There will of course be a temptation for conservatives to regard this particular rooftop debacle as just one more “art fail,” and we have kind of gotten used to all of those. Those come along every couple of weeks. But something far deeper, far more serious, is manifesting itself.
This statue sits atop a New York City courthouse. The artist explains it on this wise: It is part of an “urgent and necessary cultural reckoning underway as New York reconsiders traditional representations of power in public spaces and recasts civic structures to better reflect 21st-century social mores.”
Cultural reckoning is exactly right. This is not the chickens coming home to roost. This is the chickens coming home to die, and then to rot. The carcasses are all over the front yard, then the maggots started in, and flies are everywhere, all over the house.
A Short Outline of What Lies Ahead
What lies ahead in this post, I mean. What lies ahead in our cultural moment is nine miles of bad road. But in this post, the first thing I want to do is make a few waspish comments about this particular rooftop travesty.
After that I would like to take the idea of the inescapable concept, which I have touched on in this space before, gather up my summary of the ways people try to ignore this most salient concept, wad it up into a ball, soak it in lighter fluid, and then set it off. I will then stand back from the heat in order to sing “God shall arise and by His might, put all His enemies to flight.” Psalm 68. The Camisards used to sing that when going into battle, and they were formidable.
And then the third thing I would like to do is see if I can allay the concerns that men like James Lindsay and Michael O’Fallon apparently have, they being men who seem to be worrying about about some of the ways we are arguing for an explicitly Christian approach to our civic life together. They suspect that robust expressions of Christian nationalism are a deep threat to our tried and true constitutional way of life. So the third part will seek to allay concerns I may have raised through any exuberance displayed in the second part. And remember, if there is one thing I know how to do, it is how to allay concerns.
A Woman, You Say?
Our first task comes, naturally enough, first.
The best comment about this particular rooftop washout was one I saw on Twitter. This insightful pundit, whose name I have unfortunately forgotten, was not saying that the statue was demonic. He was simply saying that at some point it was going to come to life, and that Bill Murray and Dan Akroyd were going to have to fight it.
Somebody else, a true hide-bound bigot, came after me. Can you believe? Their idea was that I was upset at such a positive and uplifting portrayal of a woman. Two things about that. I would never presume upon a statue’s gender in that way, and I can’t believe we still need to be having this conversation, people. Good grief. I am so careful about that sort of thing—the title of this post reflects the care I take. I said Chemosh and not Astarte, for I assume nothing these days. Second thing. The actual women I know don’t have that tentacle thing going, at least not until board-certified surgeons figure out that there might be big money to be made by taking tranny-surgery to that next level.
In our national discourse, the appearance of this statue-thingy got a Gorgon-themed-discussion going, and so another attempt to change the subject was to point out that the statue’s collar was modeled after the distinctive collar worn by Ruth Bader Ginsberg. It was all about the collar, and not the snaky creepizoid aspect. For those just joining us, RBG was the one who single-handedly made Dobbs possible by not retiring in a timely way. Had she been willing to do that, then her collar could have been handed over to a much younger pro-abort justice. As it is, the collar now graces a statue that never gets to vote on anything. Because RBG hung on until Trump got to appoint her replacement, I and all my pro-life friends remain profoundly grateful. But still, that collar was really something. Did I ever tell you guys about how, when I was a young man, Chief Justice William Renquist had some gold hash marks sewn onto the sleeves of his robe, having gotten the idea from a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta he once saw? And did you know that Sullivan also wrote Onward Christian Soldiers? Speaking of tentacles, plain evidences of Christian nationalism are everywhere, if you only know how to look.
Okay. Enough with the horsing around.
The Gods Are Not Optional
Chemosh was the supreme god of the Moabites. King Solomon made the horrific blunder of building a sanctuary for him near Jerusalem (1 Kings 11:7). King Josiah, whose presence is greatly to be desired in New York City just about now, did Israel the great service of providing that sanctuary with a visit from some Iron Age bulldozers (2 Kings 23:13).
I am using Chemosh here for a stand-in symbol for that entire pantheon of bad actors—for Molech, for Dagon, for Baal, for Asherah, for Elyon, and for Hadad. I am not using him as a stand-in symbol for the thin mist of pretended neutrality. Such neutrality does not exist, although it is only fair to note that the pretense of it most certainly does. And while idols don’t exist either, the demons behind them do (1 Cor. 10:20 ).
Let us use the ever-reliable bourbon metric. A robust Christian approach to our civic life is a Pappy Van Winkle 23. The return of what Rusty Reno has called the strong gods is a cask of Old Wet Dog-Blanket, with traces of other flavors, concerning which we do not inquire too closely. The marketing pitch for secular neutrality represented their product to us as being simply a bourbon-flavored LaCroix. But it turns out that over the last several football seasons, all the cool kids have been smuggling Old Wet Dog-Blanket into the games, using LaCroix containers, and in that datum their subsequent behavior during the games finds its sought for explanation. And now we have gotten to the point where they are done with the LaCroix pretense, and so we are now having to deal with open Old Wet Dog hooliganism in all kinds of unexpected places—on the top of New York courthouses, in Jack Phillip’s bakery, in drag queen reading sessions for the kids, the dismembering of children and selling the pieces, and all sorts of other ghoulish activities.
Dylan has often been lucid, and I would like to cite one of those moments. The refrain of this song was repeated seven times for those who might have had trouble tracking with the point.
You’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeedDylan, Gotta Serve Somebody
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody
In any given society, there will be a point where the questions cease, and no further challenges are allowed. When you get to that point, you have identified the god of the system. There is no appeal permitted past the god of the system. In order to even exist as a society, there must be such a point.
If there is no such point, you do not have any society to speak of. You simply have a group of strangers standing around in the Amsterdam airport waiting for their flights that will take them in different directions, and landing all over tarnation. But as soon as they must function together for any length of time, they will have to make decisions together, and as soon as that happens, you will immediately discover the identity of the god of the system.
Now the god of the system is either inside the system, or He is the living God who is outside the system. In the first scenario, everything is one, all is one, and the gods inhabit the same cosmos that we do, only they are up by the ceiling. In the second, as the Christians confess, there is an infinite gap between the Creator and His creation. I am referring to the same thing here that theologian Peter Jones calls oneism v. twoism. With oneism, the gods are part of the establishment, which makes them corrupt also, and with twoism, mankind lives under the authority of absolute goodness.
So back to the con that is being run here. There is not a great distance between the retort that we Christian conservatives “are imagining things, and this is not a resurgent paganism,” and the follow up taunt later on that says, “yes, it is happening, but what are you going to do about it now?” Step 1 is to say that this statue is NOT a pagan goddess, you simpleton, but rather it is simply a tribute to the memory of Ruth Bader Ginsberg who fought so valiantly for women’s reproductive health. But this is simply to slather euphemisms over the top of slaughter. It is like saying that when the ancient Israelites began causing their children pass through the fire (Lev. 18:21)—provided they were doing it for the sake of their crops—it meant that they were simply pursuing a more sustainable agriculture. But throwing your children into the fiery lap of Molech is not the same thing as “going green.” Step 2 will come when they say, “yeah, we sacrifice children. Deal with it.”
Here is the basic issue in summary. Every society has an ultimate standard, past which they permit no appeal. That standard arises from the nature and character of the god of the system. That standard will either be a false one or a true one. If it is false, then the society is idolatrous. If it is true, then the society is Christian. Human societies are made up of humans, and these human societies therefore make human decisions, and so they make decisions that have a moral component, right at the center. These decisions will conform to a particular moral standard, and that standard will either be false or true. If it is false, then that society is obeying an idol. If it is true, then that society is obeying Christ. The only down side to a societal obedience to Christ is that we have to put up with accusations of Christian nationalism, but other than that, everything is grand.
Christians who defend going with the idolatrous option do so by claiming that society’s standards are actually neutral, neither here nor there, outside the zone of God’s provenance. That means they are not obeying “an idol.” They are obeying nothing in particular. But the only way to have moral neutrality in such a situation would be if that society always limited the decisions they made to actions that had no noticeable moral implications at all, which is absurd. This makes no sense, and it explains why we are currently in the fix we are in. I use the word “fix,” but it would be better to say “almost perfect jumble”—the almost perfect jumble we are in.
One last comment on this point. God the Father loves those who worship Him. He loves them with an everlasting love, and He determined before the foundation of the world that in the sacrifice of His Son He would secure their everlasting happiness. The idols do not love their devotees. The idols detest their worshipers and deal treacherously with them. A god who is willing to eat your children is not going to hold back when it comes time to eat you. The true God feeds His children, while the false gods eat their bastards. King Herod had John the Baptist’s head served up on a dinner platter, and this story is told right next to the one where another king had His followers sit down on the green grass so He could multiply bread to feed them.
Because you always become like what you worship, the people who worship these gods become treacherous also, which explains why they turned so readily away from their covenant commitments. The root idolatry in our hearts explains why we here in America have so treacherously deserted the Lord.
“They have dealt treacherously against the Lord: For they have begotten strange children.”
Hosea 5:7 (KJV)
Christian Nationalism, the Constitution, and the Liberal Order
Now there is no way to talk about these things without talking about Christian nationalism. In order to do that, we have to be willing to distinguish two different activities within what is currently called Christian nationalism. A very helpful breakdown can be found here.
Daws makes a distinction between Stephen Wolfe’s Christian nationalism, which he thought was a very helpful theological thought experiment, and useful for moving the Overton window, on the one hand, and the rank-and-file Christian activists, who simply want to get America back to a decent place where we have historically been before, on the other. He recognizes that opponents are going to call everybody a Christian nationalist, no matter what, but still thinks it would be better, for our in-house discussions, to use the terms Christian nationalist and Christian federalist. The idea is intriguing, but there are still enormous challenges to communication. If you read through Wolfe’s entire book, using this terminology, he would be both a Christian nationalist and a Christian federalist. Now what?
As for the activists, it makes a big difference whether they want to return to the American settlement of 1950, or the American situation of 1830, with de Tocqueville taking notes. If we have not asked and answered the larger questions that Wolfe raises, it will only provide us with a patchwork solution. For example, Daws raises the question about whether a Hindu temple would be allowed under Christian nationalism. Because we have already been down this path before, we should have learned to be a little bit more wary. This whole thing is a moving sidewalk. You cannot just take your place on it, and remain where you are. Are we talking about a Westernized (e.g. Christianized) Hindu temple or a real-deal Hindu temple, unaffected by the ravages of colonialism?
So let us up the ante. Suppose the practice of using devidasis, temple prostitutes, returned. That is now outlawed in India (darn colonialism), but the practice still continues in pockets of the country, down to this day. One aspect of the ministry of Amy Carmichael (1867-1951) was that of rescuing young girls from that particular slavery, and however unthinkable naive secularists might say it all is, it is an idea that is self-evidently not unthinkable to men of any century, including ours, provided God is not in their thoughts. Just ask the sex tourists who fly from San Francisco to Bangkok.
The reason Wolfe’s Christian nationalism resonates with thoughtful Christian federalists is that we have been here before. And this is what I mean. What is the actual price for allowing Hindu temples? Does allowing Hindu temples means that we must also celebrate the existence of drag queen story hours in our public libraries? Is that the price? Because if that is the price, then a bunch of us are now saying that the price is too high. But what does David French say?
So please don’t tell me that “that could never happen here.” We are the generation that dismembers children in the womb and sells the pieces, and we then prosecute David Daleiden, the person who exposed that particular wickedness, with multiple felony counts. The person who kicked off that iniquitous process is now Vice-President of the United States, and a bunch of evangelicalism’s cool kids voted for her. So how many Medusas on how many courthouses before we say, “okay, that’s it, all done”? How many shock videos of “family-friendly” drag shows? How many Christmas nativity sets must be banished as an outrage not to be borne, while at the same time your local government hands out free condoms to thirteen-year-olds?
My understanding of the worries expressed by men like O’Fallon and Lindsay and others is that they are concerned that we are being far too cavalier about throwing away the classical liberal order, and the blessings it provided for us all. Our response would be that they are being far too upbeat over the glaring fact that the classical liberal order has been jettisoned already. By somebody else, not by us. Somebody else burned it all down. Somebody else is erecting pagan goddesses in the ruins. The Christian nationalists (and okay, Christian federalists) want to build another order, characterized by the same kind of form and freedom, order and liberty, structure and self-government.
Think of it this way. The classical liberal order was a wonderful car that served us well for centuries. The critics think that we Christian radicals want to get rid of this wonderful car, when what we actually want to do is replace this wonderful car with another wonderful car, but one wreathed in an aura of even more wonderfulness. One that actually runs. The reason we want to replace it is because we need to replace it—the secularists stole all the tires, smashed in the windshield, and set the engine block on fire.
We don’t want a new car because we got tired of our freedoms and liberties. We want to do this because we want our freedoms and liberties back. We don’t want a new car because we got tired of other people having freedoms and liberties. We want them to have their freedoms and liberties back also.
Licentiousness is not a soil in which true liberty grows. That particular greenhouse is not full of rare orchids. It is full of Canadian thistle and Pigweed, flourishing under the grow lights of federal money.
If you want to tell me that the price of us having the liberty to dissent from government policies about COVID (say) is that I must be willing to grant homosexuals the liberty to grind away on pride parade floats, then I have two things that I would like to say about that. First, that is not the historic Christian understanding of civic liberty—never has been and never will be. The fact that some Christians have adopted it as an option for Christians is a testimony to the melancholy fact that, just as Christians can sometimes behave like non-Christians, as when they look at porn, so also they can sometimes think like non-Christians, as when they argue that giving total freedom to pornographers will result in total freedom for preachers of the gospel. Yeah, right. And Simple Simon thought plums grew on thistles.
Second, related to this, has anybody noticed—even if this were a possible trade-off—that the other side is not anywhere close to keeping the bargain? And so it is that we have massive censorship of political speech, especially speech from conservative Christians, and we still get the parade floats. “Hey!” we respond. But nobody is listening.
Last thing. James Lindsay asked me what practical measures we would take in pursuit of our agenda. I answered him briefly on Twitter, but here are three practical steps that I believe Christians should be taking that would provide major obstacles to the woke jihad, and which would result in more practical liberty for everyone. First, we must challenge the theological foundations of the current regime. That foundation is a radical secular oneism, referenced above. This regime, like all regimes, argues for its legitimacy through appealing to a particular ideology. That ideology is false, and so the church must marshal evangelists, apologists, and preachers who are willing to challenge and refute that narrative. It is not that hard to refute it, but because of how they respond to being refuted, it nevertheless takes courage. So we need men who would be willing to charge Hell with a bucket of water.
Second, we need to do everything we can to get all Christian children out of the government schools. The government schools are the catechetical academies dedicated to the perpetuation of the current woke insanity, and so the time is long past when Christians should act like somebody just hit the fire alarm. I did just hit the fire alarm. Evacuate.
And last in time, but first in priority, we need to recover a righteous pattern of worshiping God. We need to plant God-fearing churches, and bring people to them. We need to be done with man-fearing churches, the kind that collapse if you look at them.
There is more, but that’ll do.