I believe it to be generally acknowledged that I am an easy-going fellow. For example, it has been some years now, and I don’t think any one of you has seen me complaining about when we started calling babysitters caregivers. See? Go along get along.
And I think that part of the reason I can handle such outrages is that babysitters actually do “give care,” kind of like airline stewardesses are caregivers too. But where I draw the line is in calling our evangelical leadership “thought leaders.” Central to my objection here that they are characterized more by thought-following than anything else, and a phrase like thought-leaders is what causes me dissonance in the old cognitives.
We live in a time that is obsessed with class, race, and gender. And so—you guessed it—our evangelical thought-leaders have come to believe that our authentic testimony to a troubled generation that does not know the Lord depends on us coming up with a few gut sobs of our own with regard to class, race, and gender. And it is not enough for the gut sobs to be perfunctory, but rather they have to be the kind that arise from the chthonic regions. Everybody hates dilatory gut sobs.
The brakes are out on the progressivist bus, and they are hightailing it down the progressivist grade to the Bad Place, which is apparently not too scary if the grade is less than 7%, and we are running after them, our fat little evangelical thighs pumping away, in our very best wait-up-guys mode. Oh, how we want on their bus, and we are a mere three exegetical insights in Romans 1 away from it.
Diversity in the Wrong Spot
The secularists can’t see what they are doing because they are hard ideologues, unable to comprehend that someone might actually think differently than they do—they have a deep desire for uniformity of content and diversity of color. As though Mao’s China would have been a paradise of multiculturalism if only the Little Red Book had been available in different colored jackets. “I pride myself on my independence of thought—mine is slate gray.”
A Carnival of Compromise
And for some reason evangelical thought-leaders are tagging along behind this traveling carnival of claptrap, prevented from becoming full-tilt ideologues themselves by little other than their donor base. The donor base is full of retrograde notions, old school ideas, reactionary doctrines, affection for the missionary position, and even worse things, and so they would not go in for real honesty in the donor reports—which is why the new school prefers authenticity to honesty—and so they continue to be told that the Dear Old Academy (DOA) is the same place that their granddaddy graduated from and used to support so heartily.
Such yearning leaders can be identified readily enough. Any evangelical leader who—since we are specializing in trace elements these days—cares more than 1/1024th of a darn about climate change is a biblical sell-out. Extra points for being a toad-eating sell-out are awarded if they are in a doodah about climate change and also cite our responsibility to be good stewards on the basis of the cultural mandate of Genesis. The cultural mandate of Genesis entails many glorious things but establishing a statist tyranny because we suddenly got afraid of the weather is not one of them.
As Ryszard Legutko has shown in his admirable The Demon in Democracy, a hard ideologue is able to hold two contrary dispositions in tension precisely because of his all-in surrender to the dictates of his hard ideology. On the one hand he is supremely gullible when it comes to the axioms of his system, whatever that system currently demands, and on the other hand he is supremely suspicious of any possible deviations from the demands of his system, and thus is eternally on his toes when it comes to the possible introduction of any thought-crimes. And thus he walks through life—monumentally gullible and extraordinarily suspicious.
The General’s Will
We evangelicals are busy trying to keep up with all this, which is most tiring. We are most obedient, but what exactly is it that we are obeying? The answer of course is “the general will,” as Rousseau—father of all our totalitarian impulses—laid out for us when he developed his most ingenious mechanism for forcing us into freedom. Ever since his day the denizens of western culture have been slowly and deliberately herded into the cattle cars of liberty, urged on by the bayonets of what we really meant to say, in order to haul us off to the camps of republican sunshine.
Have you ever wondered how it is possible for white progressives simply to pronounce that a conservative woman is a traitor to her sex, or that a conservative black man is a traitor to his race? And because we are always talking today about class, race and gender, how a conservative proletarian is a traitor to his class? The answer is the general will.
The general will is what the people want (deep down), and what they want deep down is what’s best for them and everybody else. We can ascertain what this is, but not by the tired old mechanism of holding a referendum and asking them what they think. No, not at all. You might get the wrong answer that way. Shoot, you might get the wrong president that way. No, if you want to know what the general will is you must ask the general. You must ask, and we lower our voices suitably at this point, one of the clevers in the know.
You must ask the people who have assumed stewardship of the general will, elites in the know. What kind of person might that be? A random sample set would be a commentator on MSNBC, a member of the European Union Parliament, a professor of English Literature at your nearest land grant cow college, or the manager of a hipster espresso shop in the Village. You know, all the usual suspects. The elites with a gay eye for the rest of us.
I used the term elites just now, and someone might object that my opposition to egalitarianism must be paper thin, since I am obviously seething with Parisian street-level ressentiment—because even though I have said little about the caregivers, I talk a lot about our ruling elites. I mean, look at those elites over there, swanking around the place. Isn’t that how the sans-culottes talk?
Actually, real elites don’t bother me at all. What is starting to get to me, though, is this hard regime of mediocre elites. Incompetent elites can get pretty tedious pretty fast. Race hustling doesn’t make you compassionate, trust in deficits doesn’t make you an economist, and a perverse affinity with anal intercourse doesn’t make you an artist.
But Back to the General Will
Something as general as the general will requires an interpreter, a tabulator, a steward. I mean, the general will is a heady concept, and if you are going to tell the populace that what all of them think is contrary to the general will, you had better have a good argument ready. If a pasty white guy, a graduate student in American Studies at Georgetown, is going to tell us that Clarence Thomas does not represent the authentic black experience, it should be pretty clear to all of us that the authentic black experience must be located somewhere up in the mezzanine of Plato’s forms, and is something that can only be interpreted by someone who is as white as Elizabeth Warren. And just between us girls, that’s pretty white.
For the totalitarians, the general will is to be imposed from above, and it is to be imposed by the ideologues who “understand” what the general will was supposed to be. And what it was supposed to be was determined by Rousseau, a dead white guy, and a pretty grimy one, come to think of it.
One Last Thing
The way out of all this is to shake free of secularism. That is the problem. A right-wing populist revolt against the silliness of all this progressivist hooey is going to come to nothing unless we drop our commitment to secularism. The reason such a revolt is going to come to nothing is that within a framework of secularism—itself one of the frauds the general will loaded us up with—periodic revolts against the very arbitrary and left-leaning stewards of the general will only result in a right-leaning folks steering the general will (for a bit), but they will be equally arbitrary.
We are finite, we are sinners, and we are lost. We need a word from God. We need gospel. We need Christ. And you can tell how bumfuzzled we all are in that the Christians are the first group that needs to learn how important Christ is. The evangelicals are the first group that needs to learn that the parliaments of earth need the evangel. We are not going to be able to get secularists out of their secularism until we get out of it. Somebody needs to get all the lifeguards off the bottom of the pool. That would be a good start.
I said some hard things above about our evangelical thought-thinkers, but let me carve out one exception for you. He might get some eyebrows lifted in his direction at receiving a commendation from me, but to this I can only reply that we were not put into this world for pleasure alone.