaced tomorrow by the next distraction or outrage we find in the media, nothing will change. Charlottesville matters. It’s a snapshot of our public unraveling into real hatreds brutally expressed; a collapse of restraint and mutual respect now taking place across the country. We need to keep the images of Charlottesville alive in our memories. If we want a different kind of country in the future, we need to start today with a conversion in our own hearts, and an insistence on the same in others. That may sound simple. But the history of our nation and its tortured attitudes toward race proves exactly the opposite.
UPDATE.2: Great comment from reader Brendan:
I agree with the diagnosis of the problem, but I do not think that identity politics are going away, for several reasons.
The first, and most important/intractable, is that the left’s intellectual leadership is “all in” on identity politics. They see it as a moral imperative to achieving justice, and that abandoning it would lead to perpetuating injustice. You and I disagree with them, but they hold their views with a religious-like fervor, and these views constitute, in many cases, a core part of their self-esteem and self-conception as virtuous people. They will not abandon this — instead, in the wake of things like C’Ville and Portland, they will double down, and double down again.
Second, as you rightly say, because of my first point, ID politics on the right is going to bloom. It’s just getting started, and the doubling down that is certain to come from the left will stoke that growth even further. It is a dysfunctional feedback loop, to be certain, but I do not think it can be stopped, because the academic/cultural “pump” that drives it will refuse to turn itself off.
Third, for people on the political right who are not Christians (more on us [Christians] below), the idea of railing against identity politics will increasingly seem to be folly. The reason is that, as you say, it is *powerful*. The last several federal elections have been won (and lost) on identity politics and “who can get out their (identity) base” better. This is real and raw power. And that is the greatest intoxicant known to man. Secular conservatives will be split between the “principled” ones who reject this, and the “pragmatic” (i.e., “want to win”) ones who accept it, for a time. In the medium term, the folks who want to win will prevail (the raison d’etre of any political movement, after all, is to win) and they will increasingly embrace this, because it will be obvious that it is the only way to consistently challenge the left in federal elections, especially as we keep on importing left wing voters that continue to grow the left’s identitarian base.
For Christians the issue is easy, I think. Identity politics are evil and divisive and do not reflect the will of God, whether you are white, black, straight, gay or what have you. It is evil. But this requires a perspective that is aloof from “winning”, which I think is the appropriate perspective for Christians to have politically, anyway. We will know that our principled stand is right, morally, but we will also know that it dooms us to totalitarian identity politics of the left which will likely seek to utterly eliminate us at some stage. This is the difficulty of the Christian walk, I think, in this time, and one of the reasons why we need to have something like the BenOp, because in order to embrace this path of principled defeat, and even perhaps annihilation, we will need to be strong in an interior sense, personally, as individuals — much stronger than most of us are today.
I appreciate you saying this, Brendan. Like you, I am quite pessimistic that identity politics will go away. I was going to save that for another post. I think if we are going to avoid some terrible kind of conflagration in the next decade or two, we need to come together to do the things that I’m talking about in this post. But I don’t think that’s going to happen. I hope I’m wrong.