Culture, politics, Theology

Cultural Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is an alleged mental malady in which one’s behavior is stamped by alternations of a period of euphoria, energy, and ecstasy, with a period of moroseness, withdrawal, and languidness. It is often treated by medications. Whether an actual clinical condition or not, all of us have known individuals suffering from what is termed bipolar disorder.

A. J. Conyers’ The Long Truce: How Toleration Made the World Safe for Power and Profit[1] makes the intriguing suggestion that John Locke’s view of political and religious toleration that made such an impact on the modern West (not least on the United States) created a bipolar society that has led, despite his best intentions, to our present social disorder: a cultural bipolar disorder.

Two Poles: The State and the Individual

The two poles of society  are the individual and the state. This bipolar society was unprecedented before modernity. In most of the ancient and medieval worlds, society was comprised of individuals all committed to several interlocking and interdependent institutions, what we today term “civil society.” The most important were the family and church. Others included the guild and the local community. Individuals were also political citizens, of course, but the state was merely one institution among several, and in some ways the least important (though most coercive), since it was the only one that was artificially constructed.

The family, for example, was a given, a natural institution without which life was impossible. The church was a supernatural institution, created by the triune God as the indispensable public assembly of his blood-washed people. This means that individuals participated in numerous institutions concurrently, each of which fulfilled its own distinctive role and demanded its own loyalty of its members. Society was multi-polar, not bipolar.

Locke and others (including especially the French Romantic thinker Rousseau) believed that these pre-political institutions constituted a threat to social tolerance and stability since they demanded a devotion that conflicted with the devotion to other people’s families and churches. After all, the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648), fought largely between Roman Catholics and Protestants and in Great Britain also between High Churchmen and Puritans, had left its bloody carnage all over Europe.

Locke and other thinkers wanted to propose a society in which intensity of religious belief in particular was mitigated and the state was empowered to forbid religious persecution by remaining neutral in religion (an impossibility, since some religion, even if it be secularism, will prevail). This could happen only if the chief loyalty of individuals was reserved to the state. Individualism and politics would thereafter govern life. The state didn’t mind individual freedom as long it was expressed individualistically and did not vest too much devotion to the family and church.

Our Disordered Bipolar Culture

With hindsight we know  how socially pernicious this proposal has turned out to be. Almost every social factor of modern life conspires to dilute civil society and embolden the state, always under the guise of liberating the individual from the oppression of the family and church and other “private”[2] institutions.

Children are encouraged to circumvent parental love and authority and create a separate relation with the state, allowing girls to get abortion and both sexes to get vicious, violent “gender reassignment surgery” without parental approval.

Spouses can get a quick and easy “no-fault” divorce. Radical autonomy negates the marital covenant — what’s important is not “signatures on an old piece of paper” but my current desires and aspirations, which might not include my spouse. The state intervenes to collude in the elimination of the marital covenant. The state and the individual alone are the poles.

The church, in addition, is considered “non-essential” during draconian Covid lockdowns because the state insists on an unmediated relation to the health (or supposed health) of individuals. The church as an institution of safety and healing (including in some cases physical healing) simply doesn’t enter the bipolar cultural calculation.

At the heart of the bipolar society is “expressive individualism,” the widespread idea that The Good Life is about “following your heart,” getting plenty of “me time,” and “being authentic.” Before modernity, the good life was defined as knowing your place in God’s order and living there for his glory. Only those who did this could expect to be fulfilled, since the Creator alone knows how best to fulfill his image-bearing creatures.

We have lived to see, in Conyers’ words, “the long-term consequences of a society in which individuals come to think of themselves as free of every bond and every obligation except that of the state.”[3] A society plagued by divorce’s broken families, porn’s objectification of women, abortion’s slaughter of preborn children, homosexuality’s and transgenderism’s inversion of the sexual order, feminism’s purging the woman’s and man’s dignity, and Critical Race Theory’s inciting racism and racial strife exhibit the socially chaotic consequences of bipolar cultural disorder.

Conclusion

Rebuilding Christian culture demands restoring the multi-polar society. We must overturn statism, the notion that there is no social problem for which increased political control isn’t the best solution, that every social problem (poverty, drug addiction, uneducated youth, wealth disparities — or a viral epidemic) is really a political problem that just doesn’t know it yet. Christians in particular must implement and restore the pre-political society. The family and church must again meet most of the needs presently met (inadequately and oppressively) by the state.

For example, healthcare should be de-nationalized. Education should be returned to the family and church and “private” schools. There should be plenty of “social safety nets” — the net of the family and church and friends and neighbors, not the state. The reason those “private”-sector nets are so hole-filled today is that the bipolar cultural disorder resists all competitors; the state must marginalize any institution that competes for its loyalty. This hatred for civil society that so stamped Marxist regimes like the old Soviet Union is equally fierce in the benevolent social dictatorships like the United States.

But just as God exists in community (Trinity) so he created man to exist in community.

And that community dare not be limited to two poles: the state, and the individual.


[1] (Dallas: Spence Publishing, 2001), 137–141. I’m grateful to my friend Dr. Roger Wagner for recommending this book several years ago.

[2] I place “private” in apologetic quotes to highlight the widespread semantic strategy of referring to politics as a “public” good and free markets as a “private” good, as though politics benefits everybody while the free market benefits only a few greedy people caring only for themselves. The opposite is more nearly true: free markets benefit everybody, while politics these days benefits the politically connected.

[3] A. J. Conyers, The Long Truce, 146.

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Culture

Critical Theory Is Neither Meat Nor Bones — It Is Alien

As I observe from a distance the current debate in major conservative denominations over the possibility of employing aspects of Critical Theory (CT), including Critical Race Theory, keeping the meat and throwing away the bones, it occurred to me that a number of the disputants (on both sides) seem unaware of a fundamental facet that would set the entire debate on a new footing — or abolish it altogether.

The early 20th century Frankfurt School of Critical Theory as well as the roughly contemporaneous Cultural Marxists outside Germany like Antonio Gramsci (GROM-shee) and György Lukács (LOOcotch) developed their program in conscious interaction with and reaction to an already de-Christianized intellectual climate. For them, the seminal intellectual sparring partners were Kant, Marx, and Hegel, and the schools of thought that served as their foil were the Enlightenment and, to a lesser degree, Romanticism.

Anybody who has read Max Horkheimer’s dense and brilliant (and pernicious) foundational essay “Traditional and Critical Theory” (download the chapter here) knows that he and the others weren’t assaulting Christianity, certainly not directly. To them, Christianity and Christendom were simply not a part of a plausibility structure. Their animating attitude could be summarized as: “Given that Christian theology and Greek metaphysics are no longer tenable, how then should we think and live?”

Both Classical and Cultural Marxism are nearly conscious alternative religions devised by intellectuals attempting to create a world-and-life view within the intellectual atmosphere of the 19th and 20th centuries (much earlier de-Christianized). That atmosphere was not so much opposed to Christianity as simply forgetful of it. They didn’t consider fighting Christianity because Christianity to them, at least, was already defeated and irrelevant. Christianity wasn’t their antithesis; it wasn’t even a player.

Now, it seems to me, the problem with the Christians today wanting to incorporate aspects of CT into a Christian social analysis, the usable meat as opposed to the unusable bones, is they’re unintentionally taking this lack of explicit conflict with Christianity on the part of CT as opening the possibility for the adoption of some of its contributions.

But if they understood that CT is grounded in a plausibility structure in which Christianity is not an enemy but simply an irrelevance, they might think differently. It’s not a case of this particular erroneous CT tenet versus the corresponding accurate tenant of the Christian faith.

No, CT is an entirely alien system developed within an intellectual architecture out of which Christianity is hermetically sealed.

This also means — and this is perhaps the most important point of all — that the leading tenets of CT make sense only within that de-Christianized intellectual atmosphere. This might sound like I am importing a form of Kantian idealism, but in reality, I’m simply recognizing that CT is a particular pernicious form of intellectual rebellion that by its very nature excludes anything Christian.

To be Marxist is to presuppose what Christianity excludes, and to be Christian is to presuppose what Marxism excludes.

This is why Cultural Marxism and CT are not merely objectionable on the grounds that they’re all bones and no meat.

They’re an entirely different species altogether (“aliens”), and Christianity was never designed to relate to them other than to refute them at their very root — and abandon and incinerate them.

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Culture, Law

ATF 2021R-08, “Factoring Criteria for Firearms With Attached ‘Stabilizing Braces,’” by Brian G. Mattson

Brian G. Mattson is a public theologian, Senior Scholar of Public Theology for the Center for Cultural Leadership, and adjunct professor at Westminster Theological Seminary. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Aberdeen, has written several books, and lectures on theology and culture.

I am an American citizen enthusiastic about the Bill of Rights, including the 2nd Amendment. As a citizen I must first register my objection to the rule-making process itself: namely, concerned citizens are at an inherent disadvantage having to provide public comment directly to the governmental agency seeking to make them felons by their proposed rule. This conflict of interest or power disparity will inherently distort the true levels of opposition to the proposed rule, given that a vast number of gun owners and enthusiasts will be reluctant to “signal” themselves as out of compliance with the proposed rule. It is, nevertheless, my civic duty to comment.

I have grave concerns about BATFE’s newly proposed rule (Docket Number ATF 2021R-08) regarding “stabilizing pistol braces.” Allow me to summarize them, and then more fully explain each in turn.

1. AR-15 “pistol” variants clearly fall within the definition of “common use” under District of Columbia v. Heller.

2. AR-15 pistol variants are not “especially dangerous and/or unusual weapons.”

3. ATF’s claims about the public benefit of this rule are simply mistaken.

4. The proposed rule’s “Options for Affected Persons” are ineffective and unduly burdensome on law-abiding citizens.

5. ATF’s proposed rule is prima facie ineffective unless the component itself (the “stabilizing brace”) is regulated as an NFA item, thus making it more difficult to obtain; however, ATF admits that “The GCA and NFA regulate ‘firearms’ and, with limited exceptions, do not regulate individual components.”

Explanation:

(1) District of Columbia v. Heller clearly upheld a citizen’s right to keep and bear firearms in common use. The Bureau’s own background summary reveals that at minimum 3 million “stabilizing braces” are in circulation, and this is almost certainly an underestimation. SB Tactical, the most popular manufacturer of stabilizing braces, claims to have manufactured 3 million braces alone. The addition of other popular manufacturers would significantly revise the number upward.

Moreover, in ATF’s OMB Accounting Statement, they claim that the rule would affect “1.4 million purchasers of AR pistols.” That number is obviously incomplete. It may refer to purchasers of fully built, retail purchases of AR pistols, but leaves out the millions of gun enthusiasts who purchased a stabilizing brace to incorporate into other gun platforms.

The sheer numbers of these weapons leaves no doubt that AR pistol variants are very much in “common use.” Anyone familiar with the firearms industry knows that they are in common use. The very fact that ATF has proposed this rule demonstrates that they know these weapons are in common use. What is uncommon is criminal use. (More on that under [3] below.) For now, under Heller, these weapons are not “unusual” or “rare” in any sense of those terms, and should therefore be free from burdensome governmental infringement.

(2) The Bureau states that the NFA was passed to regulate “gangster” type weapons, which were viewed as “especially dangerous and unusual.” It is not a self-evident fact that AR-15s of any type are “especially dangerous.” What is self-evident is that they are not unusual. The Bureau is well-aware that a typical AR-15 caliber is significantly smaller than most hunting ammunition, a fact that by itself refutes the notion of “especially dangerous.” One might counter that muzzle velocities of AR weapons (often exceeding 3,000 feet per second) renders a weapon “especially dangerous,” but that raises an insoluble problem. ATF is ostensibly concerned about shorter barrel lengths; yet shorter barrel lengths reduce muzzle velocity and effective firing range, thus making them less, not more, dangerous. It is simply not cogent as a matter of logic and law why Congress and Federal agencies wish to make the less dangerous weapon subject to burdensome regulations; it directly contradicts the stated purpose of the NFA, which they admit regulates “especially dangerous and unusual” weapons.

(3) The Bureau’s claims about the public benefit of this proposed rule are mistaken. The OMB Accounting statement asserts that the rule: “Prevents manufacturers and individuals from circumventing the requirements of the NFA.” But the rule does not prohibit the manufacture of pistol stabilizing braces; nor does it subject such braces to NFA regulation. The rule, in other words, does nothing to make the production of AR pistols more difficult. Therefore, it “prevents” nothing; all it does it put ink on some paper. This may, by definition, prevent a law-abiding citizen from utilizing a pistol stabilizing brace; but in the incredibly rare event of a criminal using such a weapon, it is unlikely that a person bent on violence will be deterred by the proposed rule.

Secondly, the OMB statement asserts that the rule “Enhances public safety by reducing the criminal use of such firearms, which are easily concealable from the public and first responders.” Given the observation in the foregoing paragraph, this is simply mistaken. It does nothing to “reduce the criminal use of such firearms.” It is still perfectly legal to buy an AR pistol variant without a stabilizing brace, and perfectly legal to buy a stabilizing brace. Nothing has been proposed that would actually reduce the (newly) criminal activity of putting the two together. Furthermore, the notion that an AR-15 pistol variant is “easily concealable” is ridiculous. It is not. This is why such weapons are rarely used in crime, and the weapon of choice in the vast majority of crimes is a handgun. The Bureau is well-aware of this fact.

The Bureau raises two examples of AR-15 pistol variants being used in “mass shootings.” First, these events are irrelevant unless the Bureau can establish that the pistol brace involved in those shootings somehow made the weapon more dangerous than a handgun or a 16-inch rifle would have been in those circumstances. ATF should not be allowed to simply assert this as a fact. Second, the fact that the Bureau appeals to two incidents is quite revelatory. Recall for a moment the Bureau’s own (certainly low) numbers: 3 million pistol braces; 1.4 million purchasers of AR pistol variants. Millions of people “keep and bear” AR pistol variants and there are two examples of criminal use? This would suggest to me that there is no acute public health crisis to precipitate the intrusive infringement of the proposed rule.

(4) The proposed rule makes law-abiding citizens retroactive felons. There is no “grandfather” arrangement proposed. This is intolerable as a matter of law; no citizen, having engaged in good faith to legally purchase a firearm should be retroactively rendered a felon by fiat. Moreover, the proposed “Options for Affected Persons” has zero chance of success. Leaving aside the paternalistic language (“we want to help you with compliance”) and options seemingly drafted in such a way as to infuriate the populace (e.g., “destroy the firearm”), the Bureau will quickly find itself, should the rule go forward, tasked with actively seeking out millions of citizens who refuse to comply. As the Bureau is likely aware, a scheme in New Jersey to “buy back” standard-capacity magazines netted the state zero magazines. If gun-owning citizens refused to part with their magazines, the likelihood of them parting with their AR-15s is even less.

(5) Finally, the Bureau is clearly frustrated in its task of enforcing the requirements of the NFA, and complains that the firearms industry is “circumventing” the NFA with the use of stabilizing braces. I understand their frustration. However, the problem is not the industry; the problem is the NFA itself and the statutory limitations it places on the ATF. The Bureau admits that the NFA does not give jurisdiction to regulate (most) individual firearm components—they cannot prohibit the manufacture of a stabilizing brace or effectively prohibit someone from utilizing one on their personal weapon. Rather ironically, the proposed rule represents ATF attempting to circumvent their own statutory limitations.

In sum, AR-15 pistol variants are in common use; they are not “especially dangerous or unusual”; there is no acute public health interest in regulating them under the NFA; law-abiding citizens of this country should never be retroactively declared felons by fiat; and as a simple matter of fact, the rule faces very little possibility of actual compliance. It is thus impractical and an example of bad public policy.

I strongly oppose the proposed rule, and encourage the Bureau to lobby Congress to abolish the real source of this longstanding institutional problem: the National Firearms Act of 1934.

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Apostasy, Bible, Church, Culture, Theology

New Book — Defend the Faith: Christian Warfare for Our Time

The Christian life is a battle, and battles presuppose enemies. The chief enemy of Christians is Satan (and demonic spirits aligned with him [Eph. 6:12]), but a leading strategy in thwarting God’s earthly kingdom is his enlisting humans to assist him. This diabolical strategy started in Eden.

The Bible assumes that the true Faith will constantly be under attack in the sinful world and in the church. This doesn’t mean that we should invent enemies when there are none. There are enemies aplenty already.

Get the e-book here.

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Culture, Economics, Law, politics

“Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” Isn’t

Today the CalPers board considered the widely implemented Diversity & Inclusion Report and Framework. CalPers is a massive agency for California employees, retirees and their families and manages the largest pension fund in the United States. I was asked by one of the CalPers members to address the board on this pressing issue.

Here are my prepared remarks:


My name is P. Andrew Sandlin, and I am founder and president of the Center for Cultural Leadership in Coulterville, California. I hold degrees in English, history, political science, and systematic and historical theology. 

I hope you won’t mind a contrarian viewpoint. 

I’ve written about 25 books, and have specialized in an investigation of both Classical and Cultural MarxismCritical TheoryCritical Race Theory, and systemic racism.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and the Diversity & Inclusion Report and Framework (statement linked above) incorporate widely attested Critical Race Theory whose root is Cultural (Western) Marxism. All of us deplore racism, for example, but Critical Race Theory instigates hostility between races at a time when we should be working toward racial harmony and understanding. The same is true of sexual preferentialism and its affirmative action.

Moreover, this program will alienate many hard-working Americans among your constituents, Christians, and others who believe in equality under the law, fair play, free speech, and equal rights. The attempt to create special preferences for special groups is a revitalization of the old classically Marxist idea of class consciousness, today known as identity politics.

CalPERS should recognize the equality of all members and not attempt to privilege some and (unintentionally) deprivilege others.

DEI will undermine the ideals of fairness, objectivity, and fair play and could alienate a sizable portion of your constituency. 

We live in a time when new and dangerous ideologies are overtaking the elite reaches of our society and as they filter down, they are bringing great harm to our common, hard-working citizens and their families. DEI is a prime example of this ideological poison.

Bias is always a danger, but coercive preferentialism is perhaps the worst bias of all. 

I urge you to bypass this proposal and, instead, work toward a truly fair approach toward all. 

We need fresh, innovative thinking, not a rehash of old, discredited Marxism. 

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Church, Culture

Ghost Churches

Introduction

A new term in ecclesial nomenclature is “ghosting.” It denotes church members’ dropping out of their congregations without informing their church leadership, simply disappearing. In our age that increasingly disdains commitment to institutions, ghosting has been increasing for the last decade, and it has accelerated during the Covid drama. The dramatically altered social ambiance has given “ghosts” an ecclesial hall pass they never seem to intend to return.

It occurred to me that it would be a mistake to limit ecclesial ghosting to members. What about churches? Can churches become ghosts?

Tragically they can — and have. Let me list three ways.

Covid Ghosting

First, consider the churches that have in effect ceased to exist. I say, “in effect,” because churches that refuse to meet for protracted periods have simply closed shop. Why? Because the very meaning of church is “assembly” or “congregation.” Amid 2020 Covid culture you might have heard, “Be the church wherever you are,” or “The virtual church is still the church.” But there is nothing virtual about the church. A church that is not tactile is not the church. It is a ghost church.

This is not to suggest that churches that temporarily suspend meetings due to pervasive illness or the presence of a majority of the elderly, who are most vulnerable to Covid. It is, however, to declare that cancelation of Sunday worship until the state governor lifts lockdown prohibitions = cancelation of the church itself. In “cancel culture,” the most heartbreaking event is the church’s self-cancelation.

Doctrinal Ghosting

Second, ponder churches that have abandoned sound doctrine. It’s remarkable how many conservative churches that formally oppose liberalism don’t understand that liberalism began with the idea that the church doesn’t have access to revealed truth. The father of 19th century liberalism, Friedrich Schleiermacher, wrote: “Dogmatic theology is the science which systematizes the doctrine prevalent in a Christian church at a given time.”[1] No orthodox theologian anywhere would have dared offer that definition. Dogmatic theology is the application of the Bible, properly interpreted, to the church and world.[2]  Theology doesn’t include only what we call “systematic theology.” It also involves biblical devotion, comfort, law — how to live day to day in God’s world. This biblical truth far outstrips the most advanced psychological insights peddled in today’s churches. 

More and more churches major on self-help, therapy, addiction recovery, life coaching, and marriage seminars that, while not inherently wrong, are not the central ministry of the church, which actually is faithfully teaching and preaching the Word of God. Churches that substitute social programs and religious entertainment and commoditized “community” in an atomistic age for the simple, faithful ministry of the Word are ghost churches.

There is nothing virtual about the church. A church that is not tactile is not the church. It is a ghost church

More and more churches major on self-help, therapy, addiction recovery, life coaching, and marriage seminars that, while not inherently wrong, are not the central ministry of the church, which actually is faithfully teaching and preaching the Word of God. Churches that substitute social programs and religious entertainment and commoditized “community” in an atomistic age for the simple, faithful ministry of the Word are ghost churches.

Cultural Ghosting

Finally, think about the majority of churches in the West that see no calling to Christianize culture. They are committed to edifying themselves, as they should (Eph. 4:7–16), but seem to have missed the charge to bring all nations (not just individuals) under Christ’s authority (Mt. 28:18–20) and to press his reign in all areas of life (Eph. 1:15–23; cf. 2:4–7). Christians are called to glorify God in matters as seemingly trivial as eating or drinking (1 Cor. 10:31). To glorify God in all things means to act in obedience in every area of culture. Since the earth and its fullness are the Lord’s (1 Cor. 10:26, 28), to act as Christians in his world is to bring him glory everywhere. This necessitates Christianizing the world. The successful Great Commission to evangelize the world creates an increasing number of believers who glorify him in all things everywhere. Therefore, to speak of world evangelization while opposing world Christianization is to talk at cross purposes.

One role of the church is to prepare the saints to vanquish the world, the flesh, and the devil by donning the whole armor of God (Eph. 6:10–20). The church is not merely a haven of protection from earthly evil. It is also tasked to counter and crush that evil as God’s armory in equipping the saints for earthly victory.

But much of today’s church in the West is committed to a distorted view of “separation of church and state” and a soft-core dualism that sees the material world and this life as necessary evils to be avoided as much a possible while living for escape to an ethereal heaven rather than a resurrected and renovated earth in which God dwells (Rev. 21:1–5). The church can longer be social light and salt because it has hidden its illumination within the four walls of the church and has lost its saltiness and is therefore being trampled underfoot by secularists and neo-pagans.

This is a tragic but fit consequence for a ghost church, which prefers ethereal marginalization to robust engagement.

Conclusion

Ghost churches litter the landscape of the West.  It is impossible to imagine the patent de-Christianization of the West apart from the ghosting of the church. It is possible for a church to be vibrant within a hostile society, but this condition can never be permanent: either the church will gradually remold society in a Christian image. Or the godless society will infect and emasculate the church. Ghost churches have paved the way for godless culture, and reversing the ghosting is a necessary precondition of a godly society.


[1] Friedrich Schleiermacher, The Christian Faith (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1928, 1976), 88.

[2] John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R Publishing, 1987), 76–88.

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