Thursday, August 24, 2017

Nature Abhors A Vacuum

In marked contrast to Russell Moore's wailing and screeching about "White supremacy", Stephen Wolfe took the opposite tactic and actually explored what is going on and why some forms of White nationalism are appealing to Evangelicals without name-calling and engaging in "shame & blame". The contrast in tone and scholarship between Moore's rant and Wolfe's thoughtful post couldn't be more stark. Stephen Wolfe, whom I have become recently acquainted with on social media, is absolutely not a White nationalist but that doesn't prevent him from asking some tough questions and even giving his post a provocative title: Why Evangelicals are Drawn to the Alt-Right.

Now that is going to drive some blog traffic.

Wolfe delves into the psychology of the average person as contrasted with the intellectual elite that have disdain for the past and care only for "progress" in the future. He argues that the average person is connected by people, places and things...
But average people don’t do this. They link together people, place, and things. Hannah Arendt makes the important point that the human world is made possible by the products of work that outlast those who made them. We wouldn’t even have a “world” if every product of human activity resulted in something as ephemeral as bread. We leave things behind. And we leave places behind as well—places with structures, rules, sacredness, places where memories are lodged and kept safe. Our natural relations between generations are bound up in things and places; we experience a trace of their lives in these things and places. Our positive regard to the dead is bound up in these things and places. Modern intellectuals often lack the imagination (having what Burke called “cold hearts and muddy understandings”) to grasp this, not realizing that by attacking the past they attack the present in a jarring way. Intellectuals see the world through the eyes of Paine and regular people see it through the eyes of Burke.
Contrast that with "White supremacy is the number of the beast!" ranting from Russell Moore. Some people actually are drawn for substantive reasons to the alt-right, even if their reasons are wrong, and they are not convinced otherwise by mis-characterizing them and overheated rhetoric and eisegesis. Deeply tied in with the rhetoric of "anti-racism" is an implicit condemnation of our history as a whole. There is no good, there is only evil. Nothing redeeming existed in our history and only by erasing that history by re-writing history books, recasting historical figures as "people of color" and tearing down monuments can we atone for our past sins. But to erase our past is to dwell only in our present and the present as it exists right now is a pretty nihilistic, bleak place.

As Stephen points out, the perception can be that in erasing our past, the real goal or at least the way it feels, is that we are being erased personally. Rod Dreher poses the question quite starkly in light of the monuments kerfuffle....
Along those lines, I would love to see polling on the extent to which whites (Southern and otherwise) see attacks on Confederate monuments as an attack on white supremacy, and the extent to which they see these attacks as assaults on them. Again, notice the ABC/Post poll, which shows that an overwhelming majority of Americans reject white supremacy. The PBS/Marist poll from last week showed that only 27 percent of all Americans believe that Confederate monuments should be taken down. The racial breakdown is: whites 25%; blacks 40%; Latinos 24%.
Interesting statistics, if only 40% of blacks are in favor of taking the monuments down and only a quarter of White and even less of Latinos, then it only reinforces the idea of this being not an issue of racial reconciliation or taking down monuments that offend people but rather that something more ominous and insidious is in play. This ironically, and perhaps not unintentionally, feeds into the narrative of there being a shadowy group that is bent on wiping out European culture, civilization and even the people.

More from Wolfe....
What happens when intellectuals and evangelical leaders attack our “racist” and “xenophobic” past? They not only attack the past, but people’s experience with the present. Regular people’s warm regards towards their life and place is tied with their affections for the past....This is, I submit, a fundamental feature of human being, something that can be extinguished only by a deliberate self-suppressive effort. This is why people are so defensive when their ancestors are attacked: it is an attack on one’s world, striking their very being.
That is pretty simple but profound. Destroy our past, destroy our present and thus our future. A person without a future is unpredictable and will instinctively latch on to something or someone that affirms them as a person and shows them a way forward into something other than the void. Then he brings it together and places the blame where I agree it belongs.
Where are white evangelicals who are subjected to this endless assault on their world going to turn to justify their affection for people, places, and things? When all they see from their “leaders” is denunciation after denunciation of “nativism”, where are they going to turn? The response to such relentless attacks is to defend and find ways to shore up your world....So what is their response? Most just try to find some pocket of existence where they can remain in quiet desperation with like-minded others, but many find ideological reasons to hold on. And who supplies them?: white nationalism, white supremacy, and the alt-right. There is no alternative. Let’s be clear: the people who drive Christians to these radical right groups are those Christian intellectuals who indefatigably accuse regular people’s world of being racist, while supplying nothing to shore up a connection between people, place, and things beyond mere abstractions and theologisms about the human person. These evangelical intellectuals have thrown people into the present, and the people respond by reasserting the past in the only ways available to them.
Allow me to repeat one line from the above: There is no alternative. That is where the rubber meets the road. My title sort of says it all. Right now there is a huge chasm in the evangelical rhetorical landscape because White evangelicals of various sorts, with a few minor exceptions, have completely ceded the ground to the forces of guilt, blame and shame. There are pretty much two groups when it comes to evangelicals and race. There is the Patheos, Russell Moore types and then there are those who just don't talk about it at all. Russell Moore got his job after Richard Land got run out of the ERLC for comments perceived to be intemperate, comments that led to the proposing of a resolution condemning Land by, surprise!, Dwight McKissic who is recently famous for the "anti-alt-right" resolution fiasco at the SBC 2017 annual meeting. The message is pretty clear, even in "conservative" circles it is better to keep your mouth shut if you are not toeing the party line on racial guilt. So the most divisive issue in America is pretty much a one-sided "dialogue" and that is rapidly starting to not sit well with a lot of Christians.

What if I don't buy into that and am not at all interested in being lectured by a wagging fingered SJW-type explaining why I need to feel bad about my "privilege" and "micro-aggressions"? I don't have an issue talking openly about where I stand but I am also not a leader of any sort. So for other people, I guess you can just hole up somewhere in Idaho and start reading Doug Wilson on the side. Or you stumble across websites where people tell you that you are not the problem, that your history might be checkered, as it is for every single people group that has ever existed, but it still is worth remembering and even appreciating and that you have a future worth fighting for. That is probably quite a bit farther than Wolfe went in his essay but his point is still the same. Evangelical intellectual leaders bear a great deal of responsibility for the attraction a lot of evangelicals have for the alt-right and the various sub-groups that fall into the categories of the "Far-Right" because they have given them nowhere else to turn.

The whole essay is a great example of looking at an issue that is fraught with all manner of land-mines where it would be easier to simply spit out a string of platitudes but the author refuses to do so. It sort of reminds me of the difference between someone who will preach on a text that is difficult and do so with rigorous study and honesty, even if it makes the people in the pews uncomfortable, and some who instead tries to avoid it entirely or just laugh it off. You don't have to agree with Wolfe's essay 100%, which I do, or even agree at all but you have to appreciate the tone, the scholarship, the thought process and the courage to engage in a topic that mostly inspires navel gazing from the majority of evangelical leaders and incessant finger waging and hectoring from a vocal few. If we had more people who would produce this sort of work, there would be a lot less space for the alt-right to capture by default.

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