My message to believers is: do not wait to be led! It’s probably not going to happen. Educate yourselves, and start forming these small communities of faith, and networks of communities, so you can have a fighting chance of raising your kids in the faith, and enduring what’s to come. I talk about this in both The Benedict Option and Live Not By Lies. We do not have to sit passively by while this wave of darkness and chaos passes over us! There are things we can do, and do together. I think once again about the pastor I spoke to a couple of years ago, who told me he wouldn’t talk about gender ideology to his congregation because he didn’t want to be divisive, and introduce “politics” into the church. That man is going to have to answer to God one day for why he left his flock undefended. If you are part of a church whose clerical leadership is aware and courageous and engaged, give thanks to God!
I got in late last night from several great days in London, meeting wonderful people, and feeling in the most important respects recharged. I have had perhaps the worst year of my life (I’m talking about the divorce), but at the same time, it was reaffirmed for me in London that I am inordinately blessed by the friends I have. In London, I gave a talk about Live Not By Lies — the lessons we Christians should learn from the suffering underground churches under Communism, that can be applied to our own situation. One of the main three lessons is the absolute importance of creating and sustaining small groups. Over and over, in my reporting for the book, I heard from dissidents who remained behind to live and struggle under Communism, that they could not have gotten through with their faith intact if it hadn’t been for small groups. The underground Slovak Catholic bishop (later cardinal) Jan Chrysostom Korec, told his followers that the state could take everything they have away from them, but the one thing the state must not be allowed to take away is their small groups of the faithful. These last few days in London, making new friends and renewing old friendships, helped me to understand this at a deep level. If you have others who love you, and whom you love, standing with you in the storm, you can endure anything. If it was true for those having to live under hard totalitarianism, how much more true must it be with us? I was making my coffee this morning, and a revised version of a well-known Auden line appeared in my mind: You will love your broken neighbor/With your broken heart.
Aaron Renn, the Calvinist public intellectual best known today for his “three worlds of Evangelicalism” model, writes of the striking repudiation of pro-life advocacy in this election:
This is just more evidence that we live in what I called the negative world. Conservative Christians need to understand that the majority of the public simply does not agree with their social positions. This is one reason that the culture war approach is obsolete. This is going to be a painful adjustment for a lot of people who are used to thinking of themselves as a “moral majority.”
He goes on:
I think this election shows that the MAGA movement in America is out of gas. Paul Gottfried once said that conservatism was basically a journalism project. That is, it was mostly a collection of op-ed writers, not serious academics, policy people, or a real political movement.
Similarly, one way to describe MAGA is as a social media influencer movement. It’s been long on e-celebrities and rhetoricians, short on serious, competent people who can produce results. The most MAGA/Trumpy candidates in this election underperformed in competitive races. JD Vance won his Senate race in Ohio, for example, but badly trailed the performance of Republican Ron DeWine in his gubernatorial campaign.
DeSantis is an interesting case study in post-MAGA politics. He recognized the unpopularity of the consensus status quo. And he took strong actions against that consensus that were publicly popular while largely avoiding ones that were not. For example, child transgenderization is not popular. On the other hand, most people want abortion to be legal. So he only signed a 15-week abortion ban, which seems in line with public opinion.
In retrospect, he was also the best performing governor of any major state leader during the pandemic. I believe Florida’s death rates were in the middle of the pack. But his decision to mostly keep the schools open is now the conventional wisdom about what should have been done everywhere. And by keeping business largely open as well, he positioned Florida to profit enormously from the shifting landscape. Big time venture capital and high finance – even the very progressive, ESG promoting BlackRock – have streamed into South Florida. This took enormous courage, and DeSantis was vilified by the media for two years over it. Even today they refuse to give him credit even when adopting his positions.
He also seems to have handled the recent hurricane relatively well. And although it is perhaps not something he personally did, Florida seems to have the gold standard for running elections, with its results available very quickly. That’s a big change from 2000. So he appears competent.
DeSantis lacks the natural charisma of many politicians. It’s not clear how he or his approach will play outside of Florida. But he’s shown that an aggressive Republicanism that stakes out popular post-MAGA positions, and which demonstrates courageous leadership and the competent ability to actually get things done can be not just popular but extremely popular. This demonstrates the divergent fortunes of traditional religious conservatism and a possible post-Christian, post-MAGA Republican Party.
Note that he points out that religious conservatism’s interests and that of the “post-Christian, post-MAGA Republican Party” diverge. This is something that is very hard for older Christians to grasp — I mean, the idea that politics are not the solution. Don’t misread me (I mean, everybody misreads me, but I’m going to make another plea here): It’s not an either/or. It’s not either “throw yourself completely into politics” or “head for the hills.” There are no hills to head to. We are stuck in this thing whether we want to be or not. Christians (and other traditionalists) have to do the best we can within political possibility, while AT THE SAME TIME preparing ourselves and our communities for dark and difficult days ahead. We have no choice. I was telling somebody in London that I find it so much more rewarding to be among younger (under 50) Christians in Europe and the UK talking about this stuff, because they live in more advanced post-Christian societies, and can see very clearly how hard it is, and is going to be. Americans are not quite there yet. We American Christians would do very well to engage British and European Christians who are serious about the faith (I’m not talking about people like the liberal Catholics who are now busy trying to revolutionize the Catholic Church in the name of synodality and accompaniment), to benefit from their counsel.
For me, the trans issue, even more than abortion, is the bellwether issue of our time for Christians. As far as I know, Wes Yang is not a believer, or even a conservative, but he has been a passionate opponent of the transing of America. His Twitter account features stories from detransitioners about how they were lied to and manipulated. He tweeted this after the election:
I’m where he is. This campaign to alienate young people from their bodies, to mutilate them chemically and surgically, and to deceive and sideline parents, is one of the most evil things I have ever seen. And yet, few people seem to care. The GOP certainly doesn’t care. People like Chris Rufo and Matt Walsh have done more to roll this evil back than any GOP politician, with the exception of Ron DeSantis and now, the governor and legislators in Tennessee, where Walsh lives. It is mind-blowing to me that Republicans have not made an issue of this — not because it will help them win votes, but because it is just so damn evil. But then, how many pastors are making an issue of it? How many pastors are explaining to their congregations why it’s bad, and how parents and their kids can resist it? How many people in the pews want to hear it? This is what it means to be a post-Christian country. This is what it means to have bought the modern story that the material world, especially the human body, is meaningless matter upon which we can impose our will, without limits. Again, so many Christians have bought into this story, and know so little about the faith that they don’t understand what they are doing. An Evangelical pastor friend of mine texted me yesterday to say that he had spoken to a group of about 60 Evangelical college students at a big Southern university, and was shocked to find that none of them knew much of anything about the Bible, or the faith. They were blank slates. They didn’t choose to be that way: this is what their parents and grandparents did to them. We Christians — in part because we put too much faith in politics — have created a generation of men (and women) without chests, and we wonder why they consent to becoming men and women without breasts and balls.
You think Pope Francis’s “synodal” church, a church of “inclusivity” and “accompaniment” is going to form Catholics capable of resisting? Read this column by Gavin Ashenden, a former Anglican priest, now Catholic. He saw what this kind of talk did to his former church, and he’s now sounding the alarm. Excerpt:
[I]n the world of Anglicanism, an essential part of the leftist sociological take-over of the church was almost always accompanied by the promise that the Holy Spirit was very much part of the project. It turned out, at the end of the process that the progressives had in fact mistaken the spirit of the age for the Holy Spirit. Having seen the ploy used once to such divisive and destructive effect, the ex-Anglicans are hoping to share their experience of the danger this constitutes to the integrity of the Church.