Stream: Christianity Today Had an Easter Message: We’re Just … Better Than You
August 31, 2022
This article was originally published by Stream.org; to read the article on their website, click here.
By Eric Metaxas
Published on May 9, 2022
“Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”
The idea that judging others says something about us — expressed in the idea that pointing a finger at someone results in three fingers pointing back at us — seemed perfectly apt when last month Christianity Today published an essay by Russell Moore, titled “The Cross Contradicts Our Culture Wars.”
It was a masterwork of condescension and unintentional irony, helpfully explaining that if you politically disagreed with the author you were guilty of missing the whole idea of the “Gospel” — and at Easter! And not just that, but you were being nakedly self-serving and merely “political” too. Aren’t you ashamed? So if in advocating for the unborn — or for religious liberty or for the Constitution — you believed you were bringing your Christian faith into the public square for the general good, Moore was here to correct that. To patiently explain that people like you are merely “culture warriors,” brawling in a vulgar effort to advance your own carnal self-interests and that of your tribalist “group.”
“Lord, I Thank Thee That I Am Not Like These Deplorables”
Moore quotes the evangelical sociologist James Davison Hunter, who in a previous patronizing essay made the case that it is the begrudging resentment of groups who once had power that fuels our societal woes. Hunter doesn’t actually say “working-class white Christians” so much as dog-whistle it. Everything such knuckle-dragging relics do is actually only so that they might cling to what power they still have — or mebbe to yank it back from them’s what took it.
Moore says Hunter “warned over a decade ago that much of American evangelical ‘culture war’ engagement was based in a heightened sense of ‘ressentiment.’” One may wonder why the tres pretentious French term “ressentiment” is used, but rest assured there is no pretentiousness involved whatever! We learn that “ressentiment” includes a “combination of anger, envy, hate, rage, and revenge — in which a sense of injury and anxiety become key to the group’s identity.” Evidently some things are so extremely ugly that they simply demand a French word. N’est ce pas?
More Status-Conscious Than a Peacock in Mating Season
Of course the larger point is to let “the right people” know that “we” who are reading this essay firmly reject those fanny-pack-accoutred masses who gathered at Promise Keepers in the Nineties and at Tea Parties fifteen years ago and at Trump rallies more recently. We see through them! And as a way of celebrating the Paschal season, we have gathered here in the pages of Christianity Today to dehumanize these low-IQ villains and to reduce them to stereotypes. Christ is Risen!
Moore’s elitist scapegoating is hardly new. A century ago H.L. Mencken derided most of these same people as the “booboisie”, to the cheers of the progressive “anti-Fundamentalists.” The main idea is that we must never imagine these rubes as anything like the rest of us, who have actual principles. Moore helpfully assures us that with these characters there’s something far more uncivilized at work. “Often,” he writes,
“this sort of anxiety-fueled rage and revenge is bound up not with the fear of specific policy outcome but with a more primal fear more akin to middle school: the fear of humiliation. It feels like a kind of death — the kind that leaves one exposed and ridiculed by the outside world.”
Of course by “the outside world” one imagines the author means academics like himself, engaged in “exposing” and “ridiculing” these emotionally-stunted malefactors in this very essay. Because for him, anyone trying to do good in the public sphere in a way that is politically different from whatever he thinks correct only has a primitive desire to foment the division of the culture wars. He says this is “anti-Gospel,” and knows that sophisticated CT readers wouldn’t dare quibble with his subjective definition of the term.
Not Deplorable, Just Insufferable
But the tagline below the article’s title tells us more. “The victory of Christ,” it says, “was won by crucifixion, not by societal conquest.” Again, those who would fight for the unborn, or for free and transparent elections, or for freedom of speech, or against anti-biblical ideologies working to destroy their children are actually just conquistadors, in it for themselves and their jug-headed tribe.
For such as Moore, everything must be a zero sum game, and the bleak and inescapably Marxist view that everything is about a struggle for power is simply assumed. He and his evolved friends know that the naïve idea of a genuinely egalitarian and free society in which we all labor to keep things fair and free — or at least labor to make them fairer and freer where they aren’t entirely fair and free — no longer exists. We now know that that America — of Washington and Lincoln and Frederick Douglas and Longfellow and Frank Capra and Norman Rockwell and Martin Luther King Jr. — was an “anti-Gospel” and racist fiction. Or haven’t you read the New York Times lately?
Cheap Amateur Psychoanalysis
Moore explains, for example, the real reason that some people want secure borders:
“In Hunter’s view, a ressentiment posture is heightened when the group holds a sense of entitlement — to greater respect, to greater power, to a place of majority status. This posture, he warned, is a political psychology that expresses itself with “’the condemnation and denigration of enemies in the effort to subjugate and dominate those who are culpable.’”
Here Moore might very well die in the irony mines, as he condemns and denigrates his own cultural enemies for … condemning and denigrating their cultural enemies. Because the rules are apparently different for the right sort of people.
Damn the Kulaks, Full Speed Ahead!
But buckle thy seatbelts, pilgrims, for the condescension will soar yet higher. Moore continues:
“Often, the most contentious aspects of American life center on the question ‘Who is trying to take America away from us?’— whether that be immigrant caravans overwhelming the border, the concept of American elites developing a global pandemic to control the population with vaccines, or the rhetoric of Satan-worshiping pedophile rings at the highest levels of government.”
Moore confidently assures that his critics are driven by sheer resentment — pardon me, ressentiment — and are clinging to some America in which they were top-dogs. But the positively Himalayan irony is that it is Moore and his friends in subsidized, institutional Christianity who are losing cultural power. So they’re lashing out, in essays such as this.
A Panic Attack, Wrapped in Hauteur
Race bigots once couldn’t imagine a black man who wouldn’t work unless forced to. They wove repugnant fantasies about the sex drive of the “Other.” Together, such racist fantasies underpinned cruel and unjust policies.
Moore and his coterie are simply repeating this old, Jim Crow maneuver, with working class whites as the new and acceptable scapegoat. These folks can’t even conceive that Trump voters might be decent human beings. Or bright enough to think for themselves. There’s no way such Neanderthals could form the thought, “Open borders are a genuinely bad idea for everyone, which is why no sovereign countries on earth have them, except for ours under Democrat administrations.” That’s simply far too complex!
Conversely, Moore cannot fathom that letting strangers flow secretly into our cities might lead to bad results for everyone, including and especially the poorest people in those cities. Nor that communities are being devastated by the epidemic of drugs coming across our supine borders.
The Survival of the Glibbest
None of these perfectly logical and apt arguments against open borders fits Moore’s scapegoating narrative. The only reason people hold different views from his is that they are inherently bad and beneath contempt, and almost certainly overweight and racist. What else is there to talk about? There’s nothing to see here but Social Darwinism, folks. Please keep moving.
Moore’s subhuman view of people who disagree blinds him comprehensively. It prevents him from supposing that perhaps Americans of all colors have been traumatized by the way medical and government elites have abused their power during the two years of this pandemic. That Americans no longer trust those elites with the lives of our families. Or that we despair that the journalistic class has abdicated its vital role, and has joined the chorus of voices such as Mr. Moore’s, who can only dismiss us as uneducated crackpots.
He appears not to know that Black Americans were inordinately suspicious of the vaccines precisely because they had been subjected to government overreach — and medical experiments — in previous decades. Or perhaps he has set this aside, lest it muddy the necessarily Caucasian cartoon picture.
My Opponents Are All Paranoid, Dangerous Maniacs
Moore’s parting sneer, citing fears of “Satan-worshiping pedophile rings,” completes the calumnious portrait, conflating thoughtful conservatives with Q-anon conspiracy theorists. But that’s just how Moore rolls. When images of slavering hook-nosed Jews appeared in Der Sturmer, all the “right people” knew such things might be exaggerating the truth, but at least they were acknowledging it, at least they were on “our side.”
Because Moore portrays these people as his cultural inferiors, their efforts can only be seen as fear-based and as selfish — and as secretly motivated by that hoary raison of the radical left, an inveterate hatred of the “Other.” And it’s only the other side that otherizes, ever. Got it?
Don’t Confuse Us with Facts
But let’s ask two questions. Were William Wilberforce and the evangelicals of his time merely warring politically in working against the Slave Trade? And was Bonhoeffer’s heroic call for German Christians to stand against the Nazis really somehow about “societal conquest”?
Moore naturally follows the current fashion in lionizing what these two figures did, but this too is perfectly subjective. We cannot forget how viciously Wilberforce and Bonhoeffer were criticized by their own political enemies — usually socially elite “Christians” — who similarly accused them of vulgarly sullying their faith by dragging it into the realm of politics where it had no business, by engaging in precisely what such as Moore and Hunter today denounce as “culture warring” that “contradicts the Cross.”
Bigotry rarely sees itself as such, preferring to hide behind some fig leaf of moral imperative. And bigots — who have the cultural upper hand — always demonize and scapegoat the weak. In Wilberforce’s day it was perfectly acceptable to look down on African blacks. All the right people “knew” they were inferior, which is why they thought Wilberforce’s efforts — daring to go against the tide of elite opinion — to be impossibly vulgar. In Bonhoeffer’s day it was similarly perfectly acceptable to look down on the Jews of Europe.
A Prejudice All the Best People Can Agree on
And today it has become acceptable at CT and elsewhere to demonize working class whites, and those who might advocate for them, since this is the group all the right people now identify as the locus of evil in our time. It is an especially despicable narrative because it does precisely what it accuses its enemies of doing. It demonizes the fabled Other, but in such a way that’s socially acceptable, at least among one’s fellow elites.
So we who are part of the right club all know precisely whom we must blame for our troubles. It’s those who secretly wish to keep the country the same color as they are, who long for the halcyon days of Dwight Eisenhower and Jim Crow. We may not be able actually to lynch them, but let’s do whatever we can! Perhaps we can cancel them, or at least intimidate them into silence.
For many of CT’s readers it likely is comforting to sneer at middle and working-class white people, even if those people dare to think of themselves as Christians. They’re being “uppity.” After all, “we” know they aren’t “our sort” of Christians, and they won’t be allowed to “pass” in our circles.
Old-Fashioned Scorn, in Hip “Woke” Disguise
It’s astonishing that Moore and others like him use the very caricatures and tropes the racists of the 18th and 19th centuries did, and that anti-Semites used in the 20th. They simply target their bigotry at today’s designated victims: the Walmart “deplorables.” Ce vrais?
So do we see how this game is played? If we approve of your politics, we will not use the term “societal conquest,” but will call it “social justice.” We are engaged in a duplicitous shell-game in which words and meanings are shuffled however necessary to win. Quel dommage!
In conclusion, we may wonder if there is any reason that those pointing an index finger accusingly find three fingers pointing back. Why three? Of course, sometimes a number is just a number. Nonetheless, shall we close in prayer? In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Best-selling writer Eric Metaxas is author, most recently, of Letter to the American Church.