“The church ought to be doing [x] instead of obsessing over sex.”

Part 3 of Will Barrett’s series on “The Intra-Evangelical Culture War.”

The X could be any number of good and important things the church ought to be doing. Most likely, it means feeding the poor, healing the sick, promoting racial reconciliation, or agitating against economic injustice. It it is possible that some churches neglect their part in these activities, but to point this out in a dialogue about sexual morality serves no purpose but to divert attention away from the question at hand with an irrelevant attack on the credibility of the opponent.

Imagine a formal debate in which one speaker declares that both sides would be better served by calling off the debate in favor of doing something more constructive. Then, after his opponent leaves the room, he proceeds to stump for his own point of view on the issue. This is precisely the tactic some progressive Christians use when faced with conservative arguments about the morality and theology of sex. Although they may complain that conservatives are taking too much time away from works of justice and mercy to preach about sex, I have yet to hear of any sexually progressive Christian commentator hold his own advocacy to the same standard. Continue reading “The church ought to be doing [x] instead of obsessing over sex.”

Clearing the air in the intra-Evangelical culture war

The larger culture too often mistakes evangelical Christians for an unfractured conservative bloc. Many would be surprised to know about the culture wars that rage between liberal and conservative evangelical Christians. For instance, the advocacy of left-leaning evangelical groups is often reported as “a shift in evangelical culture” when in reality the same people have been saying the same things for a long time.

One would think that arguments between Christians about hot social topics would be more gracious and constructive than the venomous contest between the religious right and the secularist Left.

But is it? Evangelicalism’s internal culture war, between bloggers and authors like Rachel Held Evans and pastors like the recently ousted Mark Driscoll is lamentably hobbled by sloppy logic, red herrings, and an even firmer commitment to never having anything but an exchange of insults. The fond idea that the culture wars would not be so nasty if folks just got to know each other does not hold up in the case of the evangelical community, where the venom is even more poisonous for its thin coating of sentimentality. In fact, the culture wars rage within the evangelical world with a special viciousness, and this is probably to be expected. As anyone with siblings will attest, intimates tend to fight more often and with deeper malice. Continue reading Clearing the air in the intra-Evangelical culture war

How is Being Conservative Like Being a Hipster?

We’re repulsive, arrogant snobs and everyone hates us!

But really, there’s a great analogy between the hipster approach to “stuff” culture and the conservative approach to “ideas” culture. First, some background. In this video, Mike Rugnetta of PBS Idea Factory explains how hipsters appropriate the cultural capital of other subcultures and eras.

So you see how, unlike a “pure” subculture, hipsters build their culture by taking the interesting bits from everywhere and leaving what they don’t like. Conservatives do the same thing with political ideologies. Conservatism, unlike libertarianism or Marxism, isn’t really an “-ism.” It’s a disposition; almost, like hipsterism, a posture. It’s an attitude about how more than a rigid system of what. That doesn’t mean conservatives don’t believe in the “what” of things. But this belief is tinged with some degree of irony or caution. This enables conservatives to evaluate and appreciate, yea, appropriate elements of other political systems without actually entering into those subcultures.

Conservatives can identify:

. . . with the liberal concern for democratic openness and inalienable rights . . .

. . . the socialist concern for human welfare . . .

. . . the Lockean appreciation of labor value . . .

. . . the Marxian critique of exploitation and commodification . . .

. . . the capitalistic appreciation of currency and credit . . .

. . . the libertarian concern for individual liberty and skepticism of big government . . .

. . . the Green skepticism of corporate bigness and technocentrism . . .

. . . the technologist‘s concern for solutions that work . . .

. . . the humanist‘s love of truth and free inquiry . . .

. . . the open-minded, scientific curiosity of sociology . . .

. . . the religious openness to divine wisdom . . .

. . . the moralist‘s certainty . . .

. . . and the philosopher‘s skepticism.

Conservatism is able to bring elements of all of these otherwise opposing ideologies together in a remarkable unity, because the conservative disposition is one of caution and integration. It is open to everything and at the same time careful not to get drawn too far in one narrow ideological direction.

The strength of conservatism—that it is not an ideology—is also its weakness. Ideological thought tends to be more passionate, partake of more certitude, and have more devoted followers. It is also more likely to be wrong and produce negative unintended effects, often undermining its own ideals through impatience. Conservatism is more reticent, less concerned with action, more interested in maintaining the good things that already exist than bringing forth new ones. It is not very cohesive as a “movement.”

And certainly every conservative you meet will tend to lean toward some of the above ideologies more than to others. That’s normal human diversity. But by the same token, adherents of these different groups may find that becoming more “conservative” may help them to appreciate and build connections with other groups working toward common ends.