The Shame Of The Conformists
I’m not on Facebook, but Facebook, for some reason, will not let me delete my page there. If you have tried to write me on FB, I have not seen my page for over a year. It really is the Hotel California: you can check in, but you can never leave. Anyway, I say that because a reader sent me this piece from Prof. Robby George’s Facebook page today:
In his deeply thoughtful commentary on the piece Ryan Anderson and I have out in USA Today, Rod Dreher says the following about the redefinition of marriage, the decline of sexual morality, and the erosion of people’s basic understanding of sexuality:
“George and Anderson, and all of us who consider ourselves their allies, failed to stop this thing. But this failure ought to be judged as a loss in a war that was unwinnable. George and Anderson fought harder than almost anybody, and with real moral and intellectual excellence. But they, and their allies (I include myself in this number, though my contributions have been very modest compared to theirs), were the equivalent of the mythical Polish cavalry charging into the face of the Wehrmacht. (This didn’t actually happen, but it’s a powerful symbol nonetheless.) We trads were having to fight nothing less than modernity, with its valorization of the sovereign individual, its technocracy, its abandonment of God and transcendence, and an economic force (capitalism) that is both powered by these factors, and also magnifies them. It obliterates everything in its path.”
Okay, that was Rod. Now back to me (Robby):
I don’t agree that the war was unwinnable. (In fact, I don’t believe it is permanently lost, though obviously those of us who believe in marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife and who uphold basic understandings of sexuality and norms of sexual morality have been knocked back on our heels–hard.) What has been missing on the “conservative” or “traditional” side is not something that was unavailable to us. Rather, it was something too many conservatives or traditionalists (or whatever you want to call us) failed to muster. People could have mustered it, but too many didn’t. What am I referring to? Courage. What has been in short supply is courage.
Our opponents sensed that many of our people lacked it and they did what savvy–and ruthless–people would do in that circumstance: they ran a campaign of intimidation, smearing anyone who opposed their agenda as a bigot and a hater. This was comparatively easy to do because they had managed early on to gain something approaching a monopoly on what David Brooks (who himself supported and supports the redefinition of marriage) rightly calls “cultural power.” They controlled the commanding heights of culture: the universities, the news and (very importantly) entertainment media, the arts and their institutions, the major professional associations, mainline religion, even (they discovered) most of the corporate board rooms.
So when push came to shove, many, many supporters of marriage and traditional understandings of sexuality and sexual morality yielded to the bullying or at least abandoned the field. While left-wing (and even one or two otherwise right-wing) millionaires and billionaires poured money into referenda and legislative battles to redefine marriage, many, many well-to-do Christians (fearful of adverse consequences for themselves and their businesses of contributing money to the pro-marriage cause) declined to give. Some gave anonymously, but when one or two of these were “outed” and vilified by the left, others became too frightened even to do that. This was cowardice. For a longtime, the pro-marriage forces won most of these battles despite being massively outspent. But eventually the huge disparities in funding paid off for the marriage redefiners and for people who wanted to reorient education in ways that would advance the sexual liberationist agenda. Since politics is NOT downstream from culture (or, rather, since that slogan is at best a half truth) and political and legal developments partially shape culture–by influencing people’s understandings and beliefs–and don’t just reflect it, political victories paid huge dividends. They even paid off on the legal side of things. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy would never have pulled the trigger, providing the fifth vote for the absurd idea that the Constitution requires legal recognition of same-sex sexual partnerships as marriages, had the ground not been prepared by political victories (and the movement in their wake of a significant segment of public opinion).
The victories that were won leading to the current situation (in which polyamory is being mainstreamed and physically healthy thirteen-year old girls are being subjected to hormone treatments and mastectomies because they believe they are actually boys trapped in girls’ bodies) were NOT inevitable. They were won because too many people on the other side failed to muster the courage to fight. They cowered in fear. They stood on the sidelines. They wanted “other people” to do the work, contribute the money, stand boldly for what is true and good and right and justice. But there weren’t enough “other people.”
Someone might say, “this is no time for recriminations.” Well, I don’t agree. This is precisely the time for recriminations. Indeed, there was never a better time. Standing boldly for what is true and good and right and just is everybody’s job. It’s not just “other people’s” job. Especially to my fellow Christians I say, it is OUR job. It comes with the Gospel territory. You say “it’s hard”? Of course, it’s hard. But who ever told you that Christian discipleship was not going to be hard? Or risky? Or costly? Not Jesus, that’s for sure. He told us–in the most explicit terms–that it was going to be hard–very hard–and risky, and costly. What did he say exactly? “Whoever would be my disciple let him take up his cross and follow me.”
Every time you or I or anyone else fails to muster the courage to do what’s right, what God is calling us to do, there is behind that failure a still deeper failure: a failure of love. Moral norms and requirements are not abstract rules or arbitrary commandments. Their content is shaped by the human goods that these norms and requirements protect, preserve, uphold, and advance–the goods of flesh and blood human beings–ourselves and our precious brothers and sisters in the human family–whom we are called on to love and serve. We seek to preserve marriage–the real thing–for example because of the profound respects in which a flourishing marriage culture serves and benefits all members of the community–beginning with children. We need courage, we need to muster the courage, to love as we should–self-sacrificially.
That was a good piece, and I’m grateful to Prof. George for having written it. I may argue with him about whether or not the fight was winnable — I don’t concede ground here — but I have absolutely no argument with him that we religious and social conservatives were burdened in our resistance by a massive failure of moral courage, especially among the leadership class. And we still are.
Are there any Republicans in Congress will take up with gusto the fight for religious liberty, or against the mutilation of children by gender ideology, or any other manifestation of cultural radicalism? Where are the priests and pastors who will? Where are the courageous laity, especially those in a position of authority, whose words and deeds might mean something?
I’ve told this story here before, I’ll tell it again. Several years ago, when the California legislature was considering legislation that would have had the effect of compelling Christian colleges to compromise their principles on homosexuality, or be forced to shut down because state scholarship money would be disallowed there, a coalition of religious educators came together to fight for those schools’ right to exist. An Evangelical academic who was at the heart of that fight told me that they appealed to pastors and lay leaders in the vast Evangelical landscape of Orange County. Come help us. We are trying to save our schools. Few, if any, did; they were all terrified that some liberal might call them bigots.
They barely won, the Christians. This academic, who is white, told me that if not for the involvement of the Catholic Archbishop Gomez, and black Pentecostal pastors from Los Angeles, they probably would have lost. All those comfortable middle-class suburban Christians refused to stand or in any way to raise their voices.
The Social Justice Warriors have our number. They know that most of us won’t put anything on the line for our beliefs. They know that we are conformists.
In Prague last year, I interviewed a man who was a college student when communism collapsed. He told me that he knew fellow students whose parents had compromised at length with the communist government to open doors for them (the students) — and they hated their parents for it! Even though these young adults had been the beneficiaries of their parents’ cooperation with immorality in power, they resented their parents for having compromised to make their own lives easier.
I was reading Dante’s Inferno this week with my 15 year old, for his class. Outside the gates of Hell, a vast mob runs back and forth, chasing a blank flag, stung by wasps and consumed by worms. These are the people who never took a side, either with God or with Satan. In their lukewarmness, neither Heaven nor Hell wants them. Many, many conservative Christians today would fit right in there.