I am currently on the road, and speaking for the Illinois Family Institute. The notes for my talk are below.
In one of those famous Orwell quotes that Orwell apparently didn’t say, the sentiment is noble anyhow: “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” Not only so, but in my lexical research forays on this subject, not only did I discover that Orwell didn’t say it, but also that a lot of leftists apparently like to quote him saying it anyhow. This kind of figures, even though—if the truth were their hinder parts—they wouldn’t be able to find it, not even if they were allowed to use both hands.
I grant that they know a bit more about universal deceit, and in fact are quite proficient when it comes to that particular subject, but we shall just have to leave it there.
Regardless, the Orwell observation is true, whoever came up with it. But when it comes to the simple idea of “telling the truth,” I have to tell you that our culture passed that exit some time ago. We don’t just need to recover the practice of telling the truth, we need to recover a universe in which telling the truth is an actual possibility. We no longer inhabit a world in which lies occur (which has always been the case). We now inhabit an imaginary world constructed entirely out of lies, and all the frayed endings of our carnal bundle are starting to snap.
And this is why we are going to win, incidentally, even though currently we appear to be losing badly. In the long run, the visiting speaker said encouragingly, stupidity never works.
When You are Being Outsmarted . . .
Now here’s the thing. What about the meantime? When you are playing against a Grand Chess Master, and you are at a learning level that has barely figured out the knight moves in an L-shape, a number of strange and novel sensations are going to be happening to you. And as they happen to you, one of the things that will be invisible to you is how they were actually happening to you three moves before that, with every piece visible on the board, and with you unable to see the connection between what he just did, and then what happened just three moves after that. This is because before he was thinking mate, he was thinking something like mate in three.
So what I would like to do is provide you with a handful of theological or intellectual “life hacks,” such that when you get these down you will be able to see what is going on around you. You will consequently see that the insanity of our times actually has a certain perverse logic to it. The news will start to make sense to you, and your family will start to worry about you.
When you start to see, you will become a threat, which is the meaning behind my cryptic title “Sanity as Insurrection.” If I might modify Orwell’s observation somewhat . . . In a world gone mad, deliberate and premeditated sanity is a challenge to the powers that be. They will certainly take it as such. They will take it as a direct challenge, and they will most certainly come after you. That is perhaps why more people don’t do this incidentally. They know how to fight dirty. They lie, and they maim, and they bite.
One of the things we must learn how to do is this. He who would be thought sane should learn how to ask sane questions. As we debate with our fellow citizens, we must insist on the fact of the debate, and we must do it by means of sane questions. We must insist that both sides define their terms, that both sides outline their proposals, and that both sides answer all the questions.
But the left does not want to win the debate. The left wants to avoid the debate, or side step the debate, or shut down the debate, or outlaw the debate.
But persevere. When it comes to our political life together, the two great questions of philosophy can be found on playgrounds everywhere. They are why? And who says? Insert those questions into everything.
So Broaden Things a Bit
These seven concepts I am going to walk through with you are concepts that will (quite obviously) have areas of overlap. They are not sealed off from one another in watertight compartments. Nevertheless they are distinct enough for me to mention each separately, and you should be able to learn how to handle them separately. I want to mention each of them here at the top, and then briefly work through them with illustrations, word pictures, metaphors, the works. Here they are, and in no particular order:
- Endowed by their Creator;
- The Creator/creature divide;
- The correspondence view of truth;
- Inescapable concepts;
- Culture is upstream from politics, and religion is upstream from culture;
- Education is inescapably religious;
- There is no virtue or vice in a transitive verb.
Endowed by Their Creator
We do not want to take the name of the Lord our God in vain, the way some blasphemer might do. But neither do we want to invoke His name when not seriously thinking about Him, as when insurance companies call tornados an “act of God.” What do I mean?
We like to speak of our God-given rights, and the phrase rolls off the tongue. But take God away, take away an actual Creator, and watch what happens. In a materialistic cosmos, with all of us being the end product of time and chance acting on matter, the concept of human rights becomes a manifest absurdity.
But the removal of God from the system has been done gradually, in order to not spook the prisoners. We started with God-given rights. They first took God away, and left the supposedly “self-evident” rights. Several decades later, they put scare quotes around that word “rights.” Slowly, and entirely predictably, our rights from God have been turned into privileges from the government. And what the government bestows, the government can at some point decide to not bestow. The state giveth, the state taketh away, and blessed be the name of the state.
If there is no God over the state, outside the realm of the state, out of the complete reach of the state, then the state is god. Secularism appeared to work (for a time) in a society that still had large amounts of Christian moral capital. It worked for the same reason that the prodigal son was able to buy drinks for his friends for the first few weeks.
When that moral capital is gone, as it is gone from us now, the idea of a secularism that respects human rights, or even understands them, is an almost complete absurdity. So that phrase from the Declaration, endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, is not a quaint way of saying that the Founders hoped that we might have a nice day. A right understanding of this issue is absolutely essential to human liberty, and a right understanding of it is rare. You should see where this goes.
Stephen Hawking once put it memorably: “The human race is just a chemical scum on a moderate size planet.” Now let me ask you—and you don’t have to be a deep thinker to give an intelligent answer—do you think that a sentiment like that might have any political ramifications? Yes, it does, and you see them all around you.
The Creator/Creature Divide:
This leads to the next point, which is that the living God, the Creator is not contained “within the system.” God is transcendent, and His attributes are not subject to amendments or alterations. He is utterly out of our reach. We cannot hold a referendum that might “fix” Him. As a great black preacher once put it memorably, “Your arms are too short to box with God.”
There is an infinite divide between the Creator, and the realm of His creation. The implications of this are plain. It means that the standards of morality, including every form of political morality, are not grounded on anything down here. They are grounded in the immutable character of the transcendent God. Righteousness is not on the ballot, but is rather woven into the very fabric of creation.
This is the difference between—as one theologian puts it—oneism and twoism. Oneism holds that there is only one fabric of reality, and as emergent evolution governs what happens in this great ocean of stuff floating around, anything can turn into anything else. Give it enough time, shoot enough hormones in, and call it good. Call it whatever you want to.
But with twoism, in the beginning there was God. And God said, “Let there be not God. And there was not God, and behold, it was very good.”
Now what this means is that the not God part of reality is contingent, and its nature is utterly dependent upon the will of the God who made it. The thing that exasperates the ardent secularist is that all the permanent things are not up for discussion. God created nature the way He did, and He did so in a way that ensures that nature, and the things within nature, have a fixed nature. It does not matter how you identify yourself.
The will that determined that you would be born a boy, or a girl, is the will of the infinite personal God, and He willed this particular sex for this particular child before all worlds. Nothing whatever can be done that this undo this. In our rebellion, and that too within His will, we can deface what He has done. But we cannot erase it.
The Correspondence View of Truth
Because God is Truth itself, and because God is immutable, this means that we must hold to what philosophers call the correspondence view of truth. When I say the word lectern, there is a correspondence between that word and the actual lectern out here in the world. So when I say the lectern is made of wood, this is a truth claim that can be investigated, and we can put a T or an F next to it. As a declarative sentence, as a proposition, it must either be true or false.
And if I might run ahead for a moment, whether it is true or false has absolutely nothing to do with anyone’s feelings.
This correspondence view is in contrast to the coherence view of truth, which holds that a true story merely has to be internally consistent. Provided you can, with a straight face, say something like “that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it,” we have to give you a pass. And we will give you a hard pass if you get offended that anyone has the temerity to question your story.
Now if some of you are wondering why the fine folks at the Illinois Family Institute signed you up for a philosophy lecture when you thought you were going to a get a fire eater from Idaho, let me make it relevant to you this way. This is exactly what you are up against whenever you object to letting Bruno shower in the junior high girls’ locker room. You think that there must be a correspondence between what he actually is and what he says he is. He maintains that he is whatever he says. That’s his story, and he’s sticking to it. So whenever you hear anybody say something like, “Well, that’s true for you, but not for me,” you know you are in the middle of this particular confusion.
Because God created the world, because God created the world as distinct from Himself, and because He created it in a way consistent with His own nature and character, thereby requiring the correspondence concept of truth, this means that the world runs in particular and predictable patterns. And this is related to the next point.
Frame it this way: not whether, but which. Let me take one example of this from many. I repeat, there are many examples. Here is just one.
Say we are advocating for the rights of the unborn, and someone says to us that we “are just trying to impose our morality on everybody else.” Your response to this should not be to deny it. Of course you are, just as they are. It is not whether, but which. It is not whether we impose morality, but rather which morality we impose, and why.
Shall we impose the morality of Scripture and natural law on the doctor and on the mother, or shall the doctor and the mother impose their secular and relativistic morality on the baby? Regardless of what happens, at the end of the day, someone’s morality is going to be imposed on someone. This is inescapable. Apologizing for the mere fact of it is like apologizing for gravity.
Of course we are trying to have our laws be imposed morality. The only alternative is imposed immorality because all laws are an imposed something. Law by definition is an imposition. What are we to impose? At the end of the day, the choice is therefore between imposed sanity and, what we are seeing now, which is imposed insanity.
And if someone demands to know why I believe we as a society are obligated to honor this standard, I will say something like “because God set the top of Mount Sinai on fire, and then told Moses to tell the people that they weren’t allowed to murder people.” How’s that for a reason? You might not like it, but I would suggest that Jehovah speaking from a mountain on fire beats five Ivy League eggheads on the Supreme Court.
I was once debating the head of the American Humanist Association, and he said that we couldn’t give credence to the Old Testament like that because it also prohibited the eating of shellfish. I granted the point, and said that it was true that God’s people had at one time been enjoined from eating shellfish but that he, my distinguished opponent, believed that all of us used to be shellfish.
And I would suggest that his paradigm does more damage to his moral authority than my paradigm does to mine.
Religion > Culture > Politics
The late Andrew Breitbart once said that culture is upstream from politics. He said this to help explain why conservatives can have so many people on the ground, and still be outmaneuvered.
How is it that, wherever you go in the country, CNN is playing on all the televisions in all of the airports?
Conservatives must learn how to assume the center. But before they can do that, they must find out where the center actually is.
Culture drives politics, but we have to go further upstream than that. Faith shapes culture, and culture shapes politics. Because we have allowed faith to be formally disengaged from all culture-shaping activity, relegating it to what you might privately believe about the afterlife—believing what you do behind your eyeballs and between your ears—this has not left a vacuum there. No, it has opened the way for an alien and humanistic faith to occupy that space.
Thus it is that we have humanistic religion > humanistic culture > humanistic politics. That is why we are here.
Allow me to jump back to a previous category, that of the inescapable concept. If I say that the God in the Pledge of Allegiance, and that the God on our money, is the God of Abraham—as I do—someone is going to say that I am advocating a theocracy. They will say that with more than a little bit of anger. And I will reply not whether, but which. It is not whether you will have a theocracy, but rather which kind of a theocracy you will have. This is the only real question—who’s Theo?
The God of Abraham created the heavens and the earth. He is love itself, and He neither slumbers nor sleeps. His righteousness is from everlasting to everlasting. The jitney god that we are currently worshiping—demos—is erratic, selfish, and filled to the top with antidepressants.
Politics will be driven by culture, and culture will necessarily be shaped by our cultus, our worship. I submit that we must stop worshiping man, and return to the worship of God.
The Education Trap
For the next point, I need first to distinguish a conservatism of conviction from a conservatism of inertia. There is a conservative impulse, for example, in the fact that blacks are overwhelmingly reluctant to leave the Democratic Party, despite being betrayed again and again. It is the conservative impulse to stay put. It is the conservative impulse to bet on the devil you know, over against the devil you don’t know.
But let’s not talk about blacks and the Democratic Party. Let us speak instead of conservatives and the government school system. What on earth is it going to take to get us out of there? Mandatory Che Guevara tattoos for all the third graders?
If all of life is inescapably religious, and education is preparation for life, then this means that the government school system is an established religion. Christian parents who have their kids in the government schools should come to the realization that our country is occupied with two kinds of people—our secularist overlords above, and their Christian breeders down below.
No Virtue or Vice in a Transitive Verb
I have said on multiple occasions that all our culture war battles are actually battles over control of the dictionary. We have now gotten to the point, as Jonah Goldberg has observed, where violence is considered to be free speech, and free speech is considered to be violence. If I might expand this thought slightly, these principles also extend into the grammatical realm. Words can be used to frame arguments, assuming what we have already touched on about how God made the world (and governs it in truth), but words can also be used as though they were Rorschach blots, used simply elicit emotional responses. For example, how does the word hate make you feel?
But in order to frame an argument, we have to pay attention to the direct objects. There is no virtue or vice to be found in a transitive verb. How many times have you been told by some enlightened bumper that “hate is not a family value”? This illustrates my point nicely. Of course it is. Hatred of any number of things is a family value. I hate spousal abuse, I hate sex trafficking, I hate marital infidelity, I hate child porn, and I hate anything else that tears apart genuine domestic happiness. Don’t you?
Because of course, as Scripture teaches us: “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; Pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverse mouth I hate” (Proverbs 8:13, NKJV).
Note that. If someone fears the Lord, it means that they hate evil, and that they hate the perverse mouth. Now what is the lot of someone today who hates the perverse mouth—the torrent of vituperative nonsense that pours forth from this generation’s mechanisms of communication?
If someone says I love fillintheblank, we do not yet know if he is a virtuous man. I love what? The devil? Treachery? Bloodlust? If someone says I hate fillintheblank, we do not yet know if he is a vicious man. We need the direct object. And the objects of our hatred need to be the direct objects assigned to that role in the grammar of God.
A Return to Sanity
Our God is the living God. Jesus told us that He is the resurrection and the life. We are promised that out of us will flow rivers of living water. This water is the life of the world because this water is Christ Himself.
This living water is flowing out into a world of death, into a culture of death. And this is the particular form that our insanity takes. If you reject the way of wisdom, what happens? In the eighth chapter of Proverbs, Wisdom herself says that “But he who sins against me wrongs his own soul; All those who hate me love death”” (Proverbs 8:36, NKJV). All who hate wisdom love death. There is no other alternative. And when you come to the living God through His living Christ, the alternative runs the other way as well. All who are privileged to hate death—through the cross of Jesus Christ—are ushered into a love of wisdom.
And this is how we are to recover our sanity. We do what King Nebuchadnezzar did, and we acknowledge the God of heaven. This is what true sanity is—acknowledging that God rules in the heavens, and He does as He pleases.
“And at the end of the time I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my understanding returned to me; and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever: For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom is from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand Or say to Him, “What have You done?” At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my honor and splendor returned to me. My counselors and nobles resorted to me, I was restored to my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added to me” (Daniel 4:34–36, NKJV).
And so there it is. We acknowledge the God of Heaven, through His Son, our Lord Jesus. Our sanity will return to us, and battle will be joined.