Monday, August 21, 2017

Charlottesville and the Moral Vacuum - Some Further Thoughts

There was some interesting and good discussion by several others on my earlier post Charlottesville - Venom and Anti-Venom.  I responded to one comment on a friends FB page, and then repurposed it for here.  And that led to some further pondering over the past couple of days as I am still trying to figure out what this all means for my country, for my community, for my church, for me.  I welcome your own interaction.  I only ask that you treat me and others the way you want to be treated.

A woman on a friend’s fb page had the following comment on my blogpost.  And what follows is my response.
VJH  There are ways we are becoming more polarized and in those areas I agree with the author: tax policy, health care, what to do about climate change, size of government. All of these are areas which provoke anger and animosity, but in which right and wrong is not absolute and open dialogue can lead to understanding. But there are times when moral choices have to be made

Bill Black If I may interject, the challenge in this particular instance is that there is not one side against another side. There is a whole spectrum of views, motives, actions present, all mixed uncomfortably together. For years there have been in Charlottesville civil discussions between people of good will who have different opinions on the statues and what should be done with them. The same sorts of discussions have occurred concerning the complicated legacy of our fourth president and the founder of The University. It is possible to have different views without either intending or causing or taking offense. People of good will can and often do come to an understanding without result to verbal or physical violence. The problem in Charlottesville, and indeed across the country, is that people who are driven, not by the desire to find some sort of accommodation for a local problem, but by strong totalitarian-view ideologies that brook no dissent have hijacked the local issue for their own political agendas. The people who came to Charlottesville from all over don't actually care about Charlottesville as a local community, a community with its own history of race relations and its own history of trying to cope with its very complicated past. These people cared about their ideologies and the offense caused by the 'others'. They came to make their own statement, either for or against. And now that all of those people have gone, who is left to pick up the pieces and to ask 'What just happened?' The people who actually live in Charlottesville and who have the burden of having to actually cope with each other and make a community work in these circumstances. Yes the Nazis, Klanboys and white supremos were horrific - they are like boys who just found a cache of explosives, playing with things that they don’t realize willl destroy them. And there were a minority of people there who were driven by an opposite but also detrimental ideology. And then there were most people somewhere in the middle. Can we agree that it is possible to hold conservative social and political views and not be a white supremacist/KKKguy/neonazi? Can we agree that it is possible to hold liberal social and political views and not be a Marxist/anarchist/social justice extremist? If we can agree to resist the strong temptation to label our enemies with the worst possible cultural epithet (rather than seeing them as human beings and having a rational discussion with them), then there may be hope for us yet. If however we are driven to categorize everybody who disagrees with my very narrow ideology as the enemy, then history itself prophesies that it will not go well with us. So yes, condemn the Nazis and the small-minded Klanboys and White supremacists. But just realize that it is the agenda of some at the other end of the spectrum to use these miscreants as posterboys for the wider conservative movement and thus as justification for ridding the country of all manner of conservative social, moral, religious and political views and policies, tarring us all with the same brush. And the outcome of that agenda would be just as disastrous for the people of our divided land as the outcome of the vision for our country touted by the neoNazis, KKK and White supremacists and their ideologies, in my opinion. A pox on both their houses. As Christians we know a better way.

And this led me here:
There was a time when when the statement ‘there are times when moral choices have to be made’ was perfectly clear and made obvious sense, because just about everybody was reading from the same Christianity-informed moral page.  But those days are long gone in our society.  So my first question would be ‘Whose morality decides what those moral choices should be?’  At polar ends of the argument spectrum in Charlottesville, there were very different ‘moralities’ at play, as well as a bunch more in the middle, all of them persuaded that they were right.  So which morality are we to follow?  And who is to decide which one is ‘right’/’correct’/’binding’, indeed which morality is moral?  This is where all our fragmentation and pluralism as a culture has led us.  And the ones who have shouted the loudest, played the ‘outrage’ card most deftly,  and gotten the attention of, indeed managed to persuade the media of the rightness of their various causes, these are the ones loudly proclaiming the rightness of their social movement and the wrongness of the so-called alt-right and anybody associated with them.  But having cherry picked which moral guidelines from the Bible and Christianity they are going to highlight - ones which suit their purposes - they have tossed out everything else that disagrees with their lifestyle choices, on no other authority than their own personal sense of what is right and wrong.  When ‘triggered’ by a conservative Christians stand for what has always passed for ‘traditional’ morality (especially in the sexual arena), many on the others are quick to lay into the Christian perspective, shouting it down with the now classic ‘Who gave you the right to judge me?  You yourself are just a bigot and a homophobe and a hypocrite.’  But what these people consistently  fail to acknowledge is that the same argument could just as easily be turned against them, and to devastating effect.  They are, in effect, attempting to impose their own morality on Christians (totally ironic, in that this is what they claim Christians have done to them!), and though they claim the so-called moral high ground, they have actually no moral ground on which to judge or accuse anybody, having relativized all truth and thus all morality.  Their shaming tactics, their 'tell your story' tactics are just that - tactics, void of a moral center, employed to manipulate in order to achieve certain social goals.  So when my sense of what is right and wrong clashes with your sense of what is right and wrong, indeed when it offends your ‘morality’, or you offend mine, who is to judge between us as to who is right and who is wrong?  Nobody.  Despite all the self-righteous shouting and threats of the so-called social justice warriors.  

Our friends to the left have dismissed any and every objective authority from the discussion and replaced that authority with our own.  In order to justify their ‘moral’ choices, like for unfettered abortion rights, or homosexual marriage, as well as the rights of every sexual and social minority, they have had to get rid of all of the parts of the former morality that says that what they are doing is objectively and morally wrong.  In that respect, what we have witnessed in the past generation or two is both an assault on and revision of what was understood as foundational Christian morality.  And while one of the arguments for doing so was that Christians have always been part of the problem in their ‘literal’ understanding of Scripture and their obnoxious hypocrisy, it is the fact that there exists an objective Biblical morality that enables anybody, including those on the left, to make pronouncements about what is right and wrong.  Take the Bible away, take Christian morality away, and all we are left with are suggestions (although folks on the left in particular are still persuaded that their thunderous moral judgements have meaning, which they don’t, except in their circle of cheerleaders.)  This, I think, goes a long way towards describing what we see in terms of moral chaos going on in our culture today.
So while I understand the deep desire to come together and condemn what looks and feels and actually is abhorrent behavior on the part of the racist end of the spectrum, the other end of the spectrum has actually removed any kind of binding morality from the discussion, including their own, if consistent still means anything.  It is actually only the Christians and other faith communities that have moral system that can stand up to these terrible groups and their toxic ideologies.  This of course won’t stop people on the other side of the political spectrum from having all sorts of moral judgments against these ideological enemies as well as anybody that gets in the way of their Social Justice Warrior/LGBTQ/BLM social agendas.  But when you strip away all the impassioned rhetoric, given that they have bought in completely to moral relativism (or at least the kind that says everybody else morality is relative except mine/ours!) - that there is no truth - that I have the right to do or be anything I want - that we live in a pluralistic free-for-all, there remains no grounds for any of them to then say to me or anybody else that they are right and we are wrong.  It’s the hubris of the left to banish inconvenient (or homophobic, or bigoted) Christian morality and then assume they can replace it with a morality of their own making, created in their own image, designed to justify their own desires and agenda. It is a 'morality' which turns out to be just as bigoted and prejudiced as what they claim to be replacing.  But right now they have managed to persuade the guardians of our culture and body politic that it is otherwise. We are living in a time where the identity-rights juggernaut is steamrollering all opposition, and labeling not just Nazis, KKK people and angry white nationalists as bigots, racists, and dangerous to society, but conservative Christians and other social conservatives who have the gall to stand up to them.  And they are using the courts and threats of boycotts to powerful effect.  As a conservative Christian, I cannot dare disagree with the new orthodoxy on LGBTQ rights or their social agendas without triggering the kind of response that, if it were directed in their direction, they would call it hate.  It’s an altogether different kind of morality from what our country has seen, but this time it's being imposed by a minority on the majority, using fear, intimidation and manipulation to ensure the implementation of its social, cultural, political and religious agendas.  But again, for all the bluster, there is nothing behind it holding it together.  These people are rather like the great Wizard of Oz, who turns out to be not the fulminating image, but a little man (or woman?) in the back manipulating levers.  Five, ten or twenty years from now it will be something else, some other cause, some other ‘right’ and ‘wrong’.

Christianity – real Christianity, the Christianity that takes the Bible and the Church’s Traditions as its authority, has got a 2000 year track record.  This doesn’t mean that Christians have behaved consistently with their morality, but that Christian morality has remained robust for all this time.  Or to put it another way, just because the Christians are flawed doesn’t mean that Christian morality is flawed.  Indeed the very reason a Christian morality has persisted for two millennia is because its based, not on the whims and changing opinions of people in power and influence, but because the source is from the Triune God Himself.  The writer of the NT book of Hebrews states that Jesus Christ is the same today as he was yesterday, and He will be the same forever.  Such a claim cannot even be heard, much less fathomed by the relativistic crowd that controls American culture today.  But it is a the claim that still underpins Christian morality today, just as it did 500 years ago, just as it did 1500 years ago.  

So all of these people in Charlottesville who were not loving their neighbor as themselves, much less loving God with their whole heart mind and soul, these people are leading lives apart from the one source, the only source that can redeem this situation, and indeed redeem them.  And their lives and their groups are bearing the kind of fruit that reflects the disorder of a life lived for self and not for God and his revealed agenda.  For persons and churches who have been reconciled with God and are being reconciled with each other, their lives and their groups are bearing a different kind of fruit, what the Apostle Paul calls the ‘fruit of the Spirit’: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.  Which raises the question, what kind of people would you prefer to hang out with? Which kind of person do you and I want to be?  

None of the groups on the polar ends of Charlottesville have the power to effect this kind of transformation in individual lives and in society.  But this is precisely the good news found in the Christian gospel – what we people are unable to effect, God is able to do through Jesus and what he has done for us and for our salvation.  All of the sides in Charlottesville made a lot of noise, and continue to make a lot of noise.  But none of them can effect the change they think they want, much less the change that is actually needed in their own hearts, in their neighbors’ hearts, and in the nation, and the world, for that matter.  The volume and the agitation simply mask the moral bankruptcy of both sides.  Now, if we Christians could just do a better job of being what God has called us and empowered us to be, then all these other people might, just might, take us seriously.

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