The elections of 2016 declared that social issues are dead. I don’t think so, I think they are evolving. The current massive discussion of the Google firing is simply the latest incarnation of the central, and generally unspoken, issue. Rod Dreher did a thorough, deep and long analysis of some of the phenomena underlying the firing. In the course of that great piece is this:
The core of the problem is that identity liberalism construes disagreement as heresy, and viciously punishes heretics.
And it is therefore impossible for identity liberalism, and the institutions that embrace it, to self-correct, because all criticism is treated as evil. The critic finds himself, like Damore, defending not his thesis (which may or may not be wrong), but his moral worth.
The central issue that underlies the social issue evolution of my lifetime is the perceived supremacy of self. Think about it. Abortion on demand is an issue of the pregnant woman putting her life and needs ahead of those of the life conceived in her womb. Same-sex marriage is an issue of the person with homosexual desires putting those desires ahead of the familial structure that has served mankind throughout history. Transgenderism is about an individual putting their confusion ahead of the categories that have defined humanity since before we were able to write down definitions. As Dreher so artfully points out we have come to a place where to challenge an individual’s self-evaluation, regardless of the what that evaluation may be, is to engage in a form of “heresy.”
Protestants long ago more-or-less gave up the idea of heresy. In the early days of their existence they used it to execute each other in large numbers and pretty quickly figured out that was a bad idea. The plurality of belief within Protestantism has made it such that in order to thrive we had to develop a tolerance for people that thought about things a bit differently. The Roman Catholic church was no stranger to these theological purges, but has held to the idea of heresy even if the magnitude of the sin has been greatly reduced. No matter where you stand in the Christian spectrum, we engaged in some serious self-evaluation and decided, rightfully, that it was a bad idea to execute each other based on different belief structures.
But as I have been writing about recently and noting it is not popular to do so, people don’t want to figure out where they are wrong. They are so busy discovering “who they are” that they simply shove aside the question of whether who they think they are is someone worth being. Notions of good and bad have been replaced simply by notions of “being.”
Nowhere is this more publicly evident right now than with a press obsessed with communication and temperament of the president all the while ignoring the distinct and growing possibility of a major military conflict. The British newspapers are telling us how to survive a nuclear strike, while American media is all about Twitter as if it is the end all and be all of news. If they cannot be pulled out of the “tweet-bubble” by these events then they clearly are not going to engage in any sort of self-evaluation on a more personal level.
Evangelicalism certainly has a major hand in this. In the 1970’s “I’m OK, You’re OK” was passed around Evangelical circles like drugs at a Grateful Dead concert and suddenly the goal became gaining a positive self-image rather than avoiding sin and letting a positive self-image develop in the wake of that. Somehow, Christianity came to be about making people feel good about themselves rather than overcoming evil. And in the process we have become so self-absorbed that the only real evil seems to be to hear negative things about oneself.
Which leads me to where the solution to this conundrum lies. It’s not in our politics, nor is it in reforming our media. Nope the solution to this dangerous level of self-absorption lies with the church. The church needs to relearn and begin to teach that it is not a straight line from the love of Christ to healthy self-regard. Healthy self-regard comes from allowing the love of Christ to remove the evil we are born to. Put more practically, we do not need to feel good about ourselves to give up the booze, rather if we give up the booze we will feel better about ourselves.
Most churches I know still have a moral compass but they don’t like to talk about it lest they make someone feel unwelcome. That is a passable strategy for getting people in the door, but in the end it does not help them much – even if their primary motivation is to feel good about themselves. As we have said the key to feeling good about yourself is to get more in line with the church’s moral sense which cannot happen if they do not know what that moral sense is.
The church has always been the moral compass of the nation. The reason it no longer seems like it is has as much to do with the church itself as it does with competitive social forces. We have lost our way trying to compete on their terms when we should be competing on our own.