Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The culture war is lost - now get on with being counter-cultural.

Professor Mark Tushnet sees the coming age in America in very black and white terms. You may well as apply it to the West in general. The culture wars are over. Christian principles lost. It is now time to proceed with the full recasting of law uninhibited by religious conservatives.

He speaks plainly:

The culture wars are over; they lost, we won. Remember, they were the ones who characterized constitutional disputes as culture wars (see Justice Scalia in Romer v. Evans, and the Wikipedia entry for culture wars, which describes conservative activists, not liberals, using the term.) And they had opportunities to reach a cease fire, but rejected them in favor of a scorched earth policy. The earth that was scorched, though, was their own. (No conservatives demonstrated any interest in trading off recognition of LGBT rights for “religious liberty” protections. Only now that they’ve lost the battle over LGBT rights, have they made those protections central – seeing them, I suppose, as a new front in the culture wars. But, again, they’ve already lost the war.). For liberals, the question now is how to deal with the losers in the culture wars. That’s mostly a question of tactics. My own judgment is that taking a hard line (“You lost, live with it”) is better than trying to accommodate the losers, who – remember – defended, and are defending, positions that liberals regard as having no normative pull at all. Trying to be nice to the losers didn’t work well after the Civil War, nor after Brown. (And taking a hard line seemed to work reasonably well in Germany and Japan after 1945.) I should note that LGBT activists in particular seem to have settled on the hard-line approach, while some liberal academics defend more accommodating approaches. When specific battles in the culture wars were being fought, it might have made sense to try to be accommodating after a local victory, because other related fights were going on, and a hard line might have stiffened the opposition in those fights. But the war’s over, and we won.

The fact is, he's right. The past eight years have seemingly sealed the victory of a post-Christian world. He only calls for what so many of the American left have been thinking - it is time to force assimilation of the new norms onto religious conservatives, a move that fundamentally completes the process of social engineering by re-engineering the principles underlying moral theology and, as a result, the formation of religious conscience.

If the culture wars are indeed over, then it must be admitted that they were fought poorly and often by the worst possible representatives of the Christian tradition. Rather than developing a counter-cultural response to a cultural revolution that efficiently established itself as the burgeoning status quo, religious conservatives spent more time trying to defend a status quo whose deficiencies provided a wide berth for the subsequent bloodless cultural revolution in the West.

If the culture wars are indeed over, it must be asked do we choose option a) total assimilation, or option b) other.

What is option b? I am hesitant to call it Rod Dreher's Benedict Option. Dreher has made this consistent platform in speeches and writing. The proposal has often been assailed as being too defeatist and calling for a retreat from culture, but as Carl Trueman writes, one has to question whether or not these critique are based on Dreher's actual arguments, or an alarmist reaction at having to take a critical stance towards the culture.

We live in a culture gripped by an almost unrelenting force for social engineering, initiated by the policies of transnational bodies, corporations, and media. The messaging is set and delivered with unwavering frequency. At issue is the question of whether institutions of political, economic and media influence can exert the ability to re-engineer morality. Certainly for some generation groups, the answer has proven to be positive. Christianity has been offered one of two options - either accept the new morality, or attempt to continue as a newly marginalized religious group and exercise your religion increasingly on the borderlands of law.

Christianity's natural home is: a) in defiance of the dominant culture (which often tacitly endorsed a morality Christianity openly rejected) and b) along the borderlands of law, always walking the line between questionable legal status and outright illegality. This is where it began as movement whose leader warranted political execution by the Roman Empire and subsequently spent its first three centuries under the threat of persecution. If John's Apocalypse serves as a portent into the future, this is where Christianity spends its last years while awaiting the eschaton. With this in mind, is it possible to look at the aftermath of a prolonged culture war and say the war had actually been concluded for a long time. The moment Christianity could no longer make common sense criticisms of the state because it was dependent upon the state for institutional stability was the moment the culture war was lost. All that remained was a formal declaration of victory on the part of the emerging secular order.

It is possible that the thrust of the past decade or so is part of a generational shift. In which case, one need only wait for the pendulum to swing back the other way. It is equally as possible that the West is heading for the point of cultural exhaustion that brought Rome to ruin - it is simply a matter of waiting it out until a new beginning. In either scenario, the immediate need remains for Christianity to determine a way forward as a counter cultural phenomenon running parallel to the dominant culture and offering a contrary moral code and conception of reality. With this in mind, I believe Dreher hits the nail on the head - the secular state realigned the terms and conditions upon which Christianity engages the culture. It is only fair that Christianity realign the terms and conditions upon which the culture deals with Christianity.

The culture war is lost. It is time to become counter-culture. This will only happen with a radical re-appropriation of the ethos of the first three centuries: the praxis of Christian life in defiance to the desire of the state.

1 comment:

  1. "It is time to become counter-culture. This will only happen with a radical re-appropriation of the ethos of the first three centuries: the praxis of Christian life in defiance to the desire of the state."

    Can you describe in a paragraph or two what the praxis of Christian life in defiance to the desire of the State looked like?

    Very enjoyable essay, by the way.