What happens when cultural norms break down? If you have not been living under a large rock for the last six months or so, you know that the question is not a hypothetical one.
We have had lock downs, a secession in Seattle, riots, murders, massive governmental incompetence, equally massive governmental over reach, toxic political discourse, arsonists magically turned into climate change, high hypocrisy in the halls of power, a shamdemic, mandatory masking orders, and I believe that more than one observer has noted that manners are starting to fray.
Presuppositions are like the granite bedrock down below. Everything rests on it, but the outcroppings where you can actually see the granite are only here and there. The bedrock is what it is, regardless of what the people living up on top of it might think. The true bedrock is what we are told in Scripture about our creation by God, and of our sinful fallenness. But some of our secular pomo johnnies have postulated that marshmallow cream would be much nicer than granite, and so they proceed on that assumption.
Denizens of the left have a baseline assumption that peace and the flower power that brings it are the natural birthright of mankind, and this natural condition, our rightful possession, is assumed to be oppressed, afflicted, seized, manipulated, tormented, and so on by the Man, the Establishment, by Western Culture, otherwise known as the Intersectionality of All Vice.
In contrast, a baseline conservative assumption is that the root problem lies in every human heart. As Solzhenitsyn once put it memorably, the line between good and evil runs through every human heart.
So for us, culture and cultural norms have the net effect of creating boundaries and limits that protect us all from one another. In other words, conservatives believe that human nature is a powder keg, and this is why we post all those no smoking signs outside the room where we keep it. Liberals believe that human nature is an innocent prisoner locked up in the cell of oppressive cultural expectations, and we won’t even let him have his cigarettes.
As a fitting spokesman for the leftist and revolutionary assumption, Rousseau once said that man is born free and yet he is everywhere in chains. If that is true, then the problem is the system that enslaves all the innocents. To burn down the system therefore is to open cell doors, striking off chains.
But as a fitting spokesman for the conservative mind, James Madison put things a little differently:
“If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”James Madison, Federalist 51
The whole idea of limited government, with checks and balances, is predicated on the idea that the basic problem lies within human nature itself. But when we hog-tie government like this, we are preventing government from “finding solutions for the American people” and all that jazz, but we do this in the conviction that this is by far the safer route. An untrammeled government is much more likely to create a huge mess than anything else. But for the leftist, all the evil is resident in the system, and not in the people. The system is where the evil is manifested, and whenever a personal villain of the piece is needed, one can always be arranged. Currently that villain is the white heterosexual male.
But Let Us Grant Something
But also, because of mankind’s sinful nature, the cultural restraints that protect us are themselves fallible and shot through with folly, which is why liberals will always have something to point to whenever they talk about “root causes,” or “systemic failures,” or “embedded racism.” For example, when they point to a police shooting that was genuinely unjust, they are pointing at an actual injustice. Those things do happen. The world is a fallen place.
And this is where the differing presuppositions, outlined above, come into play. They look at the tourniquet tied on the man’s leg and point out (occasionally rightly) that it is soaked in blood, and it was dirty to begin with. Yes, that’s as may be, but the tourniquet is still serving a vital function. Take the tourniquet off, and the man dies. It would certainly be nicer to have a clean tourniquet, and to already be at the hospital, but we aren’t, and this is the best we can do under the circumstances. But they see an imperfection in the treatment, and being perfectionists, they demand that the tourniquet come off, and come off now. Their presupposition that a dirty tourniquet is not to be tolerated.
I am sometimes accused of making up outlandish illustrations, and after I type it up and post it out where people can see it, my critics imagine me doing a little touchdown dance in my exuberance over my stupid little illustration. With their arms akimbo, they stare at me asking who on earth would do something as stupid as removing a tourniquet because it wasn’t clean enough?
In my response, I am pleased to present the city council of the great city of Minneapolis. They were seized up with the great idea of defunding the police, and then were filled with astonishment over the rise in crime. There really are people in the world, running big cities the way Joe Biden wants to run the country, who want to defund 911, and who at the same time want 911 to run smoother and better.
Down the Systemic Drain
Of course, once the arsonists have torched everything, they will have to monitor the ashes in order to make sure that the evil system does not start to take shape again. They will therefore have to assume (temporary but all-encompassing) powers that will enable them to protect us all. The whole endeavor is for the good of us all, and their regime of totalitolerance will be swathed in rainbows and glittery promises, and impressive parades. They have done this any number of times, and are good at making the promises. What they haven’t figured out yet is how to keep it from ending in blood. They also haven’t figured out how to remember that it ended in blood last time.
The French monarchy was no picnic, and there were all sorts of problems with it. But the reforming zealots replaced it with the Terror. The tsars were no picnic either, and yet the bloodbath of communism that followed was a thousand times worse. Batista was a thug, and yet Castro was thugger.
But the Normals Are Armed
There is no way to make this next point without being accused of agitating for it, or desiring it in some way, or laboring to bring it about. But the point must be made regardless of how it is represented. I am not talking about what I want, but rather describing the terrain that I believe the left is driving us to.
I do not believe that the United States is primed for a leftist takeover. Leftists are revolutionaries, which means they are impatient. They have short fuses. If you cross them, if they lose an election, say, they feel like they have every right to their tantrums. Conservatives are not revolutionaries, which means they are wary of human nature (see above), and are therefore far more patient. They have a long fuse. But I believe that they also have the potential for a bigger explosion if pushed long enough.
The leftists who are trying to burn down civilization and topple all the statues on their way are under the misapprehension that the restraints they are destroying are principally restraints that protect the normals from them. Their lawless rioting is nothing but a clamor that runs along the lines of “let us at them!” But the reality is that all these cultural restraints are a fundamental protection of them from the normals. This is just another way of saying that when the game of hard ball finally breaks out, and all sides are playing by the new rules that the left has insisted on, they are going to hate what happens.
For, with the strength of Aslan in them, Jill plied her crop on the girls and Caspian and Eustace plied the flats of their swords on the boys so well that in two minutes all the bullies were running like mad, crying out, “Murder! Fascists! Lions! It isn’t fair.”The Silver Chair
In the meantime, because leftist-controlled “acceptable thought categories” have been dominant in the academy and in corporate America for so long, and because evangelical thought leaders (what an awful term, by the way) have been marinating in that sauce for some decades now, the results have been predictable. Evangelical leaders have been tagging along behind the woke set, thighs pumping as they try to keep up, seeking to keep their respectability credentials current. They have been tearing down their own statues, renaming their own things, writing forewords to lame books, and all because they don’t have a clue about what’s actually going on. This is a problem. I don’t know about you, but if we are all at sea, and if our ship has a seminary-trained navigator, some of us would prefer that he know what a sextant is.
At the same time, with all this said, we must be careful. Thoughtful Christians must be distinct and set apart, and we must be as wary of human nature on the blow back right as we are of human nature on the appalling left. We must not be cheerleaders for any form of secularism, right or left, because only Christ can deal with the heart of man. Only Christ.
Letter from a Christian Citizen
I am pleased to announce that we are now able to reissue some of my replies to various atheists. In this series, Street Level Apologetics, I will be taking on Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and hopefully more. This first ebook is a reply to Sam Harris’ book, Letter to a Christian Nation. Hope you find it edifying.