Back in July 8, 2012 Jeremy N. Choate wrote an essay entitled, “Dear Liberal…Here’s Why I’m So Hostile”. You can read it at http://sufficient-reason.tumblr.com/post/26781491317/dear-liberalheres-why-im-so-hostile
On the up side, this is a well-written and well-reasoned essay. But on the down side, who reads essays any more? Who reasons out controversies any more? Who bothers any more to become enlightened, to investigate the facts, engage in their discovery, weigh their consequences and share what they’ve learned? Seems like precious few.
Our “culture”, if you want to call it that, is in an intellectual slump. The market place of ideas is in the midst of a depression. Considering all the sophisticated communication technology available to us, there is little real connection between the Left and the Right. The connection that does exist has more characteristics of a gang war than a meaningful exchange of ideas. Rather than discussing differences with the idea of reaching a fuller understanding, we use rhetoric that leads to violence. We start by shouting at one another and end up throwing stones — and worse.
Rational debate seems to have been abandoned by most of us. Even in institutions of so-called “higher learning”, the solution to controversy is now seen as the gagging of “offensive” speech, rather than respecting and honoring free speech. A significant portion of society has given up on the goal of intellectual freedom, the free-flow of ideas and freedom of conscience. In its place stands an abomination of desolation called political correctness — a monument resting on the premise, “some animals are more equal than others”.
I used to believe that it was possible to win people over to your side by using superior argument, presenting facts, respecting history and aspiring to moral and principled goals. But experience demonstrates that such a scenario is impossible when your opponent consistently chooses to call you names and mischaracterize your position, rather than actually engaging in the merits of your argument.
I have long considered William F. Buckley Jr. to be the finest proponent of conservatism. I particularly consider his book, God & Man at Yale (1951), a seminal work which clearly drew the line of secularist philosophy that separated the progressive Left from the traditional Right. For half a century Buckley was recognized as one of the most articulate spokesmen for conservatism and considered by some to be the father of modern conservatism. But even he fell victim to relentless name-calling from the Left and their persistent twisting of his conservative positions.
Buckley made the mistake of debating Gore Vidal in an ABC series covering the 1968 Democratic convention. There was a long-standing antipathy between the two of them, being mirror images of each other in matters of politics and morality. Near the end of the debates, continuing in his pattern of using personal insults, Gore Vidal called Buckley a “crypto-Nazi”. By then Buckley had finally had it. He had been pushed as far as he could go. Completely losing his usual composure, he rose from his seat, pointed his finger at Vidal and said, “Listen to me you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in the goddamn face and you’ll stay plastered.”
In losing his temper, Buckley was perceived as losing the “debate”. But in actuality Vidal had gutted the exchange of any real intellectual substance and pulled the level of their discourse down to name-calling and character assassination. Buckley had allowed himself to be pulled down to Vidal’s level. And maddened, as if by Chinese water torture, he lost the thin veneer of comity that civilization affords.
Had it occured in a recorded program, this incident would have been edited out, never to be seen by the public. But the program was live, for the whole world to see. The truly sad thing about this incident was that it boosted ABC’s ratings. Apparently, this was the kind of thing people wanted to see on a news show: something as satisfying as the thrill of a professional wrestling match or as entertaining as your favorite drama.
Because of that, news programs began using point/counterpoint segments where opponents would spew their arguments at each other without any real resolution of an issue. Their purpose was to rile up people into opposing camps, rather than to give background to stories or create an informed perspective. In the 49 years following the Buckley/Vidal exchange, this adversarial approach to the “news” has intensified political polarization and eroded our attitudes about how we should discuss our differences.
I myself have tried to make reasoned arguments for my conservative, traditional values, only to be responded to by voices of intolerance, name-calling, bullying and even threats of violence. These voices refuse to engage the substance of conservative arguments. They only want to discredit, malign and silence them. The more they mischaracterize conservatives the angrier I get, because meaningful discussion is impossible when everything you say is twisted into a lie designed to rouse anger and disgust against you.
I not only identify with the intellectual anger expressed by Jeremy N. Choate in his article above, but I identify with William F. Buckley’s threat to “sock [them] in the goddamn face”. Even the most reasonable person in the world can be pushed too far. So, in terms of “winning the debate”, I don’t see much hope in changing society’s views on subjects of morality. The opposition comes from a mindset that rejects the authority of God. The Left believes that the solution of humanity’s ills can be found in collective human efforts, and maximizing those efforts requires government leadership.
And so the Left is always looking for government programs to solve our problems. As Jeremy Choate’s article so clearly points out, the more government gets involved in solving everyone’s problems, the fewer freedoms individuals are allowed and the greater the tax burden becomes. The worst aspect of dependence upon big government is that people then tend to put their trust and reliance on government. And in that sense, the government usurps God’s role in our lives.
When people look to government for their salvation, then arguments about political issues become matters of faith. God and the Bible are then viewed as being in opposition to effective government. In that significant sense, the argument between the Left and the Right hinges on how a person views God’s authority. To support homosexuality requires discarding what the word of God says about sin. To support gender selection requires throwing out the Biblical teaching that God created us male and female. The Left feels they can create themselves. They are their own gods. To support abortion requires the denial that an unborn child is a person whom God has created. It requires the rejection of Jeremiah 1:5 that tells us, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you”. To believe that government knows best how our money should be spent to help the poor denies the Biblical principle of voluntary giving (Exodus 25:2; 2 Corinthians 9:7).
Frankly, there can be no compromise between the godly and the godless. They live in different worlds. There cannot be a meaningful discussion of political issues until there is agreement on what role God plays in the affairs of men. At the founding of our nation, Americans agreed on the Biblical world view and designed our government and laws to conform to that view. But as a nation, our world view has changed, taking our government and laws with it. American society has departed from its Biblical roots. It has become increasingly deaf to Biblical arguments. Secular society simply will not listen anymore. Not only that, but to a large degree they hate Christians and Christianity. In that sense, we have lost the argument.
The only thing left in our arsenal is to speak the truth of the gospel in a clear and gentle way. Paul said, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22). Exactly how that translates to how we address secular values in society today, I cannot say. But each of us must be ready to give an answer when we are asked to give reasons for the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15-16). We are called to be witnesses, which is a verb — something we must do. We have to tell it like it is, straight from the heart. And just as our Savior was mocked, so will we. They will call us names, belittle us, threaten and attack. Still, we must love them enough to speak the truth in love.
The argument is lost. Perhaps it always was. All that is left is our testimony. Yet that is a powerful thing. Romans 1:16 says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Lord, grant us the faith to obey you, and make disciples by sharing the gospel.