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Playing Culture War Chicken

What is it with progressives and Chick-fil-A? David French says their vitriolic obsession with the purveyor of delicious fried chicken is a sign of things to come. Excerpts:

Every single time I grow even slightly more optimistic about the state of American polarization and the prospects for true American tolerance, I get disappointed. Every time I think that we could perhaps see the light at the end of the tunnel of the culture wars, I’m reminded that it’s just another oncoming train. And at the risk of saturating readers with analysis of the renewed Chick-fil-A controversy, I think it’s worth describing why this latest revival of hatred for a chicken restaurant is an ominous harbinger of an even more divisive national cultural debate.

Why? Leave aside, says French (a lawyer), the fact that these Chick-fil-A bans passed by city councils and the like are “flagrantly unconstitutional.” Their deeper meaning is that

  1. Chick-fil-A is being targeted because it gives corporate money to neutral, anodyne church groups like the Salvation Army. This is part of a more general progressive attack on religious people, e.g., Karen Pence, simply for teaching in a school progressives deem to be a bigot academy
  2. These attacks aren’t coming only from left-wing elites, but now from left-wing mobs
  3. They never come from the federal government, but from local governments, universities, and corporations.
  4. “And this brings us to the third negative trend. It would be bad enough if this pervasive intolerance were confined to the workspace, but progressive corporations and governments are increasingly using power to attempt to expunge disfavored ideas from the public square.”

Read it all. 

French points out that Chick-fil-A has, in fact, dialed back on its giving to organizations that raise the ire of progressives. But French retains confidence that “America’s traditional religious believers will not be bullied out of their deepest beliefs.”

I hope he’s right, but I’m much less confident, and I’ll tell you why.

I just spent the weekend in the Boston area, among faithful orthodox Catholics, and even a few Evangelicals and Orthodox. We talked at length about the immense challenges Christians who dissent from LGBT dogma face in that state, both legally and culturally. One mom said to me, “I envy you being able to raise your kids in the South” — meaning in a culture where traditional Christian beliefs aren’t under constant legal and cultural attack.  She’s right, and I found myself wishing that small-o orthodox Christians from the South could be listening to these conversations, so they could be put on notice about how bad things could get for us — and probably will, because things here in the South are much less favorable than even many conservative Southerners think.

I don’t see that most Christians in this country have what it takes to endure what’s coming. Some do, and will, but we are not ready for it. In Massachusetts, if you in any way identify as opposed to the full panoply of LGBT rights, or even doubtful of them, you become an instant pariah. And depending on your profession, there will be major consequences. I’m not going to give any details here, because everybody spoke to me in confidence. Truly, though, it was like talking to people in a country that is not America, where to be known as a dissenter is to open yourself and your business to persecution.

Two of the many conversations I had were with Catholic adults in their 50s, both accomplished professionals in their fields, both fighting back tears as they talked about what it’s like there.

Will those people surrender? Never. But that’s because they know their faith, and they are prepared to suffer for it — and have been doing. There is no way, though, that any orthodox Christian who is less than fully committed, in a consciously sacrificial spirit, is going to hold on to his or her faith through what’s coming. The cost — social and professional — is going to be too high. Not only that, but the new normal, particularly around transgender, is, and is becoming, so pervasive that David French’s “traditional religious believers” will come to doubt their own sanity. Certainly their children will doubt what they’re taught at home. I had more than a few conversations this past weekend with parents of young children who are making exit preparations from their home state if they conclude that the environment is too toxic for their children.

They’re right to do so. But in the end, it’s all about bettering one’s odds. There is no escaping this completely. As one parent told me, “Lot had to be carried out of the city by the angels, but he and his daughters escaped. But still, look what happened to them in the cave.” He meant that though Lot and his family got out of Sodom before the destruction, his daughters carried enough of Sodom with them such that they incited acts of incest with their father in their refuge. The meaning here is that there is no secure sanctuary from what is upon us.

In her new book Surveillance Capitalism, Shoshana Zuboff says that under the new digital regime, the ancient “right to sanctuary” — a deep human need to believe that there is always a place we can go to escape whatever we find intolerable — will have been eliminated. Zuboff is not writing about social conservatism; she’s writing about the new form of capitalism that has emerged from Internet technology, and how it will  shape society. I just started the book last night, and will be writing more about it when I finish. In the introduction, Zuboff writes that we find it difficult to resist what’s happening in part because nothing like this has ever happened before — not even in the totalitarian countries. She writes:

A reader in Washington state e-mailed last night to say that his four-year-old grandchild had to register yesterday for public school kindergarten starting this fall, in their small town. On the registration form, the grandchild had to be designated “male,” “female,” or “transgender.” This is not Boston; this is small-town Washington. The normalization of the abnormal, which makes fighting the unprecedented even more of an uphill climb.

Read David French’s article. The latest round in the Chick-fil-A fight comes after the philanthropic arm of the company gave donations to the Salvation Army, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and a Christian home for troubled youth. Even that is intolerable to progressives. We live in a society in which a chicken restaurant is attacked for giving money to the Salvation Army. Think about that. We live in a society in which major corporations set their hooks into people in thousands of different ways every day, most of which people don’t even know, and if they do know, they shrug off as the cost of convenience.

Unable to imagine their own destruction, they reckoned that those strange creatures were gods, and welcomed them with intricate rituals of hospitality. Yes. This line will ring in my mind every time I see fellow conservative Christians giving their children smartphones, for example. We contemporary orthodox Christians, we think we’re fine, especially if we don’t live in aggressively progressive places like Massachusetts or California. We can’t imagine our own destruction. Within a generation or two, we won’t have to imagine anything.


about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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