If you assume that secular society is an actual possibility, which is a big suppose, one of the first things you have to do is ignore the outliers. In other words, diversity is great, and will continue to be great, just so long as nobody leans too far to the right or left in our wobbly societal canoe. In other words, secular diversity works great so long as we manage to keep the diversity to a minimum.
This is just another way of saying that any culture, in order to be a functional culture at all, has to operate around shared values. If the values are not shared, if people cannot quietly assume them in their disputes with members of a rival party within that culture, with the rival party assuming the same values, then we do not have a culture at all. What we have is a cultural civil war.
And that is what we currently have.
The Set Up
In order to work out the ramifications of this, let me point to a current manifestation of what is being touted as simple liberal hypocrisy. But it is not so much hypocrisy—although there is a hypocritical element—as it is an example of the limitations of stage four secularism. The current secular ruling elites are incapable of handling the hardline outliers, and their canoe is going over.
Over the last few years, we have been treated to one disgusting display after another of secularists demanding that evangelical florists, bakers, photographers, et al. leave their convictions, however deeply held, at the door of their shop and just serve the public. What’s so hard about that? But given the nature of their professions—celebratory professions—they were being required to celebrate things they believed ought not to be celebrated. That’s too bad, our overlords said. Just do it. Secularism demands that we brand anyone who holds to traditional sexual morality as nothing other than Bull Connor in the bedroom.
We have gotten too accustomed to the totalitolerant tactics of this world’s Trigglypuffs.
Comes now Donald J. Trump, ascending to the Oval Office, and what do we encounter, right off the bat? Mike Pence went to a production of Hamilton, and got himself hectored by the cast. And Sophie Theallet—a name I am embarrassed to admit that I had not heretofore known—drew herself up to her full height and penned an open letter letting it be known that her designer dresses will not be heading Melania’s way anytime soon. Our future First Lady might find herself preparing for the Inauguration by shopping off the rack, a process I assume may have to be explained to her.
But it all works out. Pence took it all in stride. He said he enjoyed the show, and also said that he wasn’t offended by the comments. “That is actually what makes America the nation we all love so much. In the heady days after the election, we were all pretty exultant, up in the clouds, you know. It was good to come back down, to once again encounter the smug and officious superiority that liberals love to ladle over the tops of all our heads. It was frankly good to be home again. We must never forget that this was how we got elected in the first place.”
Actually, I made that quote up. Pence wasn’t offended, but he didn’t say all that. I wish he would have, but alas, he didn’t.
And Melania will probably look fabulous in a little thing whipped up by a back alley gay designer in Manhattan. Trump knows a guy.
Hypocrisy or Revelation?
Now it didn’t take anybody very long to see that if the progressives didn’t have double standards they would have no standards at all. Where did they get off demanding that evangelical bakers sacrifice their personal convictions for the sake of homo-agenda, but then when they lose the election, refuse absolutely to surrender their personal convictions? Why the double standard?
But this is more than a mere personal hypocrisy. It reveals what careful observers have known for some time now, which is that there are two Americas. The political form of this is seen in the red state/blue state map, which is even more striking when you look at it county by county. There are other ways of configuring it, but it comes down to the fact that we have something more than two political factions. Rather we have developed two incompossible cultures.
Incompossibility means that two things are not mutually possible. If your political party wants the Defense Department budget to be 600 billion and the other party wants it to be 550 billion, that is not incompossible. That is a disagreement. You vote and decide what to do. If you want no tariffs and the other party wants tariffs, that is another disagreement. That is not incompossible. But if you don’t believe in chopping up babies to sell for parts, and the other party does, that is incompossible. That is not a disagreement over Policy A over against Policy B. That is a disagreement over the meaning of God, life, man, sin, law, right and wrong.
Now when you have two such alien cultures occupying the same general space, then there are four basic possibilities. 1. One culture may be driven out. 2. One culture may resentfully submit to the other. 3. One culture is defeated and absorbed by the other. 4. The civil war continues until option 1, 2 or 3 occurs.
As my daughter Rachel pointed out the other night at our Sabbath dinner, our current situation is the result of progressives simply assuming #2, with the consequent inevitability of #3, and that they are therefore the masters and we are the servants. A servant must do as he is told. The master doesn’t have to do what the servants say. Why do evangelicals have to bake the cake, and take the picture? The answer is because the secularists have hammered out their own doctrine of dhimmitude. They are the lords of the earth, and so one imperious glance is enough to tell you that it past time for you to be decorating that cake.
But when someone tries to pull that stunt on them—insisting they bake a cake for the Homophobe Ball, say, with the frosting inscription saying something like “Bring a pretty girl.”—they put on their full indignant face and say, “Sirrah!” Indignant? How indignant do they get? Well, pretty indignant. It rivals that time I put twenty cats in the bathtub to hose them down.
Note to my enemies: I didn’t actually do that. It was just a colorful metaphor, trying to capture how indignant you guys always are, even about metaphors. Even so, I don’t think I quite captured it. Try twenty-five cats.
Secularism on Its Last Legs
Progressives have gotten so far into their bubble that even Saturday Night Live has noticed it.
An actual functioning “secular” square was possible in America when the diversity consisted of a wide range of Protestant denominations. We had an informal Christian establishment, and for the most part it worked okay. With the radical infusion of many Catholics in the nineteenth century, it was challenging but not incompossible. The rhetoric of religious neutrality did not result in disaster so long as pretty much everybody was quietly assuming the basic facts of the Apostles’ Creed.
But with the rise of aggressive progressivism, and the challenges posed by radical Islam, we have discovered that the fabric of the big American tent was canvas after all, and not anything more stretchy than that. Christian culture and progressive culture are incompossible. Christian culture and radical Islamic culture are incompossible. And progressive culture and radical Islamic culture are incompossible. What’s a politically engaged Christian to do?
This is what has been underneath my disagreements with Russell Moore. I do not believe that he celebrates Obergefell as a positive good in itself. It is not the case that he wants homosexual marriage in the public square. It is more that he rejects explicitly Christian politics in the public square—and I think he knows (as do I) that the only practical way to overthrow Obergefell would be through an appeal to explicitly Christian political standards. That would, in his system, collide with his commitment to religious liberty.
Now I say this affirming my own commitment to religious liberty—including Muslims, atheists, and Melanesian frog worshipers. But I want to ground their religious liberty in the fact that Jesus died and rose, and not in the fact that John Locke thought it would be totally great.
And Now a Concluding Word From Our Sponsor
We live in interesting times. One of the things that engaged Christians must do is work through and work out a political theology, one that is grounded in Scripture and consistent with the history of our people. To that end, let me recommend two of my books, books designed to help get you up to speed. The first is a detailed examination of what constitutes a scriptural theopolitical imagination. It is called Empires of Dirt and was just released last week.
In this book, I interact in detail with the alternatives suggested by such worthies as Darryl Hart, Greg Boyd, James Davison Hunter, David Gelernter, and Jason Stellman. In that interaction I find that the central feature of Christian cultural engagement is its failure to engage. We are not blowing down the road—we are sitting in the driveway with the clutch in, revving the engine. If there is any time when conservative Christians need to settle on a biblical political theology, it is the next two years.
Because evangelical Christians have been largely convinced that abortion is a bloody atrocity, it does not take much convincing to get them to register their opposition to Roe. But Obergefell has been an entirely different matter, and I would offer Same Sex Mirage as my proposed antidote.