For me it has been an odd year. I spent a good bit of it on the road between San Diego, where I live and work, and Nebraska, where family lives. That has produced a greater sense of dislocation than usual. Professionally, I am in the midst of several projects but none of them are finished so it there is more discontent than satisfaction. Nevertheless, in the midst of all the miles on the road and all the hours on at keyboard I think I learned three things in 2015.
Subjectivism Has Turned Nasty
Subjectivism is the position that holds that there is no objective truth, that whatever one wishes to be true is subjectively true, for that person. John Lennon said “Whatever gets you through the night” (1974). It was originally tended to signal a “live and let live” attitude but it seems clear that is not the attitude of the subjectivists now. If you doubt me, go to Yale, ask for a little tolerance and see if that does not create a riot complete with screaming, privileged children demanding immediate submission. Call it emotional Islam (the word Islam means “submission”).
Those angry Ivy-League elites do not like you and me. They never have but they used to understand that politeness required them to pretend. Hence the amusing quadrennial photos of them uncomfortably trying on Middle-American life for a few minutes, on the way to the airport to the next campaign stop. They do not like the United States of America—as least what they think they know about it. They do not know history and they do not care to know it. They do know their inner selves, however. They are more in touch with their inner lives than any previous generation and they are impatient with your insistence on facts, which they see only as stumbling blocks to utopia. They reject the every existence of objective reality but they have a vision of the future and that vision does not include dissent from the vision.
Those angry elites, who demand conformity, will begin shortly their careers as junior bureaucrats. Ten years from now they will be middle-management, advisory bureaucrats, and twenty years hence they will be in charge and, likely as not, one of them will be president and he or she (whatever has become of human sexuality by then) will be in charge and he will not likely be any happier then than now.
Pay Attention To The Early Church
This leads me to my second not-entirely-new lesson: Christendom is not the pattern we should be studying. Get over it. Christendom is gone. It is not coming back. It is a waste of breath and pixels to be arguing about it. The model for Christian engagement with the increasingly angry, subjectivist neo-Paganism of the near future (and beyond) is to be found in the early, pre-Constantinian church. It as if the clock is rolling backward. We are, perhaps, somewhere in the period after the Gelarius (311 AD) made Christianity a legal religion. Perhaps it is as if were are in the 5th or 6th century, who knows? There are striking and growing similarities between our age and the years after the collapse of the Roman empire in the early 5th century. Illiteracy is growing, particularly in urban areas in the USA. Young people graduate from university, having spent more on their schooling than ever before, highly aware of their feelings, but, in objective terms, less aware of history, language, culture, and science than at any time in my life.
To be sure, where are certain medieval features to life now. One of them is the resurgence of violent Islamism. This presents an odd juxtaposition. Islamic Jihad is a decidedly medieval phenomenon that, after hundreds of years, was finally repelled by violence on the part of the Christian West. Now, here we are, in the post-Christian, post-Constantinian West, amid growing neo-Paganism (the new Paganism) and apparently growing hostility to orthodox Christianity. As a culture, because of the prevailing ignorance about the history of the Western engagement with Islam—much of the story elites (e.g., Presidents Bush and Obama) tell themselves about Islam is flatly false—and largely without the intellectual and theological resources to address Jihadist Islam, which, setting aside the détente that existed from the mid 18th century through the mid-20th century, was Islam. The juxtaposition is that, with respect to the culture, our posture should probably be that of the pre-Constantinian church (see below) but the entire West faces a growing threat that has early medieval, post-Constantian roots.
The early church is a great pattern for negotiating the present and the near future because they faced similar challenges. Islam, the subjectivists, and the neo-pagans all demand one thing: conformity. The Romans demanded the same. They did not demand that the Christians actually believe in the Roman pantheon (they called us “atheists because we denied it) but they did demand that demonstrate loyalty to the existing order by mouthing certain platitudes, e.g., Caesar is lord. They demanded that we outwardly renounce Christ. They required that we keep our Christianity entirely private and even secret. In several respects we are already there. Even in the Plains, where I grew up, most would be shocked to learn that Christianity teaches that faith in Jesus is the only way to heaven, that all other gods are nothing but idols. Articulating that most basic Christian truth would be considered, in many ostensibly pious Christian towns, impolite. On the coasts, where most people are not even aware of the most basic of Christian truth claims, that Christian conviction will likely get one convicted before a university tribunal or the human resources department.
The Internet Is Not What It Was
When I began using the internet in 1993 or so there was very little to see and not many other people out there. There were rules but their was a perception of freedom. No one was in charge. Blogs began somewhere in the mid-90s and it seemed as if writers felt free to say what was on their minds. That was the case when I began the HB c. 2005–06. There was a naiveté about the internet. No more. Today everyone, even octogenarians, on the internet and that perceived freedom (was it real?) is gone. Like every ostensible Eden, after the fall, this one has been spoiled. It remains a powerful place to communicate and will, before long, almost certainly become the place to communicate but in 2015 it became clearer to me that that the internet, perhaps because of its immediacy and intimacy, is a place for caution. What can be said in a newspaper column or in a book cannot be said, in the same way, on the internet&mdashlat least not any more. It may be because, apart from simply turning off our devices, there is no escaping the internet—it is on our mobile devices, our computer screens, and our television screens—that nerves have become frayed. Use and perception of the internet is also largely generational. Millennials still treat the internet as if it were a garden. They seem more willing to say whatever is on their mind, without regard to consequences. There are other generations, however, who regard the internet as an oddity and irritation, a source of trouble, and the rest of us are caught in between.
As in the culture generally, the internet has become a much less hospitable place for Christians or for anyone who believes in objective truth. It is a darker, more threatening place. The web also remains a wonderful place full of good possibilities. however. Thus, this is not a call for electronic monasticism. That project failed and so would it now. This, is. however, a call for wisdom. I learned in 2015 that the world is changing very rapidly and people are keeping up with that change at different paces.
Some, perhaps much of the change is not happy but Christian theology has not changed. We still confess faith in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth. Nothing escapes his sovereign providence, not even the internet. We also confess his only, eternally begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Neither Jihadist Islam nor neo-Paganism, and not subjectivism can put Christ back in the tomb. He was obedient for us who believe. He was crucified. He was raised on the third day and he remain seated at the right hand in power.
The Holy Spirit is still the Lord and giver of life. The internet gives us access to a plethora of media for communicating God’s truth to his world but we should do so in light of the reality around us, in light of history, in light of the Word, with hope for the future and wisely.
I am also impressed by how boldly the pre-Constantinian church spoke Christ’s truth to the powers that were. I am also impressed by how often and how bravely, as consequence, they went to their deaths giving witness to that truth (hence they were martyrs, or witnesses) with the lips and with their lives. They did so, under the Diocletian persecution, which ended only with Constantine. Our hope, however, is not another Constantine. It is Christ. The Roman tetrarchs were God’s unwitting ministers. Our brothers and sisters were martyred because God ordained it for his ends and for his glory. Will there be another Christendom after another Diocletian? Who knows? I do know. however, that Christ is still Lord and he still rules the world with a rod of iron and the nations must be called to kiss the Son (Ps 2:12) in anticipation of his glorious return and the consummation of all things. Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus.