David French, Senior Counsel at the American Center of Law and Justice, lists what he calls the “four quite seductive lies [that] play to our innate selfishness while convincing us that we’re also somehow brave and selfless.” He concludes by arguing that “The conservative project to reclaim culture – a far more important project than reclaiming the White House – has to relentlessly and creatively expose these lies while also demonstrating the attractiveness of true virtue. I fear we’re better at the former than the latter and thus succeed mainly in making people feel bad, not in inspiring them to do good.”
So what are these four lies? Take a look:
- … you can rebel through conformity. Did you know that our great centers of artistic expression, rebellion, and learning are less ideologically diverse than your typical Evangelical mega-church? It’s true. Check out the voting patterns of the urban centers of San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Boston, and New York City (excepting Staten Island) versus the percentage of the Evangelical vote that goes to Republican presidential candidates. Entire liberal cities are less diverse than a religious group centered around the same, rather specific theology. And as ideologically uniform as our cities are, they’re diversity festivals compared to our elite colleges and universities. Rebellious conformity, what a great gig.
- … you can feel virtuous without acting virtuous. Think Republicans and red-staters are less compassionate than the Left? Think again. Republicans give more to charity and volunteer their time more than Democrats, and the religious (those nasty people!) donate and volunteer most of all. For far too many Americans, their virtue is in their attitude and their vote, and they delegate the messy business of actually, you know, helping people to others. Another great deal.
- … your sexual self-expression is brave. If there’s one virtue that virtually all Americans agree upon, it’s valor. We admire bravery. So what is bravery? Well, according to Lady Gaga, and her “Born Brave Bus Tour,” it’s basically doing whatever the heck you want, especially if it involves sex. I grow especially weary of Hollywood’s insistence on honoring its own “courage” for making movies that “trangress boundaries” – meaning that the sexuality shocks some rube in Alabama– even as they bask in each other’s applause.
- … you get to feel morally superior to people who exhibit actual virtue. Why be better when you can simply feel better? We live in an upside-down world, where the people who do next to nothing lord their presumed morality and virtue over those who actually get out their checkbooks and get their hands dirty for the “least of these” in our culture. Faithful Christians – far more despised in pop culture than, say, the Muslim Brotherhood – prop up the world’s largest private relief agencies and give far more time and money to the poor than they ever do to the causes they’re allegedly “obsessed” with – like same-sex marriage.
We can argue whether or not French is right that these lies are unique to the political and cultural Left. My own sense of it is that the lies are part and parcel of our condition as fallen creatures and so are mostly likely to be exploited by which ever side is in power.
While in America today that means the Cultural Left, I can easily imagine analogous lies told by the Cultural Right. Take for example the willingness of many in the post-Civil War America (in both the South and the North) to re-imagine the conflict as one between the chivalrous Agrarian South defending itself and its way of life against the aggressive and Industrial North. As for slavery–that too is sometimes overlooked in favor of arguing that the South was defending State’s rights against an expansive Federal government. But I digress.
Whatever the immediate source and content of the Four Lies, they represent passions that have a powerful hold on the human heart. Overcoming them requires not only the grace of baptism and ascetical effort but, as French suggests, a cultural that fosters repentance and growth in holiness. On this point as well French is correct when he says defenders of traditional Christian morality need to do a better job of demonstrating the beauty of virtue.
It is only when we can demonstrate, not merely assert, the beauty of holiness that we can hope to attract people to Christ. This cultural project is beyond anyone person but I think Christians would do better if we were more whimsical in our articulation of the Gospel. Pope Francis comes to mind as an example of what I mean here.
In any case, feel free to comment here at the original essay (Four Lies on the Left that Make it Tough to Change the Culture).