Look at All Those Alabaster Cities

In his most recent book, R. Emmett Tyrrell points out that the American conservative movement that grew up after the Second World War was a fusionist movement — a coalition of small government libertarians, anti-Communists, and traditionalists. As it happened, I was (and am) all three of those, and so I fit right in.

But before going on to make the point de jure, I need to reiterate something that I have said in principle many times before. However noble these three elements might be, they cannot be sustained without a robust and open faith in Jesus the Prince. Indivdual liberty is a glorious thing, and pagan civilizations cannot sustain it. Pagans cannot keep their governments small. The commies murdered between 80 and 100 million people, and surely it was not wrong-headed to utter protests against that kind of slaughter. Standing up for those millions of victims was not something that was motivated by a love for “profits” or “corporations.” But — and this is crucial — neither can standing up for those victims be justified without acknowledging that there is a Lord of lords. When the lords of the earth round everybody up for the cattle cars to the camps, it matters whether or not they are the final voice of authority or not. They are, as it turns out, not. And last, living tradition is a good thing, provided, and only provided, it is connected to a living faith in a living Christ. A traditionalist who knows what he is doing is defending the accomplishments of the first Christendom, those which still remain to be defended. Someone, and I think it was Pelikan, said that tradition was the living faith of the dead, to be distinguished from traditionalism, which is the dead faith of the living.

Now, having made this obligatory detour, I turn to the central point to be made this morning. When I defend individual liberty, as I have just done, and as I regularly do from time to time, a reasonable question from my fellow Christians concerns the idolatrous faith in liberty that is displayed by many on the libertarian right. What do we do about that? Should we be mixed up in it? In order to answer the question, we have to look at the nature of idolatry.


Idolatry is an account of the world. It is not stand-alone worship of some god who is not God, who is being worshiped for its own sake. No, the idol is connected to an account of the world. This means that when we reject the idolatry, as we must do, we are still not in a position to reject the thing of which that idol is erroneously thought to be lord. We reject Aphrodite, not sexuality. We reject Mammon, not the money in our wallets. We reject Ceres, not wheat farming. We reject Poisedon, not joining the Navy.

Bringing it home to our point, we reject John Stuart Mill, not liberty. We reject Ayn Rand, not liberty. Indeed, if we understand what the Spirit of God is doing in the world (2 Cor. 3:17), we reject idolatrous accounts of individual freedoms because we love liberty. I look dubiously at the medicine man who shuffles around in a heathenish circle shaking his rattle, but I must still receive the rain with gladness. If I reject the rain because of the medicine man, then I am actually rejecting Christ (Acts 14:17).

What would I think of someone who said that I shouldn’t be using that rain on my crops because of the pagan dance? No, I reject the pagan account of the rain, and I reject the pagan ceremonies to summon the rain, but I must not reject the rain. Rain is good.

In the same way, individual liberty is a good thing, a blessed thing. It is a gift of God, and can only be sustained when a people extend gratitude to the one who gives it to us. Secularism, in all its forms, is therefore the enemy of liberty. Some forms of secularism set themselves against liberty overtly — the idols of the collective, for example. We oppose them too, because we are anti-Communists, and we are anti-Communists because we love Jesus. Other forms of secularism set up a goddess of liberty, over against the collective, and we reject that form of idolatry also. We reject the god of chains, because he will put us in chains, and we reject the goddess of untrammeled liberty and autonomous individual freedoms . . . because she will put us in chains.

So of course, we reject the baalim over every green field in Israel, but we must also reject the idea that it was Elijah who was the troubler of Israel. Stop agreeing with Ahab already. It was the worship of the green idol Baal that turned Israel brown, and it was the acceptance of Yahweh again that brought the rain down, turning the fields green. Was that a concession to the idolatry, or was it a refutation of it?

And this is why we need to also turn away from every form of theological dualism in our thinking about public policy. This is why the R2K approach represents a fatal compromise in the public square, about the public square. This is why the Reformed theological world, which ought to be leading America’s evangelicals on this whole subject, has mysteriously gone into hiding. It is a sorry spectacle.

But Jesus is Lord, straight up, and there it is. If good things are happening, He is blessing us, and if we are being chastized, then He is the one chastizing us. We must reject the theology of accommodation, which says that Jesus is the Lord of the heavens, and Baal is the lord of the green fields. That is the kind of split that leads to enormous confusion among Christians. Some argue for this explicitly, leaving the world to the devil, and many others just bumble to that kind of assumption because they have been taught to fear “theocracy.” If we accept the need for the kind of open Jesus-is-Lord-theocracy, of the kind argued for by Wilson, then bad things might start to happen.

Right. What might happen? If we bowed the knee to Jesus Christ, might we start murdering over a million kids in the womb a year? If we acknowledged Christ, might it lead to sodomite parades in the streets of our major cities? If we confessed that Jesus rose from the dead, might we suddenly be on the brink of of a major war in the Middle East? If we allowed that our government is junior to the government of Christ in Heaven, might we then rush to spend trillions of dollars we don’t have? This is a good point, certainly, and I never thought of it that way before. I can see why people wouldn’t want to turn away from the secular paradise we have built. I mean, look at all those alabaster cities out there, undimmed by human tears.

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