Viewpoint Neutrality. Discuss.
This message is intended to respond to your recent blog: “David French and the Chimerical Flibbertigibbet.”
I understand the main thrust of your argument in this post to be as follows: viewpoint neutrality is not viewpoint neutral itself, but rather imposes a non-Christian (or even anti-Christian) set of values on the country in general and the church in particular.
I believe you are failing to make a crucial distinction that is leading you to be more critical of conservatives like Mr. French than they deserve. There is a subtle but important distinction between (1) viewpoint neutrality as a metaphysical/ethical principle; and (2) viewpoint neutrality as a tradition in the American political order.
As a conservative Christian and lifelong Californian, I am quite familiar with metaphysical viewpoint neutrality. It is what I hear when my progressive neighbors insist that it is illegitimate for me to thump my bible while they beat me over the head with Simone de Beauvoir, Herbert Marcuse, or Jacques Derrida. As you said in your post, this is a fundamentally hypocritical position, as on the one hand it declares tolerance as a foundational virtue, while on the other it insists that all who disagree are anathema.
However, the viewpoint neutrality that I am interested in preserving (and I believe Mr. French is as well) is not a metaphysical or ethical proposition. Rather it is a set of legal precedents, cultural prescriptions, and traditions that have developed since the founding of the country (and perhaps earlier). Viewpoint neutrality in this sense is a legal and cultural reality, not a metaphysical ideal.
The term ‘viewpoint neutral,’ when used in this way, is not meant as a metaphysical claim, but rather as a practical label for a complex legal and cultural truth. It is a “legal fiction.” By way of analogy, it is a basic truth of corporate law that corporations are legal persons. However, by saying Walmart is a ‘person’ I am not saying that Walmart has a will, a soul, a mind, or is made in the image of God. Rather, I am saying that for purposes of contract and litigation Walmart can be treated by the courts as a person.
Similarly, when I say I wish to defend “viewpoint neutrality,” what I mean is that I care about the First Amendment protections for religious liberty and free speech; as well as the jurisprudence that arises from them. It means I care about the cultural expectation that our government will try not to impose religious values on the citizens (even if this isn’t technically possible). It means I care about the legal structure surrounding equal access to public accommodations.
While I could go on in my defense of the tradition of viewpoint neutrality, I fear my message is already too long. I will simply conclude by saying this: I greatly fear eliminating the tradition of viewpoint neutrality in a world where an anti-Christian progressivism is ascendant. In that fight, the tradition of neutrality is with us, not against us.
Bryan, thanks for the thoughtful response. I am happy to distinguish the two neutralities as you describe them. But here in our world, when we are seeking to defend objective neutrality in, say, the courtroom, and others are attacking that procedure (and doing so for metaphysical reasons), we need a better defense than “this is the way we have done it for centuries.” Because their reply will be “precisely.” And you do it that way because you inherited this system from slaveholders. Critical theory is a universal corrosive, and we have no defense against it apart from an appeal to the transcendent.
A very helpful summation of this frustratingly fruitless debate. There is nothing in your post re: neutrality, religious liberty as being a Christian ideal, etc. that I disagree with. However, there is a serious omission in the interpretive framework you supply that I think is at play. At least some of the weakness in calling people to “return” to the American ideal as preserved in the Declaration of Independence is the failure to acknowledge that that original creed was not held with integrity even by many of the framers to say nothing of centuries downstream. As laudable as the creed is, the practice of that creed was hollow and untrue, and the injustice allowed to take root and grow has not only discredited any confidence in the written creed but has made the American church vulnerable to becoming a cultural soil that is deeply resistant to the gospel, hard and crusty, shallow, and infested with weeds. It seems to me that until Christians start telling this story of the constitution differently, modeling what repentance looks like, we will we waste a lot more breath in fruitless debates.
Michelle, sure. There have always being compromisers and politicians. But I believe that genuine faith at the Founding was a lot more robust than the debunking done by Critical Theory would have us know.
David French and the flibbertigibbet: Excellent article. To confirm that the Constitution does not support drag queen hour, one may quote from The Story of the Constitution, by Sol Bloom, published in 1937: “Freedom of speech and of the press does not permit the publication of libels, blasphemous or other indecent articles, or other publications injurious to morals or private reputation.”
As a Christian, Mr. French may consider the effect that drag queen story hours would have on children, and what Jesus would say on the matter. If one who causes little ones to stumble will receive a punishment worse than being thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck, and one through whom children are led into sin would be better off unborn, would it be worth it to allow drag queens to indoctrinate children at libraries, even if it was indeed permitted by the Constitution? It is better to bring children to Heaven unconstitutionally than to obey the constitution unconditionally and let them go to Hell. Thankfully, as you have confirmed, one does not have that choice.
James, thank you.
I used to respect French, a lot, but ever since Trump came on the scene he seems to have lost his mind. “‘Viewpoint neutrality”? Seriously? Trump Derangement Syndrome is a real thing, unfortunately.
I want to share my sincere gratitude with you for your writing about many contemporary issues in an approachable and enjoyable way. I don’t always agree and as you suggest in this piece (David French and the Chimerical Flibbertigibbet), that’s just fine, but I do nearly always concur your subject matter deserves some discourse. You make me think and often that thought is devoted to topics I would have otherwise brushed past, assuming I already formed a well-reasoned opinion. You’ve given words to my previously formless idea of the cultural necessities we have lost and with them the ground to stand our Constitution. I assume you receive a fair amount of unappreciative communications so I hope this one is at least a little cheering. Again, thank you for your writings and musings, I appreciate them greatly.
Ryan, thanks for paying attention to the thingsI write. That’s the hard part.
Hi Doug, I hope you all are doing well! Found a typo. Last quote (the Ibid p. 8) . . .
“America invites all me to become citizens/” I suspect it’s “men” instead of “me.”
Thanks for your GREAT articles! We are so grateful for your writings. It’s a bright beam through the fog.
Jack, thanks. Fixed it. And thanks also for the kind words.
Thanks for the statements about the root of besetting sin being lying to oneself. After a bit of thought, I believe that you are correct. I hope that information helps many of us to better battle sin.
Charlie, yes. And in a sense, this is an enemy that always attacks from behind or from within. Only the mirror of Scripture can help.
The Netflix Challenge
You assert that your critics are themselves misogynists, and suggest that their Netflix viewing would prove it. Okay, well, here’s my (somewhat trashy) viewing from the last six months:
Highway to Heaven (season 3)
Four Weddings and a Funeral
Lucifer (season 4)
Jessica Jones (season 3)
Kurt Seyit ve Sura (season 1)
The Protector (season 1)
Sherlock Holmes (2009)
Strangers on a Train
The Red Violin
Music and Lyrics
If none of those particularly speak of misogyny to you, perhaps you might seriously consider the effects of your doctrine on women.
Christina, I hadn’t seen any of these, but a few minutes googling informed me that in your selections there was far more nudity than would be acceptable for entertainment in our home, and this was precisely the point I was making. It would not be acceptable in our home because of the commodification of the women involved. Shortly before the unfortunate Rachel Held Evans died, she was lamenting that she was going to miss the opening of the next Game of Thrones season, and it was the same kind of radical inconsistency at work there. Why is it that I, the supposed misogynist, have a higher standard for the treatment of women than do my critics?
This is [a request for] a book recommendation. I know a young couple who have been going to a mushy mega church. It is the kind where if you pulled out all the Bible references you’d have a really great inspirational pep talk. This couple is getting married soon and which of your books would you recommend for the husband-to-be and for the wife-to-be?
Jeff, I would recommend either Reforming Marriage or My Life for Yours. If they have heard scary things about me, I would recommend the latter.
Hey, Watch This
You gotta watch this talk and include it somewhere for the students at Logos and NSA. This guy is awesome! (Perhaps a Content Roundup would suffice)
Tim, thanks for the suggestion. Why wait for Thursday? Right here works.
Some Repeat Housekeeping
Did the iPhone app Blog and Mablog disappear from the App Store or is it no longer supported? I used to use it all the time to read your posts, but it was running poorly so I deleted it and then went to reload it and I can’t get it to come up on the App Store. Is there some way I am not looking properly or is there another way to easily access your great content on my phone? Thank you. In Christ,
Harrison, we discontinued it because it was buggy and running poorly. Perhaps we will try again when we have our act together. In the meantime, there is a way to save the Mablog page to your phone’s screen for quick access.
On Not Being a Wokescold
I read your book, Skin and Blood, recently and was tremendously blessed by it. What a breath of fresh air compared to the #WokeChurch materials everyone seems to be reading these days. Is there any plan to have this published by Canon Press or something so that it can be more widely distributed? Sadly, it seems like the best materials on the topic are the least known.
Sam, thanks for the suggestion, Perhaps Canon will consider it. In the meantime, everybody, see below.
Skin and Blood
What is racism? Why is it sinful? How should we respond when we find it in ourselves and in our culture?
Police shootings and protests have filled the news in recent years, leaving us with no illusions that America is free of racial problems. Skin and Blood invites us to look honestly at both white sins and black sins…and to look hopefully at the red blood of Jesus, which is their o…