In this episode of Marksism, the editors review recent articles Providence published about the riot at the US Capitol on January 6.
Tooley: Hello this is Mark Tooley, editor of Providence: A Journal of Christianity & American Foreign Policy, with another episode of Marksism with fellow Mark(c)s and fellow editors, Marc LiVecche and Mark Melton. I’m broadcasting from downtown DC, surrounded by closed streets, National Guard, armored vehicles, and many weapons in preparation for the inauguration next Wednesday. And so, we Mark(c)s will reflect on events affecting the nation’s capital, the nation, and the world as we continue to examine and live out the consequences of January 6, the assault on the US Capitol, and conversations about who was responsible. Many assigned at least part of the blame to what’s commonly called Christian nationalism. Many in the mob that assaulted the Capitol were carrying Christian flags and symbols, and there were prayers blessing this assault seemingly. One of our contributors to Providence, Daniel Strand, has a semi-defense of the term Christian nationalism, or at least is rejecting it as a blanket term of condemnation, and that nationalism properly understood has a commendable utility in terms of affirmation of nation states and Christians rightly can affirm nation states in terms of about promoting the common good. So, what exactly occurred at the Capitol and the underlying spiritual and cultural forces that justify that assault, perhaps it’s not quite fair to assign the blame to what’s called Christian nationalism. It seems to be a kind of folk religion that’s partly Christian and partly something else. And of course, the icon for the Capitol assault has become this horned, befurred, Viking-looking individual who is known as the QAnon Shaman, a self-identified pagan, and he is an appropriate moniker for what happened there. And that the assault of the Capitol, to my mind, was nothing to do with Christianity properly understood, but really with a post-Christian, neo-pagan strike or will for power and an invention of reality based on fantasy conspiracy theories. Those are a few of my thoughts. Marc LiVecche, I imagine you have some thoughts of your own?
LiVecche: I do, but that doesn’t mean they are utterly independent of your own. I think you’re right. I agree with you completely on this, the pushback I give against myself, and I suppose there for you, is somewhat rhetorical in nature. And it’s just to say this, while I think it’s true to say that it wasn’t a Christian event, Christianity properly understood, I do wonder at what point we have to take a measure of how often we qualify our terms by saying, “Christianity properly understood.” Or as Joe Biden and numerous other people say, this was not American, this is not who we are. At some point do we say, look, this apparently is who we are, like this is what we do. Or at some point do we say you know what, this is Christian in the sense that this is what Christians do. This is what we’ve come to. And it’s probably healthy to do that in some measure and to say take stock of where we’ve come as a community. There were apparently enough, I mean, we all know them. We know enough God-fearing, Christ-centered Christians who can be found somewhere on the spectrum of begrudgingly supporting Trump in 2016 because of what was on the other side and feeling locked into a decision between lesser evils and genuinely not knowing what to do. To the other side, the extremists who seemed to think that Trump is something of a, I can’t even say spiritual figure, but some people act as if that’s the case. So, where’s the church come? Why are we given both Chris Seiple’s article this week, which is excellent, Daniel Strand’s this week, Luke Perez’s this week, they all talk in some measure about the kinds of lies that Americans, Christian Americans, have bought into. Big lies, little lies, misterms, misunderstandings that eventually build into a kind of frantic motion and that result in the types of things we’ve seen. Several of them call it a failure of discipleship, so they pin some blame on our shepherds. I think there’s something to be said there, but sheep have a mind of their own. They go astray willfully. They’re stubborn beasts. So, it’s not entirely a pastoral problem. So, I think it’s that the church needs to take an accounting, America needs to take an accounting.
Tooley: So, what happened on January 6 is at least partly who we are, we can accurately say. And we can also say that Christianity is no guarantee. Obviously, sinfulness, there’s no guarantee of political judgment or prudence. It’s not necessarily a guardrail against fanaticism is it?
LiVecche: Yeah, January 6 proved the claims of Christianity.
Tooley: Right. Mark Melton, January 6, is that who we are, as Christians and Americans, at least partly?
Melton: I mean, it’s a difficult question. It’s who we should not be I think is probably the right direction. So, I mean, if we’re Christians, we admit we’re sinful and we’re fallen. And so, there’s always going to be problems. Even the church is going to have problems. And so, say if you’re going to ask that question then that’s who we should not be. And I think there was something that Debra Erickson wrote, where if this is who we are, it’s not who we are condemned to be. And I think that is something, and I know Strand wrote about the nationalism thing. And he seems to, I think, have kind of a narrow, probably a Hazony view, I think where he’s getting his definition for nation. But you read others and there’s a wider variety of what the word nation means. And I know that Jill Lepore, if I’m pronouncing her name correctly, has written about a liberal and illiberal nationalism. And so, I think what we’ve seen here, developed over years, she writes that it’s from the very beginning, but we’re seeing a rise of an old illiberal nationalism. And so, I think it’s good to have terms for that to kind of qualify what we’re talking about. I use the word patriotism in my own writing. I use the word nation, I tried to use it very sparingly and for very specific purposes and mostly from a foreign policy perspective. If I’m talking about Scottish nationalism, it’s going to be very different than, say, British Union, for instance. And so, I think it’s good to have these terms. I’m not calling it Christian nationalism. I think you can say it’s what it should not be. I do think it probably is a type of illiberal nationalism. You could say it’s a heretical Christianity, maybe, but I think the idea is just too vague and too poorly defined right now. And that’s why I, last week, wrote that we need to properly understand what these people were doing. And I wrote about the idea of European populists using Christian symbols. Most of the time they’re not actually Christian. And so, like you mentioned, the QAnon Shaman, probably not a practicing Christian. I think he said he grew up Catholic and rejected it, if I remember correctly. But I’m worried that we’re seeing a rise of this European style of using Christian symbols without practicing the faith, and I think that’s a very dangerous trajectory. I think there were a lot of people, I actually know there’s this one guy who went into the Capitol who was a West Virginia lawmaker, and you look up his quotes from when he was running for office, and he mentioned a lot of Christian things. And so, we know that practicing Christians were inside the Capitol. So, I mean, there’s a mix here that’s going on. And I think I remember Tooley you wrote that if the church doesn’t talk about a healthy love of our country and of our neighbors, I think that really needs to focus in on, we need to focus, more on our local politics when we do that. But Tim Keller has written about this, and I mentioned him not because he does the best job of describing what this should be, but because he’s probably the most prominent person I think who has done this. But C.S. Lewis has also done that. And I think there is a good proper love of our home and our neighbors and praying for the peace and prosperity of our city and of our nation or where we are our country is. I think the church should be able to do that, because if they don’t, others will fill that void.
Tooley: It’s tempting to try to equate what happened on January 6 with, as you mentioned, the far-right efforts in Europe that profess to want to defend Christendom and Christian civilization, but like the AfD in Germany, Alternative for Germany, they are profoundly anti-religious. But yet, the January 6 event had prayers and hymns, so there were genuinely religiously believing people there. I would say many of them seem to be from post-denominational backgrounds, very charismatic, believing in prophecy and direct discernment, a direct word from God. Confidence like Eric Metaxas has that Donald Trump will be inaugurated on January 20 because the Lord has assured him that will be the case. So, I don’t want to put this, I don’t want to sweepingly denounce all charismatic post-denominationals. Obviously, most would not subscribe to this kind of extremism, but nonetheless, it’s there. What do you think, Marc LiVecche?
LiVecche: Yeah, I think there is. And I think Luke Perez had a sage caution in that we ought to be able to see at least the potential seeds in all of us to some degree. For all of this, I’m going to remember ‘20. I remember 2020. I remember wrestling with like what in God’s green earth am I supposed to do with the choices that I have before me, right, in terms of the vote. Christians to varying degrees, depending on the types of sweeping claims that they might make, are correct to believe that modern America is increasingly intolerant of orthodox Christianity. That there are threats to the principles and customs that we hold dear. All of that can be true. And then you find yourself in a pickle and a muddle trying to figure out how I’m supposed to express this when it comes to choosing our leaders, recognizing that one of the two of them are going to be president. Wanting to participate, not knowing what to do. So, I think well-intentioned good people, I mean, I suspect we all know them, people who might have been on the ellipse because they’re suspicious. They don’t trust the media anymore, sometimes for good reasons, sometimes for crazy reasons. They believe it’s possible that people would want to steal the vote because there are enough people who hate Trump that much on both sides of the aisle, so to speak. So, it seems plausible, despite evidence to the contrary, one might believe this. And so, people find themselves befuddled and they don’t know what to do. I get that bit of it and I get that drive. I’m trying to remember who it was that I was speaking to, well I wasn’t speaking to him, I was listening to him, Victor Davis Hanson. He seems to hold his cards a little bit close to his chest. But if I were to interpret what I think I’ve heard Victor Davis Hanson say about all of this, I think he would say something to the degree of luck. This election was not transparent, there were issues, big questions remain unanswered, but regardless of whatever might have happened, we’re now in a position to where any attempt to resolve that in favor of Donald Trump will be so destructive that it will do nothing but splinter the very system we’re trying to protect. And so, combining these tensions of doubt coupled with reason, and saying look, we just have to move forward at this point. It’s clear, the courts have pronounced judgment. We move forward. We try to fix the next election to make sure that these kinds of doubts never happen again, and meanwhile, we should learn to talk to each other so we don’t continually suspect the absolute worst of one another. Reputation matters. I think both sides of the political spectrum have crafted a reputation over the last four years that the other side of the political spectrum has little reason to believe that they might have their common interests in mind and not some sort of simply tribal fervor.
Tooley: One problem in staying in conversation, and I’ve had these experiences over the last week, is that these believers in the conspiracy theories, they will only heed authorities, publications, extremist websites that subscribe to their theories and they’re completely closed any other sources of information. So, there can be no debate or exchange, and they implicitly assume you’re part of the conspiracy if you don’t believe in it. And to my mind, I just keep comparing it to transgenderism on the left. This presumption that we all get to invent our own reality and you must affirm and accept my reality. In terms of America’s place in the world as affected by January 6, some understandably are saying this undermines American credibility in the world. Certainly, it undermines our image as a beacon of peaceful democracy. I would counter, at least in part, that democracy and law did reassert itself in the end, and hopefully it will continue to do so. Nonetheless, it’s been a grievous blow to our lawful democracy, but hopefully observers around the world will note that despite this grievous blow that America’s basic democratic nature did reassert itself. What do you think, Mark Melton?
Melton: I think there was, I didn’t see the actual numbers but I saw a notification about it today, but a poll showing that a vast majority of Americans reject what happened at the Capitol, and I think that is important to note. And I think there’s this massive failure of why was the Capitol not properly protected. There was a minimal, looks like a minimal, amount of defense around the Capitol, even though we know they’ve been planning to do something online for a long time. So, I think that is a problem, but hopefully other countries around the world will see that the vast majority of Americans reject the violence of what happened.
Tooley: Marc LiVecche?
LiVecche: Yeah, I think you look throughout American history and there have been various points where our policies, or our behaviors, or a combination of the two leaves us having to hang our heads in shame. In one sense, not, who cares about the international stage, but just here at home hang our heads. And shaming and saying something like this is not who we are, or this is not who we ought to be, but recognizing we’ve done these things. What I find remarkable is every situation that I can think of, the system has always corrected itself. Whether it’s one branch of government holding another to account, whether it’s the people holding the government to account, we tend to fix our own problems, right. They say that Americans will always do the right thing in the end, even if they have to try all the wrong things first. History has continually born that out. And we have an opportunity, obviously, to move forward and try to figure out some things. I think that’s going to be slow plotting work as we try to figure out what it means to be an American citizen again. I work on a military installation. There is a professional military ethic. It is high time we’ve had a sort of professional civilian ethic. We need to know what that means, or what the responsibilities of that are. It’s a conversation I think a lot of good people are eager to have. The American spirit is resilient. We’ll get through this if we want to get through this and will be stronger if we want to get stronger. I don’t know if we do. I think enough of us do. I think Providence friends do. So, the choice is ours.
Tooley: I believe there’s a quote from Edmund Burke along the lines of, “There’s a lot of ruin in a nation.” The implication of what he was trying to say was that great nations can absorb a lot. I think he said that after the loss of the American colonies, and of course, Britain went on to even greater greatness after that loss. So, hopefully there’s a lot of ruin in America, in that we will recover and move on to some of our nation’s greatest moments. But before we can do that, we need to fully examine the causes and premises behind the events of January 6. Gentlemen of Marksism, thank you for your, as always, thoughtful contributions. Until next week, bye-bye.