David Hume set loose some bad juju into the world when he denied, in effect, that we can know that the cue ball caused the eight ball to thwack into the corner pocket. All we can say with any degree of certainty is that the one event followed the other in time. We cannot see or measure anything called causation. All we see is one thing happening, and then another thing happening. Philosophy can get pretty deep sometimes.
But Sometimes Ethical Slopes Are Slippery
But the reason careful thought on this subject still matters is because people get upset—as some folks recently did with my friend Toby Sumpter—when you make assertions about general causation or trajectory that have a moral component. “You can’t say that!” is a common response when you argue, as I do in fact argue, that there are moral consequences to urging people to “be whatever you want to be,” as applied to clothing, hairstyles, and making yourself more metallic than your maiden aunt would perhaps desire. All this is the cultural prelude to that very same exhortation being applied to some poor sap’s genitalia by means of a surgeon’s knife. No one who says yes to the first, for the reasons stated, can consistently say no to the second demand, provided those same reasons are trotted out in all their tawdry glory.
Cartoon footnote here.
Which Brings Us to the Civil War
Change the subject for just a moment, not to change the subject, but to show that the principle is one with universal applications. Once we have “all-together-now-agreed” that statues of Robert E. Lee simply must come down because he-was-a-slaveowner-period-end-of-discussion-you-hater-and-any-moment’s-hesitancy-in-agreeing-with-our-most-righteousy-demands-reveals-a-seething-racism—perhaps you are familiar with this line of argument?—we will almost immediately discover that the very same rationale applies to the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial. And there you are, looking pretty silly as you try to buy a new refrigerator on President’s Day because the clerk tells you, with a knowing glance, that it is now the Supreme Leader’s Refrigerator Day Sale. Furthermore, he is required by law to report you for the thought-crime of referring to our erstwhile presidents without so much as a hint of condemnation in your voice. No deal on a refrigerator and time in the slammer. Slammer is perhaps a poor way of putting it. I meant Glorious Sunrise Camp for the Inspiration and Reeducation of the Ideologically Wayward.
What is wrong with these people? Even if you differ with my read on the history of the Late Unpleasantness, do what the great Anthony Esolen does. “We want to know what it was like to be a good man on the wrong side: the godly and beloved and dauntless Stonewall Jackson; the man of impeccable honor, Robert E. Lee” (Out of the Ashes, p. 65). Emeth, from The Last Battle, knew how to honor an honorable enemy. But as for you, hapless Christian, trying hard not to blow over in this gale-force lunacy—know this. As soon as it is forbidden to honor what is honorable, you must grasp that it will almost immediately be mandatory to honor what is dishonorable. “What are you talking about, you extremist hedge preacher? . . . oh, excuse me, wait—corporate has ordered little rainbow flags for all our desks. Gotta pass them out. The overseers with the whips won’t care how much we know until they know how much we care.”
Foreshadowing: More about that word extremist in a week or so.
So while I am here, conservatives like to complain a lot about all the “snowflakes” out there, and I take their point. But think about this for a moment. They are weepy, melty, limp-wristed snowflakes all right—but they are still beating us up. Maybe they are tough guy snowflakes. Or perhaps they are the wimpiest persecutors ever, and they are still kicking our butt. Draw your own conclusions.
Back to the Closet
So back to the sartorial catechism for the pomosexual revolution. The issue is not this odd configuration of cloth, or that weird display over there. People have always been weird. I am of course thinking of an example like the Elizabethan ruff, sometimes called a picadill. Whoever came up with that one was probably pretty high though, but not a lot of damage was done. No blood, no foul. But there is a vast difference between outré fashion like that, on the one hand, and decadence on the other.
Decadence is deliberate. It is not just a fashion, but is rather a fashion that holds to the telos of the drag queen. It wants to keep the white bread suburban thing going—khakis and button-down—so that it has a bland backdrop to be outrageous against. However, the revolution has been too successful, and this is why the cool kids keep running into trouble. They are having a hard time coming to grips with the fact that they are the Establishment now, and they are having a hard time coming up with an America to revolt against. Everybody wants to join, which kind of ruins the whole thing.
Even the edgy Christians, always an easily bewildered bunch, think they can adopt the uniform and yet not go along with the problematic parts of the program. Thread the needle, as it were. Wear the Hitler Youth armbands, but boycott the big rallies. This is how there are plenty of Christians involved in all this who do in fact say yes to the early exhortations (“Armbands are cool, where does the Bible say we can’t wear armbands?”) and no thereafter (“The rallies can be mean-spirited, I hate meanies”). That happens, and I am cheerfully prepared to acknowledge that it can happen quite a bit. Christians can be pretty elastic and bendy in the joints, and not every raindrop intends to be part of the flood.
But the fact that people can have multiform reasons for putting on the diversity uniform doesn’t change the fact that it remains a uniform. For those who think diversity uniform is oxymoronic, it would be better to say that diversity is a dark joke. And as a uniform, it means. As something that communicates, it brings other things about. Human communication causes things to happen. There. I used the word causes.
Fixin’ to Tear It All Down
Now of course we want to be very careful with this whole subject because there really are different kinds of causation—as Aristotle taught us all—provided of course that Hume was being a perpilocutionist. If he were not, then Aristotle taught us nothing. We just happened to know stuff after he did.
Without doing any formal philosophy, we can say that placing apples, cinnamon, sugar, a knife, flour, and a pie plate out on the counter is not something that “causes” a pie. But we can say, because an intentional being is at work in the kitchen, that the cook—as they say down South—is fixin’ to bake a pie. All of this is preparation. It is build up. It is setting out the tools and ingredients. Somebody is doing something. Somebody else, if they have an astute eye, can look at them and tell that they are fixin’ to do it.
Now things get a little more complicated if you are looking at what an entire culture is fixin’ to do. But the fact remains that many things are done by entire cultures and that those same cultures prepared themselves beforehand to do them. The fact that such broader issues are more complicated than simply making a pie does not make them impossible to understand or see. Seduction takes time, and seduction of an entire culture takes even more time. And it seems to me that our feckless generation, in the back seat with clothes off, is not really in a strong position to deny that it was in fact a seduction.
But we want to rationalize anyway because we instinctively know that sin makes things always murkier—and thus the rationalizer has way more scope. There is a whole class of behaviors that we want to indulge in and we want to indulge in them while covered over with a cloak of plausible deniability. This desire for deniability is even more intense among Christians because we do possess an ostensible standard that has the category of “sin” in it. This makes us more susceptible to the enticements of hypocrisy, not less. And such convolutions of hypocrisy are a sight to behold.
Christians and non-Christians both do this, but the problem is often far more acute among Christians. Take, for an everyday tiny example, an article of clothing that was designed to get men to look at a woman’s breasts. The pattern was thought-through, engineered, designed, and calculated. We live in a time where we want the designers to do this, but we also want the women wearing said article to be able to be shocked and dismayed when some oaf she doesn’t like takes her up on her standing offer. Christian and non-Christian women both reserve the right to be shocked and dismayed, but they do it in different ways. Christian women in this trap do it all the time (because they are supposed to be Christians all the time), while non-Christian women usually reserve the deniability clause for work situations. Christian women who do this have to be hypocritical all the time, while non-Christian women just have to be hypocritical from 9 to 5. “I am a trained professional, and it is totally unprofessional when that guy in marketing leers at me. The way I want all the guys to leer when I wear the same outfit to the clubs. In the evenings, which is my social life. After work, which is totally professional.”
The issue here is plausible deniability, but in our society the plausibility is frequently provided, not by the facts of the situation, but by the dire threats of a societal beat down that our culture presents to the poor chump who dares to point out that the emperor has no clothes, and that the lady who walks through marketing every day has less clothing than she pretends.
Not Billiard Ball Physics But . . .
Making observations about cultural or historical causation is not an exercise in billiard ball physics. I grant it. It is not a science, or at least not that kind of science. But there is a line between screaming girls at a Jerry Lee Lewis concert and the promiscuity at Woodstock. There is a line between the centralizing court decisions after the Civil War and Roe. There is a line between the theological liberalism of the early twentieth century and the theological liberalism currently trying to take root in the PCA. The only thing modern evangelical Presbyterians don’t have in place yet is a missionary named Pearl S. Buck. There is a line between Bauhaus architecture and the loss of humane letters.
But given the nature of the case, because we are dealing with more than two billiard balls, anyone who wants to draw such a line can always be challenged. The world of sinful hearts is not lacking for clever minds. They are not about to run out of their twists and turns. You see, Jeremiah, what you don’t seem to understand, in your flat and unhelpful way, just like all those other boring and pedestrian prophets, is that we are all down here in Egypt, suffering these grievous ills, because we did not burn incense to the queen of heaven enough (Jer. 44:17-19). You and your simplistic and entirely predictable denunciations are what got us into this mess. The moral majority is dead, Jeremiah.
Breaking the Embargo
All this much should be obvious to those who have eyes in their heads, and who have not been successfully cudgeled into silence. And then there is me. Excuse me, predicate nominative. Then there is I, sounding as pretentious as all get out. I myself have not yet been cudgeled into silence, but I have been embargoed.
Why is there a formal embargo in the Reformed and evangelical world on goods shipped from Moscow? This is a limited query, not a complaint. I say formal embargo because we are still doing a brisk business on the ecclesiastical black market, selling things off the back porch. We are thankful for all the ministerial moonshiners out there, in cars like the General Lee, supplying jugs of controversial common sense to all those dry counties of Christendom. We are an underground theological speakeasy, and business is good. And man, common sense can have a kick. Not like the tap water of overdone liberal platitudes.
But the reason for the embargo is that I draw certain lines of causal connection down through American history in a way that embarrasses the established narrative. I have been saying for decades that he who says A must say B. Now here we are. B is looming large, and some Christians are swallowing hard, gearing up to say it, and other recalcitrant Christians are wondering how the hell they got here, and a handful of other Christians are wondering how we got to the point where a Christian writer who says how the hell is way more controversial than the ones who tearily empathize the gaudy gayness of it all.
Here is a little something I wrote, over twenty years ago. And if I had time to rummage I could probably go back a decade or two more.
“If those who hate the Word of God can succeed in getting Christians to be embarrassed by any portion of the Word of God, then that portion will continually be employed as a battering ram against the godly principles that are currently under attack. In our day, three of the principle issues are abortion, feminism, and sodomy.”
This battle is a battle of narratives, and you cannot fight this plot point or that one without challenging the narrative. Too many Christians are in love with the narrative established by the bad guys, but want to retain (don’t ask how) a couple of key plot points from a story that our people used to tell once. This is like agreeing to be the director of a remake of Pulp Fiction, while insisting on inserting a couple of touching moments from The Parent Trap.
We Can Still Slice It Thin if We Want
But for those who would like to remain coy, for those who want to pretend that the collapse of our culture is not the most obvious feature of our time, let me offer some words from Ambrose Bierce, words to reflect on.
TECHNICALITY, n. In an English court a man named Home was tried for slander in having accused his neighbor of murder. His exact words were: “Sir Thomas Holt hath taken a cleaver and stricken his cook upon the head, so that one side of the head fell upon one shoulder and the other side upon the other shoulder.” The defendant was acquitted by instruction of the court, the learned judges holding that the words did not charge murder, for they did not affirm the death of the cook, that being only an inference.