Home/Rod Dreher/The Stark Reality Of Post-Christian America

The Stark Reality Of Post-Christian America

Ghosts. (Patrick Dinneen/GettyImages)

One big reason that I am frustrated with Trump’s attempts to hold on to office by any means necessary is that it impedes, and maybe even discredits, the urgent and necessary cause of building a credible, competent, and effective opposition to the cultural revolution that the Left is leading throughout the institutions of our society. I believe there are plenty of commonsense people who are more towards the left in their economic thinking, but who are sick and tired of the ideological insanity that has conquered leftist elites. Edie Wyatt is one such person in Australia; there are bound to be more than a few people like her in America. But if opposing the crazies on the Left means signing up for a tour of duty in Trump Army, they won’t do it.

A reader sent this blog entry by Steve Hayward, writing at Powerline. 

And in response to my item yesterday about the cuts starting to happen to tenured faculty in the liberal arts at several universities, another reader passes along two current job ads in political science from Butler University that make the rot explicit:

The Butler University Department of Political Science invites applications for a tenure-track assistant professor with expertise in contemporary political theory. The candidate should have a strong commitment to excellent, inclusive undergraduate teaching and an active scholarly agenda. We are particularly interested in candidates whose scholarship and teaching engages critical, transnational, or global political theory beyond the conventional Western canon such as indigenous, decolonial, modernity/coloniality, Black, or Latin American political thought, and who can offer one or more courses suitable for Core Curriculum Social Justice and Diversity designation.

The Department of Political Science at Butler University invites applications for a full-time non-tenure-track lecturer for a two-year appointment with possibility of renewal. Applicants should have a strong commitment to excellent, inclusive undergraduate teaching. We are particularly interested in candidates whose teaching and scholarship engages intersectional, abolitionist, or critical historical institutional perspectives on race/ethnicity/indigeneity, gender/sexuality, and politics in the United States and potentially beyond it. The successful candidate will teach lower-level and upper-level undergraduate political science courses (including an introductory American politics survey), will contribute to the Core Curriculum, and will help build an inclusive learning environment for our increasingly diverse student population. This faculty member could choose to affiliate with the International Studies; Peace and Conflict Studies; Race, Gender, and Sexuality Studies; and/or Science, Technology, and Environmental Studies interdisciplinary programs.

Like the news media, large parts of academia have chosen sides and don’t even pretend to be neutral any more. And the side they’ve chosen is not one that wishes the country well.

Memo to parents of high school students interested possibly in studying political science in college: Scratch Butler University off your list of prospective colleges.

Truth. Why would you pay money to have your child indoctrinated by militant wokeness? If you were a student, why would you go into debt to learn how to hate your culture and your people (or other people with whom you share this country)? These ideological maniacs are trying to destroy what we have been given. Universities used to be repositories of culture; now, like the laborers of Saruman’s smithy, they produce the anti-culture.

Another reader sends in this item about the new Rhodes Scholars, and how the prestigious program has gone full woke. Excerpt:

The 2021 Rhodes class, announced in late November, is such an orgy of left-wing identity politics it would be impossible to parody.

“This year’s American Rhodes Scholars—independently elected by 16 committees around the country meeting simultaneously—reflect the remarkable diversity that characterizes and strengthens the United States. Twenty-one of the 32 are students of color; ten are Black, equal to the greatest number ever elected in one year in the United States. Fifteen are first-generation Americans or immigrants; and one is a Dreamer with active DACA status. Seventeen of the winners are women, 14 are men, and one is nonbinary. These young Americans will go to Oxford next October to study in fields broadly across the social, biological and physical sciences, the humanities, and public policy. They are leaders already, and we are confident that their contributions to public welfare globally will expand exponentially over the course of their careers.” [Rhodes Trust]

Of course, the scholarship winners don’t reflect the diversity of America in the slightest. What they reflect is the political obsessions of those running the Rhodes Scholarship.

Maybe so, and if true, this is a forecast of the coming elites in US society. Always, always, always pay attention to the elites, because they are going to be controlling the institutions of our country in the future. And you know, if our universities surrender a commitment to real scholarship to embrace leftist ideology, then they should not be supported. Let them die; their deaths will be ruled a suicide. The corruption of the elites is a reason why there will continue to be a populist movement in America.

I totally get voting for Trump as a middle finger to these people. But let’s be serious: that’s not the same thing as effectively fighting them. Ask yourself: are the woke and their ideology more in control of American institutions in 2020 than they were in 2016? If so, why? Might the answer tell us something about the importance of having conservative political leaders who understand how to use power effectively, instead of performatively? And might the answer tell us something about the relative value of politics?

In the end, though, conservatives have to understand that we are playing a weak hand, because the culture has moved away from us. Ross Douthat has a good piece in National Review about this, in which he mentions why the Ahmari-French debate offers false (or at least only partial) solutions to the crisis, because both are political, when the core of the crisis is cultural — which is to say, religious. Douthat:

You can see the great intra-Christian debate on the right during the Trump era, the famous Sohrab Ahmari–David French battle, as an attempt to figure out how to deal with this reality — with Ahmari counseling a renewed attempt to use government’s power over culture to seize the ground that the prior iterations of Catholic-Evangelical-Jew failed to claim and hold, and French offering the alternative hope of pluralism and peaceful coexistence in a country without any clear religious center, any culturally established faith.

The problem with French’s prescription is that pluralism depends on decentralized institutions, and the centralizing forces in American institutional life right now — in media, education, politics — are extremely difficult to resist. Meanwhile American social life is atomizing in many ways, and local life especially — and that pull and push means that structurally the country almost seems to want a new religious center, a magnet to pull our lonely individual selves back together, to forge community and a sense of the common good in the only smithies still in operation.

But the difficulty with Ahmari’s prescription is that most of the people who work in those national smithies simply prefer woke ideas to traditional religious ones, or at least still tilt away from anything resembling cultural conservatism when pressed to choose a side. I find traditional Christianity more coherent and plausible and belief-inspiring than secular liberalism or woke-progressive zeal. But I have also seen enough in my career as a professional arguer to doubt that the more-effective use of judicial or admini­strative power will in­duce a critical mass of culture-workers and culture-shapers to see the world my way.

Douthat says things won’t turn around until the elites begin to return to Christianity in large numbers. Maybe, says Douthat, we aren’t awaiting a new, and doubtless very different, Saint Benedict, or a new Constantine, but instead a Saint Paul.

Look around you at our universities: they are falling into intellectual ruin. The post-Christian culture is freefalling into decadence. If we await a new St. Paul, then he will have to be formed by disciplined communities of study and practice. The Benedict Option is in part for building and maintaining the enclosed gardens in which the St. Pauls of tomorrow can be nurtured. (If you don’t like the monastery analogy, then think of what we have to build as akin to the church forests of Ethiopia.) And, Live Not By Liesis about something more immediate: grasping that a new form of totalitarianism is coming fast upon us, and that we have to take certain actions right now if we want to get through it without capitulating on our integrity.

I guess the thing that winds me up, and why I always bang on about items about, for example, the rot in academic culture, is because so little attention is paid to it on the Right. At the present time, one of the most important movements for defending cultural memory are classical Christian schools. These are schools where they teach the Romans, the Greeks, the medievals, and the treasures of our civilization. My kids either attend or have attended one. This movement is growing, and it’s usually doing what it does on a shoestring budget, because rich conservatives — and not-so-rich conservatives — don’t give money to it. Donald Trump’s PAC has raised over $200 million since Election Day. It is breathtaking to contemplate what classical Christian schools could do with that money!

From The Benedict Option:

 “Education has to be at the core of Christian survival—as it always was,” says Michael Hanby, a professor of religion and philosophy of science at Washington’s Pontifical John Paul II Institute. “The point of monasticism was not simply to retreat from a corrupt world to survive, though in various iterations that might have been a dimension of it,” he continues. “But at the heart of it was a quest for God. It was that quest that mandated the preservation of classical learning and the pagan tradition by the monks, because they loved what was true and what was beautiful wherever they found it.”

As crucial as cultural survival is, Hanby warns that Christians cannot content themselves with merely keeping their heads above water within liquid modernity. We have to search passionately for the truth, reflect rigorously on reality, and in so doing, come to terms with what it means to live as authentic Christians in the disenchanted world created by modernity. Education is the most important means for accomplishing this.

“Retaining the imagination necessary to see or to search for God is going to be an indispensable element in the preservation of true freedom and Christian freedom when our freedom under law becomes more and more limited,” Hanby says.

It is important to vote for wise and capable political leaders. But that’s not the answer to this crisis. If I were on the cultural Left, I would be thrilled to watch all the passion and resources from the cultural Right go into propping up Donald Trump. In the end, it makes the Left’s triumph more likely. Wanting to fight intelligently, and for the long run, is not the same as defeatism, no matter what the cranks and hotheads tell you. What does it serve a man to win the White House and the Congress, but to lose the souls of his children to the faith? That is the question every conservative Christian ought to be asking right now.

Let me offer you something interesting that I found on Twitter:

The anti-culture is not only among the strongholds of the Woke, you know.

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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