More than ten years ago liberal views seemed to be making galloping progress.
Back then, the orthodoxy was virtually unchallenged. Identity politics was the incontestable ideology that had made giant strides across the moral landscape. In nearly all of the cultural institutions in the West – from museums, to libraries, to parliaments, to entertainment – the secular liberal worldview not only seemed riveted in place, but appeared to be in a state of cancerous expansion.
It was a different world fifteen years ago.
On one hand, the institutions of power largely dictated to the people. To have cultural influence you needed to invest in hard infrastructure like a TV studio or a publishing house. Or you needed to rise through the ranks of an institution. Every once in a while, like Martin Luther, someone might make a tilt at reforming an institution from the inside, but, as Luther himself discovered, this is not usually a winning strategy when the institution does not want to take its medicine. Besides, it was hard to make change when the deck appeared to be heavily stacked against anyone who held to a worldview centered on continuity and moral consistency.
In the early 2000’s traditional boundaries, like marriage, did still exist. In fact, it was even still possible for a Democratic president opposed to same-sex marriage to come to power in the United States. But though the boundaries remained, it was a foregone conclusion by nearly everyone (especially despondent Christians) that these structures were doomed.
Many concluded that the march of liberalism was unstoppable, and some of us sunk into a pervading sense of hopelessness. Like ill-equipped defenders in the trenches, it sometimes felt that the best we could do was set up flimsy wooden barricades only to stand back and watch as the enemy tanks smashed their way through. It often seemed as if nothing Christians or conservatives did worked.
The Proposition 8 ballot in California was a classic example. Organised by defenders of marriage in 2008, California voted narrowly to eliminate provisions for same-sex marriage. Despite winning the popular vote, the proposition was overturned by courts after a convoluted legal process. Thus, even when a majority of the electorate expressed a preference for conservative social policy, their wishes were trampled over by a handful of judges. In such an atmosphere, what hope remained?
Near-nihilistic despair was palpable within Christian circles. Even a cursory reading of apologetic materials from the time will attest to the general sense of gloom. Piles of articles were published by Christian scholars lamenting the apparent decay of the Church. Other Christians sighed and declared that the moral condition was due to the decline of prayer in schools. Still others were worried by the lack of Christian and conservative influence within academic circles, fueled (in part) by David Horowitz, the editor of FrontPage Magazine, who published evidence suggesting that the ratio of liberal academics to conservative ones ran at about 10 to 1. Other Christian scholars referred to the sense of “post-Christian” torpor.
And on it went. In a way, the early 2000’s was a period of protracted mourning for the death of a short-lived era of cultural Christian supremacy – a supremacy that actually did the Church no favours. It was accompanied by tremendous pessimism. It seemed everyone wanted to go back the halcyon days when children prayed at school and most people in communities trotted along to church – and try as they might to offer solutions, most of these were focused on trying to rehabilitate the golden past.
Thus the Christian attitude of those years was often far removed from the unbridled optimism and cheerfulness of the Apostles as they set out into a far bleaker world dominated by the dark sophisticated totalitarianism of the Roman Empire.
This pessimism produced crooked fruit. Ten years ago, the discussion among believers was sometimes tragically silly (and naive) perhaps reflecting a theological or spiritual paralysis; a nearly existential shock at the suddenness of the moral collapse. At the time, a lot of Christian discussion centered around the need to inoculate Christians – especially the young – against the ravages of the culture. We will lose quite a few along the way, went the attitude, since the society is doomed and our heyday is past, but hopefully we can salvage something.
This ecclesiastical salvage operation did not involve a proclamation of the glories and certainties of the Most High Jesus Christ with thundering apostolic confidence from pulpits. Rather, the preferred methodology was programmes and techniques that focused more on behaviour, improving critical statistics (like teenage pregnancy rates among children of Christians), and other measurable criteria.
The late 1990’s and early 2000’s are pockmarked with religious fads. For example, one idea that did the rounds was that young Christian men should be trained and disciplined to think of themselves as medieval knights. Robert Lewis’ (1997) book Raising A Modern-Day Knight, was particularly instrumental in the explosion of knight-themed discipleship. One website introduces the technique in this way:
Christian youth listen closely when knighthood themes are used to convey Christian truth. We have seen rooms of hundreds of youth in today’s churches instantly quieted when a knight dressed in full armor comes to teach a lesson. Sword play, stories, and skits surrounding the knight theme have proven to be a highly effective way of conveying God’s truth to young audiences.
Another idea that flourished ten years ago was that young people should have chaperones when they date, or that dating should be abolished altogether among Christians and replaced by “courtship”. This was spearheaded by a book published by Joshua Harris, I Kissed Dating Goodbye (1997), as if the method by which young people met each other and got to know their partner was a guarantee of future marital success. Then there was the strange “purity ring” movement in which young people would wear rings to keep them in mind of a hypothetical spouse, coupled with the very odd “virginity pledges” that young people were urged to sign by some churches.
And on it went. These silver bullets have not aged well.
But today, things are different. Winds of change are blowing through the stale air. Not just in the Church but in the wider society as well. There is a newness of thought (although really, it is the rediscovery of the brilliance of the Christian worldview) that is starting to make its presence known. These “New Thinkers” are combating the acidic triad of political correctness, secular liberalism, and identity politics. If Christians want to make inroads for the gospel unquestionably they need to set their sails to catch this new wind and ride it so that they can have a serious impact.
This is because insightful and sceptical thinkers in the New Media have finally reached a critical mass. A new intellectual spirit is emerging – one that is bold, that rebels against the cultural orthodoxy, and champions the human birthright to be free to think and speak. The New Media is dominated by these New Thinkers and they actively threaten the empires of the Old Media. They do this through the power of their material, but also because they have adopted some of the timeless tools of the Church. The New Thinkers, for example, engage in street debate, in old-school lectures, and utilise the spirit of free speech respectfully yet intelligently, just as it was intended to be used. The New Thinkers are not generally dogmatic. They purposefully contrast ideas and let their audience make up their minds about the strength of them.
Above all, the New Thinkers are saying interesting things because they are saying things that have long needed to be said. The ideas they are tackling have been considered to be politically taboo, suppressed by the rigid orthodoxies of the elites. But they are also examining issues from an interesting angle, such as applying real world data sets to interpreting problems and arriving at novel solutions. This is very threatening to an ideologically-based worldview like secular liberalism which requires certain data to be ignored, or suppressed, or explained away.
In the process, the New Thinkers are deconstructing the cherished shibboleths of the left. This is being done logically, scientifically, medically, and morally, and their arguments are irresistible. This is the direction the battle is moving. Bad ideas are being exploded, but not with sophisticated word play and emotional sob stories, but by simply pointing to the real world. Reality itself, as expressed by hard scientific fact and by living experience, is proving to be a devastating weapon against many of the tenets of identity politics.
Increasingly, Christians are in the forefront of this intellectual wave, although non-Christians are perhaps still better represented on this coming crest. Nonetheless, it is a wave that is strengthening the Church’s collective intellectual and philosophical thought. We are being sharpened. We are being shaped for God’s purpose.
And it is not before time.
Our culture urgently needs antibiotics, since it is now clear that secular liberalism and identity politics are beyond cure or correction. They cannot be safely harnessed for anyone’s good, and both social philosophies are rocketing downward into bizarre and freakish radicalism with the pedal firmly planted to the floor.
Secular liberalism has become a grotesque circus of ideas; a festival of insanity, where, for example, mental disorders are normalised and the mentally healthy are pressured to behave in dysfunctional ways. Identity politics has become the realm where unhealthy lifestyles are celebrated as if they were healthy; death is celebrated as an individual right; and the whole of society is upbraided unless it follows the madness. A vivid example of this is the Size Acceptance Movement (sometimes called “Size Diversity”) with its manifestly false slogan “health at any size“.
Then there are the sinister thugs of the Antifa movement which do represent a serious threat to citizen freedoms. These are tacitly aided by the liberal media. For while the liberal media has no problem excoriating Neo-Nazis even though their members are cartoon characters and their numbers are minuscule, it has a much harder time even mentioning the crimes of Antifa. Indeed, the liberal press seldom condemns or even mentions Antifa, despite their numbers being much higher and despite their blatant, criminal, and well-documented efforts to shut down legitimate public speeches and lectures they happen to dislike.
These radicals dress in black, cover their faces in masks, intimidate people with the “wrong” beliefs, and engage in violent and destructive behaviour. They bluster and roar that their opponents are fascists. And yet their behaviour is indistinguishable from the bully tactics of the Brownshirts in Wiemar Germany or the Blackshirts in fascist Italy. It seems you can get away with mirroring evil if you just shout loud enough that you hate the evil you are imitating. The liberal media will certainly give you a free pass.
The more the lunacy flows out of the ungodly worldview of liberalism, the greater the pillory it receives. There are now hundreds of Youtube channels that are dedicated to compiling the shrieking, sanctimonious, melodramatic and even violent outbursts of identarians. (Just a few examples can be found here, here, and here). These are presented as forms of comedic entertainment and they are wildly popular. People operating these channels are clocking up views and money from doing nothing other than sticking video segments together, without even the whisper of commentary. This is because the insane behaviour and complete lack of reason speaks for itself.
Whether it is college students introducing themselves with the prissy phrase “My name is Shaynalah and my pronouns are…“, or the well-documented arrest of a young man for calling a police horse “gay”, or videos of police smashing the stuffing out of protesters (to the applause of all onlookers) for holding up traffic on a busy road, liberalism has become a movement of comedy. Ridicule. And contempt. People either find it amusing in its lunacy, or they find it horrific in its intellectual violence and mutant thought. Others have such antipathy toward it that this expresses itself in interesting ways. For example, there are channels dedicated to showing protesters being beaten up by police or getting injured by angry bystanders. These videos are popular.
It has become very obvious that liberal social ideology is not based on meaningful thought, but an internal contest for virtue, and this is why it is dangerous. The animating impulse behind most of its ideas is the sheer force of emotion – self-righteousness coupled to melodrama. These emotions always race to the edge. Always try to get a peg or two higher. You have to continually jack up to ever-escalating levels of sanctimony in order to be always more virtuous. The melodrama then becomes more juvenile, shrill, and self-indulgent until the melodrama gets to the point where mere words are seen as murderous bullets that cripple a person’s entire life if they are heard, or even if they are anticipated but not heard (e.g. trigger warnings!). This never-ending climb up an emotional Mount Fuji is exhausting. No society can sustain such faux virtue forever.
Liberal social ideology is predicated on “guiltifying” people into silence with magic mantras like “that’s extremely offensive“. It is built on harnessing the power of the state, whether by criminalising certain beliefs or criminalising certain words. Most chillingly of all, liberalism has harnessed censorship, speech codes, and the social media pitchfork brigade – the “unintellgensia” – who set out to get people sacked if they do not like their opinions. Unable to engage on the level of rational discourse, all that is left is force.
Above all, liberal social ideology is built on massive contradictions. It is these contradictions that the New Thinkers in the New Media are diligently exposing. This work may seem insubstantial but it is actually producing a quiet revolution deep in the currents of the culture, far from the surface waters of TV and Hollywood. Most significantly, it is making inroads among young people, particularly young men.
It is within these realms that Christians must work. When we can, preaching the gospel. When that is not possible, Christians must preach a worldview based on the gospel. A worldview of integrity, moral sanity, of freedom and liberty for the human mind and soul. A worldview of personal responsibility. A worldview that confronts error with reality. Such an approach will destabilise identity politics and liberalism because it is already doing so. This very hour. In fact, the increasing intolerance of elites and the demands for censorship by the Old Media is proof that the edifice is crumbling.
Far from quitting social media, Christians need to be more busy on Facebook, personal blogs, in online public discussions, on Instagram, and on Youtube. They need to engage regularly, intelligently, and with an attractive confidence and poise.
For social media is the cultural point where the New Thought and the New Media are ushering in a generation of change. This is where we must be at work, and have the greatest opportunities to be fishers of men, and make disciples, or at least build sympathy and admiration for the robustly Christian view. It is at this nexus of people and technology – this welded seam – where the liberal empire is weakest and most susceptible to defeat. This is where Christians can unquestionably make a cultural impact and advance Christ’s Kingdom.
It is time for every Christian, great and small, to be at work in this realm, emboldened to say with St. Paul: “I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of salvation unto all who believe“.