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Letter to a Liberal

by Christopher Chantrill
January 03, 2004 at 7:00 pm

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LISTEN UP, liberals. I am about to tell you how to defeat the evil Republicans and sweep back to power.  It’s a very small thing, hardly worth mentioning.  You could do it without breaking a sweat.

Stop your war on the middle class.

You could have everything you want: a world of creativity and authenticity, peace and justice, and an end to the cycle of violence—if you would just stop trying to smash the middle class and its totems of God, work, and family.  Another way of saying this is: stop trying to neuter the Christian Right.

Last week I read Peggy Noonan relate the problems she faced years ago when she displayed a sculpture of the Virgin Mary outside her apartment off Park Avenue.  It got so bad that she decided to take the Virgin back inside.  But when she moved to Brooklyn, she found that Virgins are acceptable.  She displayed the Virgin again, and nobody complained.

Imagine the trouble she would have got into if she had been living on the Upper West Side instead of the Upper East Side!

What is it about you liberals?  Why can’t you leave people alone, in their rich diversity, and let them worship their gods as they wish?

Luckily, some of us do know why you liberals, deep down, want to “neuter” the Christian Right. It’s an old, old story.  It’s the age-old effort to stamp out superstition, the instinct inside everyone of us to replace your lie with my truth.

There’s a problem with this inquisitional approach, and nobody has described it better than conservative thinker Eric Voegelin.  When we grasp a new truth, we do not really stand the old knowledge on its head, sweeping the slate clean.  We merely accomplish a “leap in being” from compact knowledge to more differentiated knowledge.  Even the great Copernican revolution did not invalidate the entire corpus of Aristotelian science. It just came up with a much better model of planetary mechanics than the old Ptolemaic model.  Since then, we have accomplished another leap in being with the Einsteinian revolution.

If you are pushing a lawn mower around the yard, then Aristotelian mechanics still works pretty well: if you stop pushing the mower, it will stop.  But if you want to compute the trajectory of an artillery shell, then you need Newtonian mechanics.  If you want to compute the trajectory of an electron, then you need quantum mechanics.

For the prisoners in Plato’s Cave, the shadows on the wall represent the whole of reality. There is no use telling them about fires and walls and people walking to and fro until you have freed them from their chains and turned them around.  Likewise, there is no hope in getting a liberal professor to understand about startups, market capitalization, and IPOs when all he knows is salary, tenure, and TIAA/CREF.  To the liberal professor, the totems of capitalism are frightening mysteries beyond the familar world of the campus that he has mastered so well. As Plato knew, if you come back to the cave with your fantastic tales, the prisoners will laugh at you.  “If they could lay hands upon the man who was trying to set them free and lead them up, they would kill him.”

Let us stipulate that the liberal vision of creativity, diversity, and one world human community of caring and sharing is the way to go.  The next question is: what do we do about the current culture of nation states, capitalism, and Christianity?  Do we encourage it?  Do we replace it? Do we tolerate it?

We know what you liberals have decided: replace it.  All this Puritan Ethic stuff was all very well in the nineteenth century, but now things are different.  Yet the Chinese have recently decided, according to David Aikman in Jesus in Beijing, that Christianity is part of the package that makes the west pre-eminent all over the world.  Said one academic: “the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West has been so powerful.”  There are said to be 80 million Christians in China right now, and we ain’t seen nothing yet. 

Then there is the phenomenon of exploding Christianity in Africa and South America, not to mention megachurches in South Korea.  It seems pretty clear that people on the cusp of the middle class, learning to make it in the city, choose Christianity.

If you stop your war on the middle class, you could still advance your progressive agenda. You would just concede a place in your progressive nirvana for enthusiastic Christianity.

But if you don’t, then maybe we evil Republicans will get to govern America for another generation until there are a billion Chinese Christians.  Then you liberals will really have your work cut out for you.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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