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Theology That Bites Back
Updated: 2 hours 44 min ago

Life in 1 John

Sat, 14/09/2019 - 15:33

We have considered the enticements of worldliness—the snare that tripped up our first parents. Those enticements are the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. When we are drawn to such things, and they make us unrighteous, and we also want to cling to our deep need to still be in the right, this results in us lying to ourselves. This self-deception is a radical problem. So our dilemma is the death grip of lust and lying about it. The alternative, the only possible alternative, is life from the dead.

The Text:

“And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life” (1 John 5:20).

Summary of the Text:

The Christian gospel, the Christian life, the Christian worldview, and the Christian everything, are all encompassed by the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Everything revolves around who He is, and what He did. Who is this Jesus? And what did He accomplish through His life, death, and resurrection? Who is this? And what did He do?

Now what do we as Christians know? We know, in the first instance, that the Son of God is come (v. 20). We were in darkness, but He came in order to give us light. We were in ignorance, but He came to give us an understanding. And what is that understanding? He came to give us an understanding of the one who came—e.g. that we may “know him that is true” (v. 20). He came so that we might understand why He had to come. If we know this, then we know that we are in Him that is true, that is to say, in His Son the Lord Jesus Christ (v. 20). This, John says, is the true God, and this, John says, is eternal life (v. 20). And he could have added to this, if he had wanted to, “but I repeat myself.” This is the true God. This is eternal life. They are not side by side—they are the same thing. The true and living God is our life.

Life Came Down

When the living God came down to us, life came down to us. Not only so, but this life has been mediated to us in a particular way.

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;)”

1 John 1L1-2 (KJV)

So the Word of life came down, and the apostles touched Him, and handled Him. This life was manifested to them, and they saw it. Having seen it, they bore witness to the life, and the result of this witness, this testimony, is that eternal life is shown to us. The life comes down from Heaven and is manifested. That is step one. This eternal life is seen and testified to. That is step two. This life that came down from Heaven also comes down through the centuries. The power of the Incarnation was the Holy Spirit of God. The power of apostolic witness and testimony is also the Holy Spirit of God.

“And this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life”

1 John 2:25 (KJV)

We are recipients of promises, and so it is that we are trafficking in certainties (1 John 5:13). Please note that God wants us to have an assurance of our salvation. He wrote this so that we might know. But this is knowledge of life, and life is something that is pervasive. You don’t find assurance of salvation in some little locked cupboard in your heart. No, you find it because life goes everywhere, and gets into everything.

Airy Fairy?

Now for some, this seems like it is all “long ago and far away.” So somebody appeared to some ancient guys way back then, made an impression on them, and those guys then made some outlandish claims about it? How convenient that it all happened two thousand years ago. And so the question presses in on us—how can we be sure about this so-called “life”?

But I would suggest that we start somewhere else. Let’s start with something we have a lot more experience with, and which is empirically demonstrable. Let us start with the raw fact of death. As Chesterton points out somewhere, original sin is the one doctrine of the Christian faith that can be empirically shown. Open a news site on your browser. Can’t you read?

“We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him. Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren”

1 John 3:14-16 (KJV)

Before we discuss the eternal life that was manifested in the Incarnation and is manifested in the proclamation of the gospel, we need to make we understand the backdrop. That backdrop is the indisputable fact that we surrounded by death on every hand. We were born into it, and the death of selfishness is the air we breathe. The human race is bent and crooked timber, and we cannot build a straight house with it. So we are not arbitrarily saying that our little mystery religion is “special,” a claim made by all the other mystery cults. Sure. Claim and counterclaim, and everybody does that. But we are not simply claiming to have the secret cheat codes of the cosmos (doctrine x as opposed to doctrine y). Rather, we are claiming something else entirely, something which, if true, cannot really be denied by anybody. We are claiming to be alive. We have been born again. God has granted us the glorious miracle of the new birth. And when asked about it, the questioner discovers that we are alive because Jesus is alive.

The New Birth as Real Certainty

This is what it actually means to be evangelical. It means to be quickened. It means life. Remember the lust for worldliness that used to have you trapped. Remember the lies you would tell yourself in order to justify staying trapped in that sweet prison. Now in contrast to all that, the gospel means life.

“And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God”

1 John 5:11-13 (KJV)

This life is not impersonal. This is not some kind of spiritual joy juice. Remember our text. This is the true God, this is eternal life. And in the verse just cited it says that this life is in his Son.

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Categories: People I don't know

Maybe the Whole Narrative is Wrong

Sat, 14/09/2019 - 02:05

“How many times can the masses be shocked out of their conformist stupor before we begin to wonder whether they were ever in a conformist stupor to start with?”

Nation of Rebels, p. 95

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Categories: People I don't know

Sounds Like Fun

Sat, 14/09/2019 - 02:00

“The goal is to have civilization and the kingdom of God become more and more synonymous and harder and harder to tell apart.”

Why Children Matter, pp. 64

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Categories: People I don't know

A National Review Contretemps

Fri, 13/09/2019 - 18:11

Brian Mattson has done me the honor of engaging with my recent interactions with the French/Ahmari debate. And what I would like to do, weather permitting, is engage right back. He did this over at National Review at the Corner, and you can read all about it here. My two most recent posts on the subject are here and here, and my recent letters section (also referred to by Mattson) can be found here. Go read all those, and come on back.

The conservative world really does need this frank conversation, and we need to do it without freaking out at each other. As one friend put it, what should “a structurally pluralistic society” with “competing truth claims” look like? My short answer is that it should look different than that. And then the real question comes—so how are we to get there?

Lest There be Any Undue Confusion . . .

Consider this to be a very simple paragraph-length statement of my actual views of the relationship of the Christian faith to the classical liberal order, lest there be any more unnecessary confusion on this point. Here it is. I do not wish to abandon the classical liberal order, and yet I do object to the very common identification of secularism and classical liberalism. I object to secularism as a form of political incoherence, and do not object to classical liberalism. Classical liberalism need not have all those internal strains that lead to the kind of nervous breakdown that secularism is currently having. But I also object to the naïve notion that a classical liberal society can be sustained for any length of time without the cultural capital that can only come from a widespread acceptance of, and civic respect for, the Christian faith. So I do not argue for jettisoning the classical liberal order; I am simply pointing out that rejecting the norms that historically supported that classical order is just a slow-motion way of accomplishing an effectual rejection of the classical liberal order. I do not reject the classical liberal order, but rather defend it; those who try to defend that order without defending its essential preconditions are the ones throwing rocks at the moon. John Adams once said that our Constitution presupposes a moral and religious people, and that it is wholly unfit for any other. This testimony is true.

The solution is not to throw away the classical liberal order. The solution is reformation and revival. More about that at the end.

Below the Belt

I am not claiming that it was intentional, but there was one point from Mattson that was, as a matter of fact, below the belt. To this particular jab, my initial response is simply ow.

“And David has been busy ensuring that Doug can continue all this cultural work by asserting on his behalf the legal principles embodied in our liberal order. It really is a marvel: a guy spends his life making sure cultural influencers like Doug Wilson and Sohrab Ahmari might legally go about influencing things; and when they face widespread lack of societal influence they decide to blame their lawyer. It’s not amusing.”

Jonah Goldberg retweeted this, saying that it was “brutal.” And it was, but not the in the way that I think he meant. But Jonah is a spectator here, and he is a few rows back, and so he probably didn’t see what happened. If he had been the ref, I am sure that he is fair-minded enough to have issued at least a caution.

I have written a good deal about David French, and over the course of numerous posts I have gone out of my way to publicly praise him for his courage, commend him for his work protecting religious liberty, and to accept the testimony of people I trust that he is a good man. This is not patronizing or condescending. I meant it and I mean it. I have said these sorts of things repeatedly.

But at the same time I can believe that David French is an attorney I would want to call in a crucial religious liberty case, and also believe that when he is doing political epistemology out in the public square he ought to make better sense than he is currently making. Viewpoint neutrality is not what we need to defend.

A Point of Agreement

Given the foregoing, let me mention one place where I agreed with Mattson’s piece.

“Be that as it may, perhaps French, and those of us in his camp, believes that the American experiment is the greatest political arrangement yet devised for the triumph and flourishing of freedom and virtue, precisely because free virtue is real virtue, organic moral fiber, not outward conformity produced by fiat.”

I agree with just about everything there, and I might even agree with that last phrase, depending on how it is construed. A moral order cannot be imposed on an immoral populace by coercive means and have the results be in any way satisfactory. Virtue must be free to do any civic good at all, and so I agree with French and Mattson here. But when vice runs free it burns the place down. Liberty builds civilizations, and licentiousness leaves them shattered. When licentiousness is applauded and subsidized by the civil authorities, the whole thing becomes a smoking ruin.

As Steven Wedgeworth put it in a tweet:

“The majority of “liberal” political thinkers in the 18th & 19th cent. presumed an objective moral order which would provide boundary markers to the legitimate use of freedom.

The fact that people/we blew up those markers is the problem.

No one actually knows how to fix this.”

To believe that the American experiment is the “the greatest political arrangement yet devised for the triumph and flourishing of the freedom and virtue,” as I do, is not to believe that it is somehow impossible for corruption to lead that great American experiment to the point where it becomes a hollow shell. The American experiment was a great thing. So would this be the first time that decadence, sin, rebellion, and impudence destroyed a great thing?

A Modest Analogy

Suppose there is an older house in a nearby neighborhood. It is my favorite house. I love that house. Sometimes I walk by it just to look at it. As it happens in my “little suppose” here, I am also a remodeling contractor. I fix up old houses. One of my favorite daydreams is that perhaps one day I will be given the privilege of working on this house, the house that I love.

And then one day, the call comes. The owner has decided that it is time for an upgrade, but it must be one that respects all the old lines of the house, that maintains the historical integrity of the house, and which does not do anything to clash with the historic neighborhood. Out of all the remodeling contractors out there, he called me. The dream is alive.

But alas. When I go over there, I discover that all the floor joists holding the house up have been eaten nearly clean through by ravenous termites, termites that might have been seen in a nightmarish vision by a rather severe minor prophet from the Old Testament. Had they called me a month later, it would have been too late—the whole house would have been sitting down in the basement. Nevertheless, we are in time. I propose, since there is not a moment to lose, that we get some supports under the house, jack that baby up, and replace all the floor joists with new ones, sans termites.

And this is where my analogy goes south on me. This is where it gets kind of bizarre. One of the neighbors, put up to it no doubt by one of my nefarious competitors, an outfit called Secular Supports, the people marketing Styrofoam floor joists (“half the cost and twice as pretty”) accuses me to the owner of wanting to destroy his house. Did I not plainly say I wanted to remove the joists that are holding it up? Yes, but only because they won’t be holding anything up very much longer, and only because I wanted to replace them with something that will do the same job the originals did, but only way better. So, to be clear, loving the house does not necessitate loving the rotten floor joists that are going to fail, any day now, such that they will no longer hold the house up.

Maybe They Will Believe C.S. Lewis

I am really saying nothing more or less than what Lewis observed in The Abolition of Man. So maybe I should come at this from another angle. Let me name drop. C.S. Lewis taught at Oxford, and did not live in Podunk, Idaho.

“In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”

And if someone points out what we have done, someone who (let us say) has been warning us not to do this dumb thing for some thirty years now, telling us that it is going to be really bad if we keep on this way, then, when it all starts to come crashing down, just as he said, we can accuse him of wanting these dismal results.

Coercion and Fiat

Throughout his piece, including the quote above that I (mostly) agreed with, Mattson assumed that I was somehow wanting to resort to coercion and fiat in order to get everything back in order again, which I most certainly do not. I don’t quite know how the issue of coercion got into this. I have not been writing about it.

“The legal principles embodied in our liberal order are insufficient to a just and flourishing society. We need to alter those legal principles and grant the coercive state the prerogative to nudge things along to our—well, Ahmari’s—desired ends.”

“Since Wilson is enjoining the debate on the side of Sohrab Ahmari, does he agree that we need to dispense with the liberal order itself by grasping the reins of power and coercing our way to a society ordered to the ‘highest good’?”

Again, we are not the ones who dispensed with the liberal order. Somebody else did that. And I agree. We will not be able to coerce our way back to it. So let us talk for a moment about the limits of coercion.

Ten years ago, if the drag queens had come to a public library to ask for permission to have a story hour for the kids, they would have been laughed out of that tax-supported establishment. They would have been laughed out of there even if the librarian had been one of their number. And the argument would have run something like this: “We can’t do that.” This is a function of moral capital. There would have been no coercion involved. Nobody would have called the cops. No lawsuits filed. Just a simple “we can’t do that.”

Ten years from now, what monstrosities are going to be pressed upon us? Unthinkable (even) now, they will most decidedly not be unthinkable then. A lot of decay can set in over the course of ten years. What are we going to do about it? Again, more in a bit.

All laws are coercive, but it is also true that in healthy societies such coercion only occurs around the edges, dealing with outlaws and outliers. When coercion has to be applied at the center, something is really off. And when coercion is applied, as it is now, to allow Bruno to shower with the junior high girls, things are officially demented.   

Kicking Down an Open Door

Mattson wants to say that some of the things I am insisting on are things that David French would affirm, and that I am mistaken in thinking that he would have a problem with it.

“The very first person who would agree that we have a culture problem is David French.”

But let us say that God shows His kindness to us, and there is a massive religious revival. Let us say that it has all kinds of consequences that were not coercively implemented by the magistrate—the demand for certain things evaporated, and cocaine dealers started going out of business, and PornHub shut down. Say that happened, and the “culture problem” that David French and I agree on is largely solved. Great. Are drag queen story hours still happening at public libraries? I didn’t think so.

Objectivity or Neutrality?

Let us say that I am a judge, and a civil case comes before me. It is a business dispute between a Muslim and a Christian. As it happens, the facts of the case favor the Muslim. How should I decide? Obviously, I should decide in favor of the Muslim.

I would want to do this because I am an honest Christian, and not because I pretended to be some creature that has never yet existed on God’s green earth—a neutral, floaty kind of judge.

“It’s also the case that things like equality before the law and not showing partiality are decidedly not neutral; they are divine commands in the Bible, however imperfectly we might apply them.”

Yes, this is exactly right. Not showing partiality is biblically required and “decidedly not neutral.” So perhaps David French ought to stop calling it neutrality. I don’t call it neutrality. David French calls it neutrality. So Mattson is right about the principle, and wrong in assuming that I would not affirm it. I do affirm it. I would just call it Christian honesty. It is a biblical objectivity. Nothing neutral about it.

Legal Architecture and Ultimate Commitments

And another thing. Consider this.

“Except, of course, nobody was talking about some kind of ultimate epistemic commitment to relativism. They were instead talking about the legal principle that the state should provide equality before the law when it comes to accommodation for use of public spaces.”

Nobody doubts that David French, Brian Mattson, et al. have an ultimate epistemic commitment to Christ, and that this commitment to Christ is what motivates and strengthens them when they fight the good fight. I am aware that individual Christian citizens have these commitments, and I believe it is entirely a good thing. I share those commitments, and they function in my life in the same kind of way.

But step back for a moment. I am not arguing against this need for such personal commitments; I believe it to be most necessary. At the same time, I also believe that societies also have (and must have) ultimate epistemic commitments. In contemporary America, those public commitments are relativistic. And when the highest courts in the land are muttering with Pilate “what is truth?” you start to get the same kind of court decision that made Pilate so famous.

To say it again: societies have ultimate commitments, not just individuals. If those commitments are false or nonsensical, bad things start to happen.

Secularism is Illiberal

There are numerous places in his article where Mattson demonstrates that he was not reading me carefully, and not really paying close attention. Here is another instance of that.

“If people want to equate the Western legal tradition with the illiberalism of contemporary aggressive secularism, they are entitled to make that mistake. I would just point out that that is exactly what the aggressive secularists want you to do.”

But this is the very distinction I have been careful to make. I reject secularism, and I applaud classical liberalism. Secularism in its early forms seemed benign enough, but the illiberalism of aggressive secularism is descended from it in a straight line.

So We Come to the Heart of All Questions

But I would end all this by commending Mattson for asking the right question, which boils down to “who shall save us?”

“So the problem is a depleted reservoir of historic Christian moral capital, not the legal architecture of the liberal order (itself a product of that very moral capital). Who has the responsibility to replenish this reservoir of moral capital? Politicians? The state? If Wilson doesn’t like our current arrangement, what is the alternative? But wait! I was told by Wilson himself that he is defending the liberal order.”

The answer to our political disease is not more politics. The answer to our corrupted laws is not more legislation. The leprosy of our entertainment industry is not going to be fixed by increasing the ratio of G-ratings. I cannot tell how many times I have said that politics is not our savior, but that politics will in fact be saved. I do not believe that we can usher in the millennium by banning drag queens in libraries. But I also believe that, were the millennium to be ushered in by the appointed means, there would be no drag queens in libraries, and no attorneys needed to stand up for their non-existent civil right to be perverted in public.

“Who has the responsibility to replenish this reservoir of moral capital?”

The only answer possible is the Lord Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. And because God in His wisdom has determined that we will not hear without a preacher, the solution is to beseech God to pour out His Holy Spirit on a host of preachers, such that they all quit playing at “woker than thou.”

Our situation is such that we cannot be saved without a Savior. And we will not be saved if we refuse to call upon Him. He shed His blood in order to purchase men for God, and He purchased them from every tribe, language, and nation. The Lord Jesus, precisely because He was crucified in this world, and because He rose from the dead in this same world, has obtained universal dominion over this world.

The prophet Daniel put it this way:

“And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.”

Daniel 7:14

And the prophet Daniel did not carve out a postscript for America when he foresaw that we were going to conduct a fascinating experiment in political neutrality, in which the civil liberties of all, drag queens and Baptists, were to be suspended over Washington D.C., hanging from a great sky hook, secured to a passing cirrus cloud by twenty-eight inviso-bolts.

The American experiment lasted as long as it did because we had an informal Christian establishment. We had apples for as long as we did because—follow me closely here—we had an apple tree. Until that informal Christian establishment is restored, we will not be able to enjoy the fruit of such an informal Christian establishment.

And Mattson’s question concerns my plan for restoring it. If God does not rise up and scatter His enemies (Ps. 68:1), then it follows that His enemies will not be scattered. If God does rise up and scatters His enemies, He will do it through His appointed means, which means thousands of preachers, men with cool heads and hot hearts, men who have in their possession a gospel of efficacious grace that can and will bring life to the world, including this part of the world, the part where you and I live.

Mere Christendom. Not secular, and not sectarian.

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Categories: People I don't know

Which Would be Inaccurate

Fri, 13/09/2019 - 02:05

“One way of articulating the central idea of the counterculture is simply to say that it collapsed the distinction between deviance and dissent (or, more accurately, that it began treating all deviance as dissent).”

Nation of Rebels, p. 80

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Categories: People I don't know

The Foundation of Christian Civilization

Fri, 13/09/2019 - 02:00

Paideia was one of those huge words in the ancient world, and it referred to the enculturation of a child so that he could take his place as a citizen in the polis. In other words, paideia referred to an all-encompassing, civilization-making reality. Paul is using the word to refer to something very similar [in Eph. 6:4]”

Why Children Matter, pp. 63

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Categories: People I don't know

The Content Cluster Muster (9.12.19)

Thu, 12/09/2019 - 17:00
CrossPolitic & Hitchens Help Sort Out All Things Brexit

Peter Hitchens takes us through Brexit

— CrossPolitic (@CrossPolitic) September 12, 2019 An Interesting Testimony

I'm incredibly grateful to share with you my first essay ever in print: Catholicism Made Me Protestant. It details my near-conversion to (and abiding love for) Roman Catholicism and the reasons I ultimately found my way back to Protestantism.

— Onsi A. Kamel (@onsikamel) September 11, 2019 Now That’s a Good One, Right There

And more here.

Inside a Forest Fire Inside a Forest Fire

See and hear the inside of a raging forest fire in these videos captured by scientists studying the impact of wildfire on U.S. forests.MORE:

Posted by KMTR NBC 16 on Saturday, August 24, 2019 Good Work on the Multitasking . . . Climate Change Tinkering

A little off-brand so file this under “postmillennialism.” But it's a blockbuster worth sharing.
Propagation of Error and the Reliability of Global Air Temperature Projections, Mark II. via @WattsUpWithThat

— Michael Bull (@MrBully67) September 8, 2019

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Categories: People I don't know

Because the Feminists Tore Down Chesterton’s Fence

Thu, 12/09/2019 - 02:05

“For example, during the 60’s, many of the social norms that governed relationships between the sexes came under sustained criticism. Traditional male ‘gallantry’ involved showing a somewhat exaggerated concern for the health and well-being of women: opening doors for them, offering them one’s coat during inclement weather, paying for their meals, and so forth. Feminism argued that these norms, far from helping women, served only to reinforce the conviction that they were helpless and unable to care for themselves . . . Men took the criticism of the older male obligations as a license to do whatever they wanted. This gave rise to the widely noted epidemic of boorishness (or, as the English like to say, ‘yobbishness’) in the male population. Rather than finding alternative ways of expressing concern and respect for women, a lot of men have simply stopped paying any attention to the needs of women at all. For these men, equality means ‘I look after myself, she looks after herself’”

Nation of Rebels, p. 80

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Categories: People I don't know

An Exercise in Missing the Point

Thu, 12/09/2019 - 02:00

“Imagine a four-lane highway, with two lanes going opposite ways, two to Heaven, two to Hell. A Ford and a Chevy are on the two lanes going to Heaven, and on the two lanes going to Hell are a Ford and a Chevy. We live in perverse time, such that when the Fords pass, the drivers beep and wave at each other. Same thing with the Chevys. The cars going in different directions might feel a real sense of solidarity, since they have the same kind of vehicle, but they are going in completely different directions”

Why Children Matter, pp. 61-62

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Categories: People I don't know

A Lesson Not Yet Learned

Wed, 11/09/2019 - 16:08

Today marks the eighteenth anniversary of the 911 attacks, and it is not quite accurate to say that everything has changed. It would be more to the point to say that everything is still changing. One of the basic things still in flux is that Americans are yet trying to find a fixed center where they can get some traction. The previously assumed center—the tenets of a secular liberal order—have been found badly wanting. It turns out that great civilizations require a transcendental foundation. If they don’t have one, then they are like that great house that Jesus talked about that was built on sand. The curb appeal looks really great until the storm comes.

Not to be Tedious About It . . .

A few days ago I responded to the recent debate between David French and Sohrab Ahmari. In that response I pointed out that viewpoint neutrality is not a thing, and that it cannot even be a thing. The arguments laid out in that piece have been rejected, but not answered. I would point out, with my customary mildness, that rejecting and answering are two different verbs.

There have been various responses, but one response of note was from Brian Mattson on Twitter.

“Shorter post-libs and Doug Wilson: The liberal order is the fruit of Christianity. We’ve lost the culture. Therefore, the liberal order must go.”

I do not accept that as an adequate summary at all, and so I responded:

“Brian, and others. No. The point is that the liberal *will* go unless we recover the only possible basis for it. My argument is a defense of the liberal order.”

The classical liberal must stay. But it cannot stay on the basis of inertia alone. It cannot stay on cruise control. It cannot stay if its defenders refuse to take up the only possible shield that will protect it.

Now I do not defend the secular order because secularism is incoherent. But it must be insisted upon that the secular order is not synonymous with the liberal order. Secularism is not the basis for classical liberalism—it is the enemy of classical liberalism. Secularism is the parasite that has devoured its liberal host from within, weakening it to the point where cannot fight off the most obvious enemies.

Remember what set off the French/Ahmari debate—drag queen story hours in public libraries. The viewpoint neutrality advocated by French is not able to keep the taxpayers from having to sponsor flamers grooming the kids. That’s where we are, folks.

So I am not resigned to the loss of the classical liberal order. I am fighting for its survival, which currently looks touch and go. But I am not fighting at all for a secular neutrality, which is a concept that couldn’t find its own rear end—not even if allowed to use both hands. The classical liberal order, by way of contrast, has definitions, and boundaries, and edges. It therefore must have a better foundation than that described in C.S. Lewis’s magnificent Evolutionary Hymn.

Wrong or justice, joy or sorrow,
In the present what are they
while there’s always jam-tomorrow,
While we tread the onward way?
Never knowing where we’re going,
We can never go astray.

Shapeless Gratitude

In his recent book The Suicide of the West, Jonah Goldberg demonstrated the warm affection of a grateful son. He knows how different “the West” has been when compared to the rest of human history. He knows how superior it has been, and how fortunate he was in landing here. But if you leave God out of it, as Goldberg deliberately did, and if you try to account for our good fortune here in the West as the result of sheer, stupefying luck, you open yourself up to the most obvious counter-attacks. You open yourself up to the great tsunami of envy that threatens all our coastal cities.

The heritage of the West? Oh, you mean the heritage of privileged whites? The Constitution? Wasn’t that adopted by slave owners? The rule of law? Sure, you bet. Rich people love themselves the rule of law, having as they do warehouses full of attorneys.

This is a place where the social justice critics have a very limited point, but it is one that they shouldn’t have. If “the West” does not have a transcendental basis for her blessings, if it is not the grace of the Lord Jesus in other words, if it is not the result of the gospel of grace working its way like leaven through the loaf, then all our defenses of “the West” really are racist dog whistles.

Shapeless gratitude is merely defenseless gratitude.

And Great Was the Fall Thereof

If the classical liberal order is a Christian house, as I believe it to be, the secularism is the sandy foundation. If the classical liberal order is a cute little beach house in the Bahamas, and secularism is the six cinder blocks that some lax workmen set it on, then what does Hurricane Dorian represent? Hurricane Dorian is the Islamic challenge, it is the carnage of Roe, and it is the perversion of Obergefell. These and a few other random gusts are pounding the older order to matchsticks.

In the meantime, evangelicals, who historically have been concrete workers and who ought to know better, are discussing what we are going to do when it comes time to rebuild. Instead of that older oppressive gray concrete, which was probably invented by some white slave owner, and which was used a great deal in the building of the Washington monument, and he was a slave owner, we are going to go with the new innovative social justice marshmallow packs, with rebar fashioned out of some uncooked critical theory spaghetti noodles.

Yeah, I know my metaphors can get kind of demented. But they are nowhere near as demented as what we are all currently doing in real time. My demented metaphors falter and fall short. They languish on the way. And not only are our cultural leaders doing these things, but they are also demanding that all the rest of us sit there respectfully, solemn as a judge. We are actually being asked, when confronted with some dude decked out like a cross between a circus horse and a Vegas fan dancer, and with face done up in grease paint so that he looks like a diseased hooker, and who is then assigned to have a little wholesome time reading to the little ones, to act as though this is the triumph of the Jeffersonian ideal.

T.S. Eliot once speculated on whether everything would end with a bang or a whimper. He did not envision it as ending like the third act of a Marx brothers farce, with the sound track being provided by an organ grinder with an incontinent monkey.

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Categories: People I don't know

Ep 109: The Founders Trailer

Wed, 11/09/2019 - 11:30

This week Pastor Wilson chats Tom Ascol and the Founders Trailer, unpacks apoplanao, and reviews “The Loveliness of Christ.” For more from Doug, please visit us at

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When Dissent Isn’t

Wed, 11/09/2019 - 02:05

“We must distinguish, in other words, because dissent and deviance. Dissent is like civil disobedience. It occurs when people are willing in principles to play by the rules but have a genuine, good-faith objection to the specific content of the prevailing set of rules. They disobey despite the consequences that these actions may incur. Deviance, on the other hand, occurs when people disobey the rules for self-interested reasons”

Nation of Rebels, pp. 79-80

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The Two Sides of Discipline

Wed, 11/09/2019 - 02:00

“Once we have accepted the duty of administering parental discipline, we discover that discipline itself falls into two categories: corrective and formative. Corrective discipline is correction of manifested sins in the past, as well as correction with regard to the future. Formative discipline anticipates temptations that are common to man and seeks to instill certain character traits beforehand”

Why Children Matter, p. 54.

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Some Letters That Met the Deadline. Like This Guy.

Tue, 10/09/2019 - 15:57
Viewpoint Neutrality. Discuss.

This message is intended to respond to your recent blog: “David French and the Chimerical Flibbertigibbet.”

I understand the main thrust of your argument in this post to be as follows: viewpoint neutrality is not viewpoint neutral itself, but rather imposes a non-Christian (or even anti-Christian) set of values on the country in general and the church in particular.
I believe you are failing to make a crucial distinction that is leading you to be more critical of conservatives like Mr. French than they deserve. There is a subtle but important distinction between (1) viewpoint neutrality as a metaphysical/ethical principle; and (2) viewpoint neutrality as a tradition in the American political order.

As a conservative Christian and lifelong Californian, I am quite familiar with metaphysical viewpoint neutrality. It is what I hear when my progressive neighbors insist that it is illegitimate for me to thump my bible while they beat me over the head with Simone de Beauvoir, Herbert Marcuse, or Jacques Derrida. As you said in your post, this is a fundamentally hypocritical position, as on the one hand it declares tolerance as a foundational virtue, while on the other it insists that all who disagree are anathema.

However, the viewpoint neutrality that I am interested in preserving (and I believe Mr. French is as well) is not a metaphysical or ethical proposition. Rather it is a set of legal precedents, cultural prescriptions, and traditions that have developed since the founding of the country (and perhaps earlier). Viewpoint neutrality in this sense is a legal and cultural reality, not a metaphysical ideal.

The term ‘viewpoint neutral,’ when used in this way, is not meant as a metaphysical claim, but rather as a practical label for a complex legal and cultural truth. It is a “legal fiction.” By way of analogy, it is a basic truth of corporate law that corporations are legal persons. However, by saying Walmart is a ‘person’ I am not saying that Walmart has a will, a soul, a mind, or is made in the image of God. Rather, I am saying that for purposes of contract and litigation Walmart can be treated by the courts as a person.

Similarly, when I say I wish to defend “viewpoint neutrality,” what I mean is that I care about the First Amendment protections for religious liberty and free speech; as well as the jurisprudence that arises from them. It means I care about the cultural expectation that our government will try not to impose religious values on the citizens (even if this isn’t technically possible). It means I care about the legal structure surrounding equal access to public accommodations.

While I could go on in my defense of the tradition of viewpoint neutrality, I fear my message is already too long. I will simply conclude by saying this: I greatly fear eliminating the tradition of viewpoint neutrality in a world where an anti-Christian progressivism is ascendant. In that fight, the tradition of neutrality is with us, not against us.


Bryan, thanks for the thoughtful response. I am happy to distinguish the two neutralities as you describe them. But here in our world, when we are seeking to defend objective neutrality in, say, the courtroom, and others are attacking that procedure (and doing so for metaphysical reasons), we need a better defense than “this is the way we have done it for centuries.” Because their reply will be “precisely.” And you do it that way because you inherited this system from slaveholders. Critical theory is a universal corrosive, and we have no defense against it apart from an appeal to the transcendent.

A very helpful summation of this frustratingly fruitless debate. There is nothing in your post re: neutrality, religious liberty as being a Christian ideal, etc. that I disagree with. However, there is a serious omission in the interpretive framework you supply that I think is at play. At least some of the weakness in calling people to “return” to the American ideal as preserved in the Declaration of Independence is the failure to acknowledge that that original creed was not held with integrity even by many of the framers to say nothing of centuries downstream. As laudable as the creed is, the practice of that creed was hollow and untrue, and the injustice allowed to take root and grow has not only discredited any confidence in the written creed but has made the American church vulnerable to becoming a cultural soil that is deeply resistant to the gospel, hard and crusty, shallow, and infested with weeds. It seems to me that until Christians start telling this story of the constitution differently, modeling what repentance looks like, we will we waste a lot more breath in fruitless debates.


Michelle, sure. There have always being compromisers and politicians. But I believe that genuine faith at the Founding was a lot more robust than the debunking done by Critical Theory would have us know.

David French and the flibbertigibbet: Excellent article. To confirm that the Constitution does not support drag queen hour, one may quote from The Story of the Constitution, by Sol Bloom, published in 1937: “Freedom of speech and of the press does not permit the publication of libels, blasphemous or other indecent articles, or other publications injurious to morals or private reputation.”

As a Christian, Mr. French may consider the effect that drag queen story hours would have on children, and what Jesus would say on the matter. If one who causes little ones to stumble will receive a punishment worse than being thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck, and one through whom children are led into sin would be better off unborn, would it be worth it to allow drag queens to indoctrinate children at libraries, even if it was indeed permitted by the Constitution? It is better to bring children to Heaven unconstitutionally than to obey the constitution unconditionally and let them go to Hell. Thankfully, as you have confirmed, one does not have that choice.


James, thank you.

I used to respect French, a lot, but ever since Trump came on the scene he seems to have lost his mind. “‘Viewpoint neutrality”? Seriously? Trump Derangement Syndrome is a real thing, unfortunately.


Mike, thanks.

I want to share my sincere gratitude with you for your writing about many contemporary issues in an approachable and enjoyable way. I don’t always agree and as you suggest in this piece (David French and the Chimerical Flibbertigibbet), that’s just fine, but I do nearly always concur your subject matter deserves some discourse. You make me think and often that thought is devoted to topics I would have otherwise brushed past, assuming I already formed a well-reasoned opinion. You’ve given words to my previously formless idea of the cultural necessities we have lost and with them the ground to stand our Constitution. I assume you receive a fair amount of unappreciative communications so I hope this one is at least a little cheering. Again, thank you for your writings and musings, I appreciate them greatly.


Ryan, thanks for paying attention to the thingsI write. That’s the hard part.

Hi Doug, I hope you all are doing well! Found a typo. Last quote (the Ibid p. 8) . . .

“America invites all me to become citizens/” I suspect it’s “men” instead of “me.”

Thanks for your GREAT articles! We are so grateful for your writings. It’s a bright beam through the fog.


Jack, thanks. Fixed it. And thanks also for the kind words.


Thanks for the statements about the root of besetting sin being lying to oneself. After a bit of thought, I believe that you are correct. I hope that information helps many of us to better battle sin.


Charlie, yes. And in a sense, this is an enemy that always attacks from behind or from within. Only the mirror of Scripture can help.

The Netflix Challenge

You assert that your critics are themselves misogynists, and suggest that their Netflix viewing would prove it. Okay, well, here’s my (somewhat trashy) viewing from the last six months:

Highway to Heaven (season 3)
Four Weddings and a Funeral
Lucifer (season 4)
Buffalo Boys
Jessica Jones (season 3)
Kurt Seyit ve Sura (season 1)
The Protector (season 1)
Sherlock Holmes (2009)
Strangers on a Train
The Red Violin
Music and Lyrics

If none of those particularly speak of misogyny to you, perhaps you might seriously consider the effects of your doctrine on women.



Christina, I hadn’t seen any of these, but a few minutes googling informed me that in your selections there was far more nudity than would be acceptable for entertainment in our home, and this was precisely the point I was making. It would not be acceptable in our home because of the commodification of the women involved. Shortly before the unfortunate Rachel Held Evans died, she was lamenting that she was going to miss the opening of the next Game of Thrones season, and it was the same kind of radical inconsistency at work there. Why is it that I, the supposed misogynist, have a higher standard for the treatment of women than do my critics?

Book Recommendation?

This is [a request for] a book recommendation. I know a young couple who have been going to a mushy mega church. It is the kind where if you pulled out all the Bible references you’d have a really great inspirational pep talk. This couple is getting married soon and which of your books would you recommend for the husband-to-be and for the wife-to-be?


Jeff, I would recommend either Reforming Marriage or My Life for Yours. If they have heard scary things about me, I would recommend the latter.

Hey, Watch This

You gotta watch this talk and include it somewhere for the students at Logos and NSA. This guy is awesome! (Perhaps a Content Roundup would suffice)


Tim, thanks for the suggestion. Why wait for Thursday? Right here works.

Some Repeat Housekeeping

Did the iPhone app Blog and Mablog disappear from the App Store or is it no longer supported? I used to use it all the time to read your posts, but it was running poorly so I deleted it and then went to reload it and I can’t get it to come up on the App Store. Is there some way I am not looking properly or is there another way to easily access your great content on my phone? Thank you. In Christ,


Harrison, we discontinued it because it was buggy and running poorly. Perhaps we will try again when we have our act together. In the meantime, there is a way to save the Mablog page to your phone’s screen for quick access.

On Not Being a Wokescold

I read your book, Skin and Blood, recently and was tremendously blessed by it. What a breath of fresh air compared to the #WokeChurch materials everyone seems to be reading these days. Is there any plan to have this published by Canon Press or something so that it can be more widely distributed? Sadly, it seems like the best materials on the topic are the least known.


Sam, thanks for the suggestion, Perhaps Canon will consider it. In the meantime, everybody, see below.

Skin and Blood

What is racism? Why is it sinful? How should we respond when we find it in ourselves and in our culture?

Police shootings and protests have filled the news in recent years, leaving us with no illusions that America is free of racial problems. Skin and Blood invites us to look honestly at both white sins and black sins…and to look hopefully at the red blood of Jesus, which is their o…

$1.00 Shop now

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Seth and Brooke

Tue, 10/09/2019 - 02:10

The world uses the word love a lot, but tends to fall into certain destructive patterns in their pursuit of it. One kind of love is conditional on the front end—“I will love you if . . .” Another is conditional after the fact—“I love you because . . .” I will love you in the future if you perform adequately, or I love you because of your past accomplishments. In these scenarios, the love is conditioned in some way on the behavior of the beloved.

This is not how God loved us. “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). As C.S. Lewis put it, “He loved us not because we were loveable, but because He is Love.” Considered from another angle, the right kind of love brings the loveliness. The kind of love that we are called to model within a Christian marriage is love that bestows loveliness.

On an earthly level, it is not sinful to respond to loveliness in the other, but that is not what we should want down at the bedrock foundation. We live in a sinful world, and every marriage is a wedding of two sinners. This means that we must have a firm understanding of the meaning of grace. Grace initiates in love, and grace forgives in love.

Seth, this is what you are called to do. Love your wife as Christ loved the church. Brooke, you have a similar high calling, and must respect the man that God has given to you. 

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Almost as Good as Living in Her Basement

Tue, 10/09/2019 - 02:05

“They were romantic individualists who valued self-reliance and were possessed of a grand contempt for mass society. As Thoreau, who is best known for spending two years ‘roughing it’ in a cabin on Walden Pond (his mother actually brought him regular meals and did his washing), famously wrote, ‘The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.’”

Nation of Rebels, p. 69

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Categories: People I don't know

Imitation Where It Counts

Tue, 10/09/2019 - 02:00

“Ineffective discipline is a way of disowning, rejecting, or hating your children. God does not do that with us, and we must not do that with our children”

Why Children Matter, p. 48

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David French and the Chimerical Flibbertigibbet

Mon, 09/09/2019 - 14:53

The United States has a written Constitution, as in, written down, which has been a wonderful firewall and blessing. But America also has, as all nations do, an unwritten constitution. That unwritten covenant is the only thing that makes the Constitution itself worth anything more than the paper it is written on. There are certain assumptions embedded in our national psyche that have to be taken into account if you want to understand what our radicals are attacking with such ferocity, and what our conservatives, still being their lovable and bewildered selves, are dimly trying to defend.

We shall get to all of that near the end of this hard lesson. 

The Ahmari/French Debate

This summer’s series of collisions between Sohrab Ahmari and David French culminated in a debate last week, and you can find a summary of what happened here.

One of the things that had set the whole thing off initially was Ahmari’s deficient sense of respect for Drag Queen Story Hours at public libraries. French’s basic response to Ahmari’s outrage was to argue that if we want the secularists to respect our liberties in the public square then turnabout is obviously fair play, and so we have to respect their liberties. In the linked summary of their debate above, notice how crucial the idea of “viewpoint neutrality” is to French. “Viewpoint neutrality is what we must defend.”

The problem—and it is kind of a big one really—is that there is no such thing as viewpoint neutrality. Like Maria in The Sound of Music, viewpoint neutrality is a, is a . . . how do you say it? . . . it is a flibbertigibbet. How do you catch a cloud and pin it down? How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?

Let us take a moment to ponder and reflect. How do you defend a phantasm? How do you circle the wagons around an ignis fatuus?  How do you rally to the wraith of an idea? When you rally to that point, you find that the banners of your ghostly regiment are snapping smartly in the breeze that blows in from the Void.

Allow me to explain why this is so.

First, why is it not possible to have a “neutral viewpoint” concerning viewpoint neutrality itself? Why do we have to insist on neutrality in public libraries when it comes to issues like drag queens reading to the kiddos, but we don’t have to insist on neutrality when it comes to the possibility or impossibility of viewpoint neutrality? Viewpoint neutrality is a good and necessary thing is not itself a viewpoint neutral sentiment. It is therefore not validated by its own criterion—which is kind of like pragmatism not working, or rationalism going mad. We cannot really say that every view must make an allowance for all the others, except for David French’s view of constitutional neutralities. That view need not make any allowances for anybody.

Whenever anybody sets forth a particular, defined cultural value, like viewpoint neutrality, even though I am seated in the back rows here, I still want to stand on my chair and shout at the moderator, “Ask him by what standard?!” And if permitted a follow-up, I would ask if the standard assumed or appealed to is in any way neutral.

Second, David French is not really trying to do this thing Even Steven. If he were fighting for a closer approximation of a consistent viewpoint neutrality—which is impossible, but we can try, can’t we?—what he would be after is Drag Queen Story Hour on Fridays, and What God Did to Sodom on Mondays. Equal time, in other words. We could ask the Fruity Boys to host the events on Fridays, and some fundamentalists with skinny neckties, pockets full of Chick tracts, with black floppy Bibles, and hailing from Antioch Baptist, to do Bible Story Hour on Mondays. If a librarian can invite one offensive group, then wouldn’t it be viewpoint neutrality for her to be able to invite another different kind of one?

But no. What is actually happening is that cultural conservatives are being actively defenestrated through the Overton Window. So to speak. You are not exactly fighting for viewpoint neutral religious liberty when you are balancing the right of perverts to proselytize in public spaces as over against the right of Christians to continue to exist in their private spaces. If viewpoint neutrality were possible, then we would be arguing for the right of all groups to proselytize during Story Hour.

Third, as I never tire of repeating, religious liberty is itself a religious value. Not all religions value it, and those that do value it do so at different levels of commitment. Conservative Christianity, the kind that believes the Bible, is the kind of faith system that can sustain the most robust forms of religious liberty possible. No other worldview comes close. So to say that you want all the different faith systems, with which America teems, to respect and honor religious liberty is to say that, on this point at least, you want them to defer to the Christian pattern. Being a Christian, I don’t mind making that a requirement. What I do mind is the pretense that we are not doing so.

A neutral and aggressively secular state will not preserve religious liberty. The content of the conclusion is not contained within their premises. An ostensibly neutral state with an accumulated reservoir of historic Christian moral capital can preserve religious liberty, but only for a time. But run it out a few decades. You cannot make Herbert Marcuse the Secretary of Free Speech at Animal Farm without finding out, to your chagrin, that some animals are more equal than others. Religious liberty for Christians is not a principle that can be derived from the premises of an aggressive secularism. NOT going to happen. Totalitarian systems of thought do not generate liberty of any kind, especially a religious liberty that leaves room for untrammeled gospel preaching and church planting.   

Fourth, French insists that somehow the Constitution requires this of us, but is that really the case? For more on this, see below. When the Constitution was adopted, and for the first couple hundred years after that, our cultural center of gravity included general respect for that Constitution, coupled with an awareness of the cultural principles assumed in and by the Constitution. That culture-wide spirit of give and take, and mutual respect, that shared center, is a spirit that David French is assuming as somehow still operative. But that mutual respect is long gone, as in bye-bye.

About half the electorate wants to pitch anything overboard that gets in the way of whatever results they are currently demanding. You ask for an example? Okay. The Electoral College. And look at how the current crop of Democratic candidates is pandering to the envious half of our electorate’s id—their platform can be summarized as free chocolate milk for everybody coupled with ban all the things. There is not the shred of constitutionality anywhere near any of them.

It is one thing when the country is divided, say, over whether or not to buy Greenland. That would be an old-school policy disagreement, and brings Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase to mind. It is quite another thing when one half of the electorate says the Constitution should be read with an originalist understanding, while the other half is saying the Constitution should be thrown into a cauldron, melted down, and shaped into something that looks more like the Altar of Damascus. 

C.S. Lewis reminded us (in Screwtape Proposes a Toast) that Aristotle long ago made a distinction that David French needs to consider more deeply than he has yet done. There is a difference between behavior that democracies like and behavior that will preserve democracies. Erdogan, ruler of Turkey, put it succinctly when he said that democracy is like a streetcar—you ride it until you get where you wanted to go. Then you get off.

Reasoning in the same Aristotelean spirit, there is a difference between behavior that libertines like and behavior that will preserve liberty. French doesn’t see it yet, but he is actually defending the former, while Ahmari is urging a return to the latter. There is a difference between behavior that religious extremists demand (e.g. the freedom of drag queens to groom little kids on the public dime) and behavior that will preserve a genuine religious liberty. 

In short, David French’s approach to this whole religious liberty thing is a knotted tangle of epistemic inconsistencies, a fact that I have pointed out repeatedly. I have no doubt that he is a nice man, and I have no doubt that he has done many good things in his fights for the rights of Christians.

But he is dead wrong on the basic presuppositional issue here, and Ahmari is right on the basic presuppositional issue here. I am saying nothing about any personal jabs or insults, back and forth, and I am not going to, as they say, descend to personalities. All I am saying is that the Constitution that David French loves is a document that cannot survive for very long at all transplanted into the kind of soil we are currently trying to keep it in. And French cannot keep defending the new soil if he wants to keep the old plant.

As I say, and as I keep on saying, religious liberty is itself a religious value. Should it be imposed on those who do not share the religion that generates and values it? This question really needs to be, you know, like, answered. Now I know that it is de rigueur for important folks in the conservative empyrean to ignore input coming from such a tainted source as the grizzled solon of the Idaho panhandle, but still. Here I sit by my wood stove, whittling my epistemic shavings into the fire, wondering why the denizens of the firmament can’t see how the stick is eventually going to be gone. So my question remains a good question, and somebody really needs to take a crack at answering it. But I am sure there are some people who live in these big centers of influence who understand what the heck I am going on about. Maybe David Bahnsen could take French out for coffee or something.

Founded on an Idea?

I am about to say that American was formed as a creedal nation. But I am hesitant to bring this up for two reasons.

One is that this notion has been perpetuated by many who then go on to articulate a false version of what that creed or idea was. It is like hearing someone argue that Christianity is inescapably confessional, and you are nodding along in agreement, only to have them haul out some creed dictated by an illiterate Arian Goth. They are right about the first part, but everything actually rides on the second part.

The second reason I am hesitant to bring this up is because people ignore the fact that ideas have consequences, which is to say that ideas must instantiate. When a nation has a creedal foundation, which ours did, it still remains a nation for all that. The ideas take shape in the forms of that unwritten constitution I have spoken about, which includes our customs, language, sports, history, legacy, symbols, rituals, geography, and so forth. In other words, the idea does not remain chilled and isolated in the produce coolers in Plato’s realm of the forms.

So the false view of our great American ideal, as it is now touted, consists of a basic Ophrafication of the pursuit of happiness. Dream your dreams, girl. And those who ignore the historical instantiation are trying to say the ideal trumps the culture that grew up around that ideal, which is false.

Creationist America

I have said that all this is part of our unwritten constitution. But why would I say this when a central part of what I have in mind was written down—i.e. the Declaration. But though the Declaration was written down, it has no legal status. It is not part of the constitutional framework, and it is not included in any of our statutes. Rather it was woven into our culture because of how it has been honored, and because generations of schoolchildren memorized chunks of it, as did I as a boy.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

If anything is part of the American creed, this is. If any idea can be considered foundational to our way of life, this is. This is not one idea among many, competing out there in the American market place of ideas. This is the auditorium that makes all the other debates possible. And while this auditorium is friendly to debates, and genuinely encourages them, it will not accept certain resolutions to be debated, such as this one: “Resolved: the house steward should burn down this auditorium with everyone still in it.”

So here is the American creed in short form. All men have inalienable rights, granted to them by their Creator. Governments are supposed to secure and protect these rights, not bestow them. These rights include, but are not limited to, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

No Creator, no rights. No rights, no inalienable rights. If this Declaration is wrong, and if Darwin is right, then religious liberty, along with all other liberties, is a pipe dream. A free republic must therefore be a creationist republic. If there is no Creator, then society is simply a collection of millions of misshapen bags of protoplasmic water. And such would most certainly not have what a previous generation so quaintly called “rights.” It would be no great loss if somebody just turpentined the whole ant hill.

Chesterton for the Win

So I began by saying that America has an unwritten constitution, and at the foundation of that unwritten constitution, we find a creed. Chesterton, astute as always, pointed to it.

“America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed. That creed is set forth with dogmatic and even theological lucidity in the Declaration of Independence; perhaps the only piece of practical politics that is also theoretical politics and also great literature”

What I Saw in America, p. 7

Not surprisingly, the creed in its original Greek contains nothing about affordable housing or climate change.

“It enunciates that all men are equal in their claim to justice, that governments exist to give them that justice, and that their authority is for that reason just. It certainly does condemn anarchism, and it does also by inference condemn atheism, since it clearly names the Creator as the ultimate authority from whom these equal rights are derived”

Ibid., p. 7

In order for this system to work, there must be a system of shared cultural values. There must be boundaries, definitions, particular affirmations and denials. In short, as Chesterton put it, “The melting pot must not melt” (Ibid. p. 8).

Viewpoint neutrality, epistemic agnosticism, will preserve precisely nothing. Viewpoint neutrality melts the melting pot down.

“The original shape [of the melting pot] was traced on the lines of Jeffersonian democracy; and it will remain in that shape until it becomes shapeless. America invites all me to become citizens; but it implies the dogma that there is such a thing as citizenship.”

Ibid., p. 8, emphasis mine

It will remain in that shape until it becomes shapeless. Indeed. And David French needs to understand that defending the collapse into shapelessness is not the same thing as defending the original shape.

How could it be?

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