Friday, March 10, 2023

David French & the Vapors of Civic Virtue Escaping from a Mystery Box | Blog & Mablog - by Douglas Wilson


In the Great Commission, the Lord Jesus told us to drain the swamp. But several thousand years later, as we live out our day-to-day lives, more than a few observers have thought it a cogent counter-argument to reply that we live in a swamp. These advanced thinkers then inform us that we have to come to grips with the fact that we live in swamp world, and there is simply no use denying it. Others of us, who are trying to stay on point and avoid mission drift, reply that we were never disputing the fact of the swamp. We all agree about the swamp. We all live here, and the swamp is pretty . . . swampy. Where our disagreement arises is with the meaning of the word drain. Yes, we knew about the swamp. That is what we were told to drain. And we knew it was a big swamp. But we were told to drain it.

I do not know how many times I have heard Christians arguing that we need to grasp the pluralistic nature of the modern world. But yes, we knew that. That is what we were told to get rid of. Pluralism is the political name for polytheism, and polytheism is what the Great Commission told us to replace. If Christ told us to disciple all the nations, and teach them obedience, it is scarcely to the point to reply that the nations are not at all disciples, and are all of them disobedient.

Our efforts to slay the dragon were never in any way intended to deny the existence of the dragon. Those who fight the dragon and those who seek to make peace with him are agreed about the reality of the dragon. Where do we differ? It is with the content of the command we were given, and the authority of the one who gave it.

A Little Metaphor

When I was in the Navy, I was in the quartermaster gang (navigation) of a submarine. I am going to use an illustration from that world that encapsulates the kind of thing that I think is happening here. In this post today I am going to be a little hard on David French, with apologies all around, but I want it to be known that I am not accusing him of a monumental mistake. Rather, my concern has to do with a minor mistake with monumental consequences. Now of course, at some point a refusal to acknowledge those monumental consequences can become a big deal in its own right, but let me first illustrate the kind of thing that I think is happening.

If you are leaving the Mediterranean, and your orders are to sail in a straight line west to Charleston, it is possible to get the straight line part right, but to be one degree off in your calculations at the beginning—innocent mistake—and then to find yourself sailing into New York harbor. The doubling-down-out-of-pride part would come into play later when you made a point of telling all your fellow crewmen over drinks that night in a tavern that you didn’t know how or when Charleston installed their replica of the Statue of Liberty.

Apples and Oranges

I am going to begin by responding to a tweet that David French recently sent out, but then move on to some more detailed statements he made in the course of a recent interview here. The tweet in question is over there to the right.

And allow me to explain exactly why French is technically correct—I would absolutely be more upset if CRT were being taught at Grace Community than I would be at reports that his church enabled the abuse of women and children. But then I would obviously need to go on to explain why French being technically correct in this fashion is a deadly category mistake.

This is why.

Look at what is being compared. Teaching elements of CRT is being compared to reports that the church enabled the abuse of women and children.

What you are teaching is out in public. You say it behind pulpits and lecterns. You post the video of the sermon or talk on your web site. You are on the record. People can examine what you say with an open Bible, and they can ask you questions about what you said.

Teaching is what you are doing. Reports are what some other people say you are doing. Teaching is the Sermon on the Mount. Reports are that He casts out demons by the prince of demons.

“Reports.” When did they report it? What did they report? Did anybody deny it? Was there any opportunity for a defense? Was it twenty years ago? Is the sinful behavior of genuine abusers repudiated by the church, or applauded by the church? What standard is being used to charge the church with “enabling”? What standard is being used to sift through the reports? By what standard? What does enabling even mean? Does enabling mean overt approval of grotesque behavior, or does it mean failing to meet the DEI standards of the alphabet-people-friendly Guideposts Solutions, that woke organization that was called in by the smart people to monitor abuse cases in the Southern Baptist Convention? You know, I have been on the receiving end of such “reports” enough times to be something of a connoisseur of their true value.

Please notice how Guideposts Solutions is “proud to be an ally to our LGBTQ+ community.” What does that + stand for again? It starts with P, and it rhymes with T, and it stands for pedophilia. It stands for one of the things they are supposed to be investigating. You know that’s the next wall that is going to go down, right?

And if you say it doesn’t stand for pedophilia, what standard is being used to exclude that particular sexual identity of minor-attracted-persons—besides raw bigoted hate, I mean? The + means that the hose can develop as many kinks as it wants, and the folks at Guideposts Solutions are good with every last one of the kinks. They are a “proud ally” of every last one of those kinks. And they are the ones who wrote the report on the misdeeds within the SBC. Somebody—and I am not saying just who yet—is out of their ever-loving minds.

But what happens when a church starts teaching CRT, or other forms of critical theory? When they are doing that kind of thing on the record, out in the open, it will just be a matter of time before drag queens—groomer clowns, let us call them—are teaching the Sunday School classes in said church, and doing so to the applause of all the people who were previously so concerned about the twenty-year-old reports they had heard about Grace Community. One of the grandmothers who was so outspoken about it all will bring her granddaughter to one of those Sunday School classes and give her a twenty dollar bill to tuck into the Bible lesson lady’s codpiece.

What I say here, I say to all the people running this clown circus—we can see what you are doing, you know. Yes, I know. David French can’t see it, but he doesn’t really count any more. He works at The New York Times now. He is going to be getting a paycheck to not see it.

This is not to say that an orthodox church can’t mishandle an abuse case. This is not to say that awful things cannot happen at a youth Bible camp. They can and do. Are there hypocrisies and cover-ups? There sure are. But the conservative Christian world at large has done a decent job in continuing to maintain that all such behavior is bad, and evil, and wrong, and iniquitous. One of the reasons we can continue to do this is that we reject every form of critical theory with loathing—that commie metric for ethics—because critical theory takes away from us the standard of Scripture, and substitutes for it a false antithesis between oppressor and oppressed. And when you do that it is just a matter of time before the woman who wants to use the ladies room at church is the oppressor, and Bruno there who also wants to use it is the oppressed. His five-o’clock shadow is troubling to some of the weaker brethren, and so he needs a place to shave before the evening service.

Look me in the eye, and tell me these kinds of monstrosities aren’t happening all around us. And yet it is invisible to David French. He still thinks Charleston has a replica of the Statue of Liberty.

Making the Gods Behave Like Christians

The real stumbling block for French is his ideal of pluralism.

And that brings into play the question that we haven’t really addressed, which is pluralism. How do we live together across this really big difference? Again, that’s why my default position comes down to respecting each other’s liberties and respecting each other’s desires to live our lives according to our deepest values.

But you cannot protect the value of respecting each other’s liberties with the value of respecting each other’s liberties. That value has to come from somewhere, and some of the positions you are trying to guard with it are at war with it.

French thinks of pluralism as a practical mechanism to help people of good will who belong to divergent faiths to get along with one another. But I have questions. Who is in charge of defining “good will?” Which god spoke the word that requires us to respect each other’s desires to live our lives according to our deepest values? What if my deepest value is making money off gullible parents of thirteen-year-old girls who want to be boys and their breasts are in the way? What if my deepest value is throwing virgins into volcanoes? What if my deepest value is flying airplanes into skyscrapers?

Pluralism is the political side of a religiously polytheistic society. But when a society has become polytheistic, there is no a priori standard that you can establish that will exclude the ugly gods, the angry gods, the savage gods, the gods whose wrath can only be slaked with blood. When French speaks of the “big differences” in these belief systems, he is naively assuming that we will all think different things in our heads, say different things in our seminars, preach different things in our sermons, but when we get out into the public square we will all together behave like good little Judeo/Christians. He wants to get along with those gods who will agree to play nice with YHWH, and then blithely assumes that all the gods have agreed to do so. He wants Moloch and Chemosh to value religious liberty the same way he does. He wants to make friends with the imam by offering to share his BLT with him.

He naively assumes that the devotees of these other gods have become as dualistic as some of the Christians have.

An Almost Perfect Jumble

French routinely trips over the wise Turk/foolish Christian trope. Whether he refers to it or not, it is always running in the background.

The most prominent apologetics ministry in the United States was run by an abuser of women. You have perhaps the largest Christian camp housing one of the worst superpredators in American life for a decade plus, and then covering it up. You could go down the line. And time and time again, I hear Christians say, “We need more Christians in power.” And I’m thinking, “Do we, though?”

What he wants is more people in power who actually act like Christians. So do I. He wants Christian values to govern, but is not willing to call them that. So he wants our virtuous actions in the public square to be the kind of thing that can spring up anywhere, like Athena from the head of Zeus. No, no, not the head of Zeus. Too religious, too denominational. We want a secular Athena to emerge from an unspecified cupboard of vanilla virtue. The cupboard is located in the back of the house, we are not sure where exactly. He wants to capture the vapors of civic virtue that are seeping out of the mystery box. He wants generally Christian-friendly virtue without having to name the name of Christ. But here is the catch. That doesn’t exist.

The virtues that David French loves and respects and fights for are virtues that are NOT like Melchizedek. The virtues that are embedded in our customs, mores, and laws, and which are barely hanging on anymore, are not “without father or mother” Our public virtues are not “without genealogy.” They actually had a “beginning of days.” They grew up in the black soil of a robust Christian consensus, as Francis Schaeffer cogently argued, and ever since the day we decided to transplant them all into this white, powdery chalk, they have done quite poorly. And the more they wilt, the more David French lectures those Christians who want to put them back in their original soil.

The J6 Thing

Instead, what was rolling down from the National Mall was a mob listening to praise music as they stormed the U.S. Capitol building.

But given the premises operating here, what’s wrong with that?

If there is not an explicit set of requirements for Christians to follow when in the public square, then why can’t we make it up as we go along? What rule for Christians were they violating? What standard was offended, and why are Christians obligated to honor that standard? The etiolated secular standard that French wants keep strong enough to hold us all together isn’t strong enough to hold us all together. That’s the problem. If we decide to chuck it, who are we sinning against?

Now I would have some things to say to those who went into the Capitol that day. First, I do believe that their resistance on J6 was not in accordance with the Word of God. That’s not how you do it. This was not Protestant resistance theology, but more like Keystone Kops resistance theory. And related, in the second place, as Tallyrand so elegantly put it one time, it was worse than a crime—it was a blunder. It was a large number of sheep without a shepherd deciding to mount an incursion into a den of wolves. To date, the aftermath has not been all that surprising—the only thing surprising about the whole thing was Kevin McCarthy giving access to all the Capitol Hill video footage to Tucker Carlson. That made me say “land of goshen” a couple times.

But back to the point. If, as French maintains, there is no distinctive Word from God that regulates how we are supposed to comport ourselves in the public square, then what on earth could be wrong with getting a mob together to storm the Capitol while listening to praise music? Sounds kind of exhilarating.

Like a Clam in High Water

When he looks at the legal lay of the land, David French can come off as positively chirpy. He sounds about as happy as a clam in high water.

Since then, in the seven, now coming on eight years since Obergefell, there has not been a single significant religious liberty loss at the Supreme Court. Religious liberty has continued to advance. And many of the wins were by supermajority, seven to two, nine to zero. This was really surprising for folks who thought that Obergefell was the beginning of the end of religious liberty.

Yeah, but WHEN did they think this about Obergefell? They thought that Obergefell was the death knell of all sorts of constitutional liberties, with the result that they rolled up their shirt sleeves and elected Donald Trump—of all people—to be president of these United States, over the strenuous protests of one very noisy David French. These Christians supported Trump in exchange for judges. That was the deal. But according to French, it was a deal with the devil.

And as the result of what they did, clean contrary to David French’s sense of fastidious propriety, we got three new conservative votes on the Supreme Court, and a boatload of conservative judges in the lower courts. It now seems to me to be a bit thick, and a bit rich, and a bit copper-plated, for French to be telling us to calm down, things are not all that bad. “Look at all the cool things that SCOTUS has recently done.” Yes, but it does not take a great deal of imaginative power for us to imagine what the Supreme Court would have done by now if those three justices had been nominated by Hillary. We would be currently dealing with SCOTUS decisions pelting us with blue hailstones the size of softballs.

Methodological Naturalism in the Public Square

One of the bad compromises that believing scientists have made has been their willingness to adopt what is called methodological naturalism. They can be believers in their private lives, but when it comes to the laboratory, and their research, and their scientific lives, they have to agree to proceed as though God did not exist. They don’t have to be atheists, they just have to act like they were. What this is amounts to a codification of dualism, which is, as I trust you know, a form of really bad juju.

And what French is offering us is a methodological naturalism for the public square. We don’t have to be unbelievers in the public square, but we have to act as though we were in order to hammer out an agreement with other unbelievers who have a different set of preferences. The atheistic citizen wants same-sex mirage as his preference, while the methodologically atheistic Christian has written down his preference as being one of religious liberty. A swell compromise, worked out (for the time being) by two groups arguing for their preferences.

When the Respect for Marriage Act came up, it tried to (imperfectly) respect religious liberty. If I was writing the bill, it would be different, but it imperfectly said, “We think that same-sex marriage and religious liberty can coexist in the United States of America, and we’re going to codify that coexistence.” I thought that was absolutely an acceptable compromise.

The reason I emphasize that word preferences here is because rights are God-given or they are nothing. Religious liberty is my preference as a religious person the way the right to marry would be the preference of a homosexual. No—religious liberty is something that was bequeathed to us by our Creator. He never bequeathed to anyone the right to marry a person of the same sex. At most that is a privilege granted by a corrupt and diseased state.

Consequently, the right to worship God and the right to sodomize someone under the aegis of matrimony do not occupy the same space. Not at all. They are not the same thing, and they are not the same kind of thing. One of them fits under the heading of true liberty, and the other one does not.

Quit Yer Whining

White evangelicals are the most powerful faction of one of the two most powerful political parties in the most powerful country in the history of the world. You are not powerless. You are not persecuted. Use the immense power that you have to begin to change the character of our institutions in a positive direction. No more fear-based voting. No more compromises with lesser evils. Use your power to reinforce virtue in this country, or you’re not upholding your end of the social compact. Period.

Let me leave aside for the moment what David French would say to us all if we started to use our “immense power” to “change the direction of our institutions in a positive direction.” Who is in charge of defining “positive direction?” I suspect French would call any such efforts “fear-based” or worse, but his inconsistency here is not the heart of the issue. Rather, the heart of the issue is right at the tail end of his quote.

“Or you’re not upholding your end of the social compact. Period.”

I have some questions, and so I will conclude by asking them. I will also add that David French has no real right to continue on with the jag he is on unless at some point in the near future he agrees to answer these questions, or others just like them. I suspect that he will decline to answer because, taking one thing with another, someone in his position does not really have any cogent answers for such questions. So here they come, high and inside.

What social compact? Who made it? Why is it binding on me? Suppose we disagree with Hobbes, or Rousseau, or Locke, or whoever else made up these imaginary parliaments. What then? Will Christ judge us for walking away from this social compact? If so, where does the Bible say that? If not, then why should we care whether we are upholding our end of the social compact or not? Is the Declaration of Independence an example of social contract thinking? If it is not, then shouldn’t we go with the Declaration, being Americans and all? If so, then is it really true that the social compact contains a provision that “whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government?” And if we have that right according to the social compact, then why wouldn’t it be okay to do it by storming the Capitol? You know, with the praise music optional?

Just curious.