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Training For Resistance

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Merriam-Webster’s defines winsome as “generally pleasing and engaging often because of a childlike charm and innocence.” It’s a word you hear a lot in Evangelical circles, describing the attitude Christians should have (it is said) towards the world — this, as opposed to one of anger and dourness. And they’re right about that. It is possible, even necessary, to love Jesus without being mad about it. Christians treat others, even one’s enemies, with respect because that’s what we are commanded to do.

But if anyone thinks that winsomeness is going to disarm the despisers of Christianity, they are in for a shock. They don’t hate us for our temperament. They hate us because of what we believe.

Writing in the Washington Post, Barton Swaim wonders whether the left, having won the culture war, will be merciful. Excerpts:

True, many religious social conservatives still think it’s their duty to take America back, their disposition expressed in the fierce eloquence of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). But many do not. Many have finally given up on the whole idea of a culture war or are willing to admit they lost it. They are determined only to remain who they are and to live as amiably and productively as they can in a culture that doesn’t look like them and doesn’t belong to them.

In time, this shift in outlook may bring about a more peaceable public sphere. But that will depend on others — especially the adherents of an ascendant social progressivism — declining to take full advantage of their newfound cultural dominance. I see few signs of that, but I am hopeful all the same.

I think that’s very naive. In a review of the Evangelical law professor John Inazu’s new book, Carl Trueman explains why there is little hope for the “confident pluralism” that Inazu espouses. Excerpts:

Too little, too late might well be the book’s epitaph—though not, I hasten to add, because of any intrinsic problems with Inazu’s careful scholarship, clear argumentation, or winsome vision. The problem lies with the state of the world to which the book is addressed.


Nevertheless, Inazu’s work contains two potentially fatal flaws—through no fault of his own, I might add. First, Inazu fails to see—or perhaps underestimates the fact—that dialogue and tolerant co-existence are functions of a balance of power between competing groups and/or a deeper sense of shared social identity that relativizes differences in the public square. In other words, pluralism depends in large part (as Inazu’s argument in Part Two indicates) upon the existence of a healthy culture of diversity-in-unity. How we can restore that culture once it is gone is not easy to see. And that points to the real problems we face: a notion of personhood and identity in freefall, and the breakdown of mediating structures under the weight of an aggressive government allied with big business and the law courts, educational institutions where open and respectful discussion are not valued, and a pop-culture industry that sells nothing but a Puritanical amoralism.

Thus, Inazu provides no large-scale answer to the question of how we can reinvigorate a healthy pluralism when those with their hands on the levers of power—political, economic, educational, and cultural—have nothing to gain from such.

Trueman adds that Inazu’s argument for how we can live together peaceably amid great diversity — makes a lot of sense, but that availeth naught, because there is little or no public reason anymore. We reason around a shared sense of purpose, from a shared concept of human nature and human flourishing. One cannot assume that exists anymore.

Christians who have not been and refuse to be assimilated into the new American mainstream (in which their Christianity will sooner or later be dissolved) had better realize now, in their bones, that if you say that we have lost the culture war — and we have — that does not mean that we are all now going to live in peace and reconciliation. Rather, this is going to be like living under occupation. The attempt at reconstructing orthodox Christians and driving us out of the public square (the slow de-Baathification of America, if you will) is going to continue. We have a duty to resist — politically and otherwise, especially in the courts (you should direct the tithe you normally send to the Republican Party or to conservative political action committees instead to one of the organizations fighting in court to protect religious liberty)  — but we had better get straight that putting on a happy face for instrumental reasons (e.g., because it will make them treat us better) is not going to work. Conservatives who think we can turn this around by fighting the last war, with the same objectives and the same tactics, are useless, and insofar as they unintentionally mislead others about the real nature of the war upon us now, they are worse than useless.

Take a look at this web page from Political Research Associates, a liberal group. It proclaims their dedication to fighting religious liberty claims of conservatives. In it, they’ve enlisted the skills of a collaborationist United Church of Christ minister to denounce the “Religious Right” and its campaign for “oppressive religious tyranny,” that is ultimately meant “to turn America into a theocratic state.”

This is not over. In one sense, it has only just begun. Vive la résistance.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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