In his brilliant book How Societies Remember, social anthropologist Paul Connerton says that every revolutionary regime has to suppress, even exterminate, the symbol system that keeps the people it wishes to rule bound to old ways of thinking. The forces of revolution have to deprive the ruled of their memories: “All totalitarianisms behave in this way; the mental enslavement of the subjects of a totalitarian regime begins when their memories are taken away. When a large power wants to deprive a small country of its national consciousness it uses the method of organised forgetting.”
On the Christian pessimism thread, reader Candles writes:
I was talking to a friendly acquaintance of mine a few days ago, a liberal/left professor at a R1 university. We were talking about politics broadly and the democratic race, and I was biting my tongue a lot. He’s mid-late 30’s, not married, no kids. Family was historically Russian Jewish immigrants, but he’s an atheist, for what it’s worth. Likable guy.
At some point, he meandered onto the general topic of all the things he would like to see the Federal government doing and enforcing. He mentioned that he had spent a year living in Utah, and how frustrating it was, the general lack of cultural respect for separation of church and state there, as he saw it. And this dove-tailed with his general notion that the federal government had made great progress in forcing people in places like suburbs in Utah to respect various Civil Liberties over the last half a century, but that it hadn’t gone nearly far enough, and he thought much further efforts in those directions were both morally good and inevitable.
At a certain point, I said, “You’re essentially advocating that Mormons should be forced by the coercive powers of the state and its monopoly on violence to be Unitarians in everywhere broadly conceived, by people like you, as the public, right?” And he shrugged and said, “Yeah. What’s so bad about that?”
I think this interaction gets right deep in the heart of why there’s no way for this to end in peace. As far as my friend is concerned, as long as there is anywhere in the country he could move that would make him living in accordance of his own values difficult or even impossible, America is not living up to (his vision) of its founding principles. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere etc etc.
And to be totally honest, if I were him, and I had been forced by my job like he had to move to a very heavily LDS part of Utah, I’m sure it would have been very frustrating. I’m actually pretty sympathetic to his point of view.
But a consequence of his concerns for himself and people like him is that he wants to live in a world where Mormons are forced, by the state, with its guns, to live a version of Mormonism that he and people like him have functionally colonized. He is fine with Mormonism as long as it is a properly subjugated and subordinate to his values anywhere Mormons might interact with him (or with what he would categorize as oppressed groups, which, if push came to shove, would include Mormon women and Mormon children who might be gay or transgender).
I’m no longer Mormon, and I have misgiving about the Church, but I found myself pretty frustrated with the conversation. And he’s no kind of firebrand – I don’t think he felt like anything he was saying was particularly provocative. But I think he just couldn’t recognize that “Mormons have to be Unitarians in public, and they’re not nearly Unitarian enough yet, so that state needs to do much more” is tyranny for a large amount of Mormons in exactly equal measure that it’s liberation for him.
Which is to say, I’m very sympathetic to the general thrust of your arguments.
Thank you. One of the most galling things about these arguments is the assumption by secular liberals (and their liberal Christian fellow travelers) that their own beliefs are neutral, and more, so obviously neutral that anyone who dissents only does so in bad faith, and must neither be accommodated nor taken seriously. It’s like Scientism in that way.
A few years back, veteran religion journalist Kenneth Woodward, writing on the Commonweal blog, explained how The New York Times is its own religion. It was a great piece, and said a lot, generally, about the culture of mainstream journalism, not just at the Times. If you can find a conservative who works in a major American newsroom, ask him or her what it’s like to be a dissenter there. You will learn that the homogeneous groupthink is overwhelming there, and it’s exacerbated by the conviction among the True Believers that they simply see the world as it really is. The epistemic closure is epic. And you know, I can live with epistemic closure, because all belief systems and cultures have to draw the line somewhere. What I find repulsive is the conceit these people carry that they have no biases or prejudices at all.
Reader Sean writes:
The moment I became pessimistic was not at the Obergefell decision. While I was dismayed like a lot of other people, I thought we might be able to outlast it and eventually begin to turn public opinion, like in Roe v Wade. No, the moment pessimism set in was in the fierce reaction I got from acquaintances and friends on Facebook.
I had worked in local politics for the better part of a decade, both on campaigns and working for elected officials and advocacy organizations. When I started pushing back on the gay marriage ruling on social media, I was immediately met with a tidal wave of vitriol and anger. From my acquaintances on the left I was expecting it, but what took me back was the hatred directed my way from many of my fellow Republicans, particularly the younger and college-age set.
These were people I had worked side by side with on many campaigns, who I had formed social clubs with and gone out many a time for a friendly drink. Yet after Obergefell they were denouncing me as a hate-filled bigot who might as well have wanted blacks to still be stuck under Jim Crow. The attacks were incredibly personal, and from people who knew me, not just random trolls on the internet.
What’s more, they were gleeful at the prospect of religious believers being railroaded on this issue. When the Barronelle Stutzman and the later Indiana RFRA issues hit the news, the dominant reaction of many of the young Republicans I knew was, Serves you right, that’s what happens to bigots. When I raised the prospect of churches being directly targeted for not performing gay marriages, I was met with airy dismissals. Some, alarmingly, were not even bothered by the idea.
I knew then that none of our ostensible political allies would come to our aid when the time came. It’s hard enough to ask people to sacrifice for a cause when it directly affects them. It’s extremely unlikely that people will go to the wall for a cause they only have a vague philosophical agreement with and especially when they consider the people they would be fighting for as the worst sort of bigots.
Thus we will be on our own for the foreseeable future, which was why I was so interested when I came upon your idea for the Benedict Option. We need something to help keep us together during the times ahead, otherwise we will all hang separately.
In my experience, there is nothing like the hatred that comes from the LGBT movement and its allies, even straights. Oh, do I ever have stories about this, from my life and the lives of others. Watching Barronelle Stutzman, a gentle elderly Baptist lady from a small town, break into tears last week, talking about all the people who have threatened to kill her, and to burn her house down, all because she wouldn’t arrange flowers for a gay wedding — that tells you something important about the nature of what we’re up against.
But this is the New Normal. Dig in and get ready for the long night.