Transforming Christians to Transform Culture

Posts by P. Andrew Sandlin

A Chief Role of Conservative Politicians Is to Stay Out of the Way

Posted on November 5, 2014

The chief task of political conservatives in a majority position in modern constitutional republics (like the new Republican Congress) is to impede the relentless progressive rush by (1) protecting the family and the church, (2) slowing the growth of government, and (3) restoring the rule of law. Politicians in such societies are not particularly important in the task of Christian cultural reclamation, despite their frequent sense self-importance; but if they do their job properly, they will make the job of cultural reclamation a lot easier for those Christians who really are significant in that gargantuan work: I mean the homeschool moms and day school teachers, the artists and the architects, the authors and the anchors, the pastors and the plumbers, the auto mechanics and the software developers, the businessmen and -women and halfway house staff, the doctors and the nurses, the attorneys and the theologians, the pop singers and popular bloggers. These are the categories of Christians whom God generally most uses to reclaim an apostate culture — if they are determined to think and act Christianly at all times.

“Social Justice” and Jell-O Nomenclature

Posted on October 27, 2014

Marx-Liberty-214x281
Adapted from an introduction to the Center for Cultural Leadership‘s 2014 West Coast symposium on “Social Justice: A Christian View” in Saratoga, California, October 25

We’re talking today about social justice. “Social justice” has become ubiquitous in sociopolitical discourse. It’s what I like to term “Jell-O nomenclature”: its meaning is obvious until you actually have to nail it down. I’m reminded of what the Western church father Augustine said about the concept of time: “When nobody asks me, I know what it is. But when somebody asks me what it is, I do not know.” We tend to have a vague sense of what social justice is, and in the end it can mean all sorts of things or, perhaps, really nothing at all.

Rather than define it, however, we probably can accurately describe what most people mean when they use or hear it. Social justice is basically the idea that there are unwholesome inequalities among humans in the world, and deeply caring people should use the state (that is, political means) in order to eliminate, or at least seriously reduce, these inequalities. By “human inequalities,” I mean things like income inequalities, inequalities among the sexes, inequalities among religions and races, inequalities between the young and the old, between children and parents, between rich nations and poor nations, and such. By “political means,” I denote using the coercive power of the state in order to force greater equality. Both of these factors are important in understanding social justice. Getting rid of inequality is not enough. How you get rid of it is just as important.

For example, a business entrepreneur who starts a new company in order to provide jobs and income for young people in poverty isn’t an example of social justice. Federal law raising the minimum wage for some of these same young people is an example of social justice.

A university that establishes a policy of hiring the most qualified faculty, whether men or women, is not an instance of social justice. Federally mandated hiring quotas requiring universities to enlist a specific number of women faculty is an example of social justice.

A Roman Catholic hospital that provides designated healthcare funds for its employees to spend as they wish is not an example of social justice. A state requirement that the same hospital provide abortifacients to its employees is an instance of social justice.

In other words, you don’t get to call an action that reduces inequalities social justice unless the state forces you to do it.

The expression “social justice” is Jell-O nomenclature for another reason. As Thomas Sowell once said, all justice is social. After all, if you were alone on a desert island, there’d be no need for justice. Justice is necessary when you have a society, not when you have an individual. So “social justice” is a redundancy.

That’s why it’s much better simply to refer to “justice.” That’s the language in Christian revelation. In the Bible, our English word “justice” is often a translation of the word meaning “righteousness.” To act justly is to act in the right.[1] There’s a right way to treat people, and a wrong way to treat people, and if you treat them rightly, you treat them justly.

In considering social justice, we’re really addressing  justice.

_____

[1] James D. G. Dunn, “The Justice of God,” in The Justice of God, James D. G. Dunn and Alan Suggate, eds. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 31–42.

Political Conservatives Are (Finally) Figuring Out that Culture Trumps Politics

Posted on October 19, 2014

Woman with black futuristic glasses

Some of the most significant words written by a political conservative in the United States in the last quarter century are here, uttered not by a United States citizen, but by Canadian conservative Mark Steyn. He (finally?) understands that in a constitutional democracy, all of the political victories in the world cannot overturn a single significant cultural victory. You must fight culture with culture, not politics.

On his website, Steyn summarizes his view as “culture trumps politics.” This is the same language and idea that the Center for Cultural Leadership has been using for several years, but I’m less interested in taking credit for a genealogy that in communicating a truth, which Steyn artfully expresses:

If the culture’s liberal, if the schools are liberal, if the churches are liberal, if the hip, groovy business elite is liberal, if the guys who make the movies and the pop songs are liberal, then electing a guy with an “R” after his name isn’t going to make a lot of difference.

I’m far from implying that we should abandon politics — far from it. The Christian conservative stake in politics is, ironically, to downsize and deescalate politics: to expand and preserve liberty for zones of cultural “privacy” — the family, the church, business, and other aspects of what has been called civil (= non-political) society. But we must never be lured into the illusion that political victories will secure the society — the culture — we envision.

If you want to overturn cultural depravity, you can’t do it by winning elections. You must win the culture.

On Being Proudly Neo-Reformational

Posted on October 7, 2014

3Men

 

In the current atmosphere of conservative Christian cultural engagement, the Center for Cultural Leadership stands squarely within the neo-Reformational (or neo-Calvinist) paradigm (most notably in the thinking of Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck, Herman Dooyeweerd, and Cornelius Van Til, today championed also by John M. Frame).

Its leading features with reference to culture are:

  1. The inescapably religious character of humanity
  1. The antithesis between righteous cultural thinking and acting and unrighteous cultural thinking and acting
  1. The Lordship of Jesus Christ over all things
  1. The Bible as providing the basis for society
  1. Each sphere of culture (family, church, state, education, science, arts, etc.) fulfilling its own Christian tasks, related, but not subordinate, to other spheres (“sphere sovereignty”)
  1. The calling of Christians to Christianize culture (“cultural mandate”)

The nearly unforgivable and embarrassing scandal of this neo-Reformational paradigm among many Christians, including many Christians rightly working to reverse the secular trends in our culture, is its:

  1. Appeal to special and not merely natural revelation for governing a society (they don’t want the Bible involved)
  1. Refusal to privilege the church vis a vis other spheres (they want the church to be the fountainhead of God’s working in culture)
  1. Commitment to (non-coercive) Christian hegemony (they are often committed to structural pluralism and recoil at any suggestion that biblical Christianity should dominate a culture)

Prominent Christian conservatives invested in natural law alone or in the Two-Kingdom theory or in merely traditional non-neo-Reformational approaches to cultural engagement are often our allies in the cultural battles of our time, and we are grateful for them.

But we are convinced that the neo-Reformational paradigm alone furnishes the most consistent, God-honoring, potentially permanent program for turning back our regnant cultural apostasy.

History Doesn’t Pick Sides — You Do

Posted on September 11, 2014

 

USA Today’s Christine Brennan chided the soft-spoken, retired-NFL-coach-turned-commentator, devout Christian Tony Dungy, for his comparatively benign comment that he would not have drafted the openly gay Michael Sam since he “wouldn’t want to deal with all of it [the controversy].” The unforgivable sin that Dungy and a number of his over-60-years-old crowd committed is, according to Brennan, to be “[o]n the wrong side of history.”

Barack Obama once publicly worried about being on the wrong side of history by not supporting same-sex marriage though, later, he apparently got on the right side of history by supporting it. In fact, as even the left-slated Slate complains, the president is increasingly trotting out that expression “the wrong side of history,” as, for example, when he scolded Russian President Vladimir Putin for invading the Ukraine. Even conservatives sometimes get into the act. Fox News’ Shepard Smith claimed the Republican Party was “on the wrong side of history” for not lining up behind same-sex marriage.

The phrase is often identified with classical Marxists, and Leon Trotsky is reputed to have told his opponents they would end up in “the dustbin of history.”

 

The Metaphysical Myth

 

Behind this idea widely held by leftist radicals is a metaphysical myth, a breathtaking leap of faith. It is this: just as linear history is a record of man’s scientific and technological advance, so it is a record of his moral advance. Earlier morals in history were at best crude and undeveloped and oppressive, and, in many cases, just plain wrong. But as history moves forward, and man becomes more enlightened, as he inevitably will, his morals become more enlightened.

 

But it is, in fact, not true that science and technology have merely advanced. As Carnes Lord has noted, some ancient cultures (notably Egypt and her pyramids) obviously employed technologies every bit as modern as our own. How did that technology get lost for 2500 or more years? From a purely empirical standpoint, scientific and technological advance are not inevitable. But apparently, moral advance is.

 

The radicals will say: “Just think of slavery. It has been abolished everywhere in the Western world. It is not even thinkable.” (Except by radical Muslims in Africa, but we apparently should only be concerned about the putative injustices suffered by the descendants of African-American slaves, and not actual African slaves today.) According to this metaphysical myth, mankind is consistently shedding morality destined for the dustbin of history. (Even expressions like mankind must be shed for the less paternalistically imperialistic term humankind.) When outmoded moralities do reappear, as in the Nazis’ anti-Semitism, they are quickly and relentlessly crushed because they are, well, on the wrong side of history.

 

Disproving a Myth

 

Like most myths, this one is hard to disprove. It is a metaphysical myth. It cannot be empirically disproven because it enlists a standard beyond history by which the events of history must be interpreted. Technological and scientific advance are different. Common sense will tell us that, if our goal is swift and accurate communication with one another, a smart phone is better than a telephone, and a telephone is better than the Pony Express, which has been consigned to the dustbin of history, just as telephones are being relegated to dustbins, and not just historical ones, either.

 

A commonsensical standard for, say, human sexuality is not as clear. Is monogamy superior to polygamy and, if so, to what commonsense standards would one appeal? If the goal is the proliferation of offspring, polygamy beats monogamy hands down. But to assess whether proliferation of offspring should be the chief objective of sexual relationships is to invoke a standard beyond the merely historical. Ironically, however, most radical leftists see monogamy (including, today, homosexual monogamy) as having replaced polygamy in the great march of human history. Radical leftists must enlist a metaphysical standard, a moral standard, that they did not discover merely by historical investigation. To say that monogamy must replace polygamy and that homosexual monogamy is no less legitimate than heterosexual monogamy is to express a judgment based in a particular presupposition, or worldview. No one should simply accept it as an axiom.

 

The Empirical Failure

 

But the wrong-side-of-history myth fails on the empirical level too, even if it can’t be disproven empirically. Moral optimists early in the 20th century were hailing the end of war, the ushering in of universal peace and brotherhood. Tribalism and xenophobia and their moralities had been found to fall on the wrong side of history and had been replaced by the universal morality of tolerance. But something funny happened on the way into the 20th century: World War I, and then World War II, and then world communism, and then the Cold War, and then Korea and Viet Nam, and then Rwandan genocide, and then 9/11, and then ISIS. If, according to the radicals, each event was on the wrong side of history, much of the 20th century was on the wrong side of history. Which is to say, there’s nothing inevitable about the march of morality, including leftist morality. People make decisions, and they often make wrong moral decisions (however “wrong” is defined), and if enough of them make those wrong decisions, the culture will quickly get on the wrong side of history. There is, frankly, nothing morally inevitable, and there simply isn’t any moral march of history.

 

God’s World of Human Choices

 

This world is God’s world, however, since he created it, sustains it, and will bring it to its conclusion, glorifying him and his truth without his employing determinist moralities, without coercing humans to be good or evil. God alone is absolutely free, but he gives man free choices. He can assure the ends without coercing the means. He gave Adam and Eve the choice to obey or disobey. He set before ancient Israel good and evil. His apostle Paul declares that when God revealed himself to humanity in righteousness, most of it turned to idolatry and consequent perversion. History is not some personal force gradually shedding some morals while adopting others. History is God’s created theater in which he dynamically interacts with man, created in his image, to bring all things to God’s glory. There is no right or wrong side of history, there is only a right or wrong side with respect to God. “Moses stood in the gate of the camp and said, ‘Who is on the LORD’s side? Come to me’” (Ex. 32:26). “Whoever is not with me is against me,” Jesus states, “and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Lk. 11:23).

 

God’s revelation in Jesus Christ, the Bible, and in creation is the only standard of morality in any historical period. Older morality is not illegitimate (or legitimate) merely on the grounds that it is older, and newer morality is not illegitimate(or legitimate) merely on the grounds that it is more recent. All morality must be judged by the objective standard of God’s revelation.

 

We Can Win

 

We Christians aghast at the onslaught of cultural apostasy surrounding us should derive great comfort from the falsity of historical determinism — the myth that history picks sides on which we’d better bandwagon. The pervasive victory of same-sex marriage is not historically inevitable. Legalized abortion on-demand may be the law of the land, but it is not the iron law of historical determinism. A socialistic state may seem the wave of the future, but it may turn out to be nothing more than the splash of the present. Apart from the predictive prophecy of the word of God (and there is much less of this in the Bible than you might suppose), nothing is inevitable. Properly qualified, Thomas Sowell’s comment “[N]othing is inevitable until it happens” is right on target. The world changes. People change. Churches change. Businesses change. Nations change. Cultures change. Nothing is inevitable until it happens.

 

The moniker “the wrong side of history” is calculated to cut off reasonable arguments and is often simply a dash into irresponsibility. To be on the right side of history is simply to capitulate to the inevitable: “Who am I to impede history’s moral march?” That is the lazy way out, and often the immoral way out. History doesn’t decide anything. We decide whether we will obey God or resist him. “Let God be true though every one were a liar” (Rom. 3:4).

 

Don’t be either bullied or discouraged when you are accused of having fallen on “the wrong side of history.” There is no wrong side of history, or right side of history. There is only a wrong and right side of God and his revelation.

 

Being on God’s right side is all that matters — individually, and culturally.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 272 other followers