I want to put this Alan Jacobs comment in a separate place from my thread about Christian higher education — the one I started earlier Monday, “The Big Freeze” — even though it rightly goes as an update. That post has been there since this morning, and I’m afraid if I updated it, most people wouldn’t read what Alan has to say about the same topic.
He has very strong words for Christians. Note well that Alan is a professor at Baylor University, an Anglican Evangelical, and not any kind of conventional conservative. He’s simply telling the truth here. Alan says the real crisis is going to come when Christian colleges and universities knuckle under to the left’s view of sexual desire and gender identity, or lose their accreditation. Excerpt:
The people who argue that Christian institutions should support the modern left’s model of sexual ethics or else suffer a comprehensive shunning do not think of themselves as opponents of religion. And they are not, given their definition of religion, which is “a disembodied, Gnostic realm of private worship and thought”. But that is not what Christianity is. Christianity intrinsically, necessarily involves embodied action in the public world. And this the secular left cannot and will not tolerate, if it can help it, because it rightly understands that Christianity stands opposed to the secular left’s own gospel, which, popular opinion notwithstanding, is not essentially about sex but rather may be summed up as: “I am my own.”
All this to say that while I agree with Trueman that Christian institutions need to plan for a dark financial future, I also believe that the Christian community as a whole needs to plan for a future in which most or all of its educational institutions have been forced either to close or to accommodate themselves to Gnostic disembodiment. What does Christian formation — paideia and catechesis — look like in a world in which many of the institutions that have long supported that formation have been shut down or substantively eviscerated? In relation to these issues, that is the question that Christian need to be asking. Because, I am convinced, that moment is coming: maybe not in the next decade, maybe not even in my lifetime, but certainly within the lifetimes of many reading this blog post.
Read the whole thing. “I am my own” — yes, that’s it. That’s at the core of this whole thing. Sex and sexuality is the most contentious way it manifests itself today, but that’s the core of it. A Christianity that surrenders to this is not going to be long for this world, nor deserves to be, because it will have betrayed a core truth of Biblical anthropology.
What’s important for conservative Christians to grasp here is that it’s not really about sexuality. You surrender on this, and there will be something else, because the orthodox Christian faith stands in defiant contradiction to this false gospel that proclaims the Unholy Trinity: Me, Myself, and I. The Christianities — some of them right-of-center — that accept that have already surrendered, even if they are, for today, on the orthodox side of the sex and sexuality question. They can’t hold out because they have accepted the logic of postreligious modernity — a logic as old as humanity itself: “We shall be as gods.”
In the past couple of days, I’ve heard from two young pastors — one Protestant, the other Catholic — who report that their congregations don’t recognize what’s happening in our culture, and don’t want to see it. They are content to believe that things will always be this way. One of the men serves a somewhat liberal congregation, and the other a conservative one — but the response is the same. I’ve met both pastors before, and these are solid guys. And I’ve heard this over and over from other pastors, all over the country: people don’t want to know.
Note well: this is not saying that people are wrong for disagreeing with my diagnosis in The Benedict Option. It’s saying that they are wrong for not giving it, or diagnoses like it (like Alan Jacobs’s), serious consideration.
I know, this is human nature. People in all times and places want to believe everything is basically going to be okay if we just sit here and keep on doing what we’re doing. I know I do. As alarmed as I am about cultural degeneration, just ask me if, at age 50, I am eating more sensibly and, more importantly, exercising. Nope, not happening. It’s not that I don’t believe that these things are necessary, or that somehow I’m so special that I’m immune to heart disease and other things that tend to afflict people as they age. It’s that I can’t bring myself to make an urgent connection between what I believe to be true and the way I live.
Why? Because it’s too hard. I will not deny that I should eat differently and exercise, because if I don’t do these things I am more likely to get very sick, and possibly even die. Does the smoker really believe that he’s not more likely to get lung cancer if he keeps smoking? Of course not. He knows the truth. He just likes what he’s doing, doesn’t want to change (because change is hard), and hopes that maybe he’ll be the lucky one.
I’m the same way about diet and exercise.
But the body is far less important than the soul. And for Christians, that’s what we’re talking about here.
If we lose orthodox Christian colleges and universities, we’ll survive. They aren’t the same thing as the church. But they are institutions of formation, and it will become just a bit harder to nurture the next generation in the faith. And the same cultural changes that took away those institutions will make it harder for people who believe in what those institutions believed, and upheld in policy, will find themselves pushed a bit further out of the public square, and into the closet.
And then the next thing will come. Then the thing after that. There will be no peace.
It seems to me that this is a thing worth taking seriously. A friend of mine is an intelligent man, and knew well about diet and exercise advice, but didn’t take it seriously. Then he nearly died from a heart attack. But he did not die. When he got out of the hospital, he changed his life.
What is it going to take for us conservative Christians to realize that we can’t keep living like this? Is it going to take watching our college and universities either capitulate or be forced to close? Because Alan Jacobs is right: it is coming.
What will we do then? How will we explain to ourselves why we wasted this time in which we could have been making alternative plans, and getting ready for the time of trial ahead?
I am aware of at least one group of Christian academics that is doing exactly this. They’re working quietly now — they are very wise to do this! — but they’re working. One day, I hope they give me permission to write about them.
I’ll close on this, bringing up again something I have mentioned here before. When I was in France last fall giving talks about The Benedict Option, I noticed two kinds of French Christians. The older ones behaved as if Christians still had a role to play in mainstream French society, in influencing the Establishment. This affected the way they spoke about the faith. The younger ones — Millennials — that I met seemed completely unhindered by the belief that mainstream French society cared what Christians had to say about anything. As such, they seemed unusually joyful and confident in their faith, as if they were liberated from the restraint of having to be “respectable”. They just wanted to be faithful. Not powerful, not influential, but faithful.
Some of them are very much engaged in the public square, making arguments for the faith, and working in other ways. There is something special, though, about them not caring about playing the establishment game. It gives their words and actions power. They are not trimming their sails.
If one day France ever returns to faith, it will be because of men and women like that. I want to be like them. But none of us are going to be like them as long as we prefer not to see what’s happening right in front of our faces.
Readers, I’d like to ask you to try to keep your comments on the general topic of why people don’t want to know bad things.