The editors discuss recent content, including a book review on antiracism, a reflection on Flag Day, and an analysis of surveys on young evangelicals’ views on Israel.
Tooley: Hello this is Mark Tooley, editor of Providence: A Journal Christianity & American Foreign Policy, with another episode of Marksism, with fellow Mark(c)s and fellow Providence editors, Marc LiVecche and Mark Melton. I’m speaking to you from the glories of my Kentucky hotel room, Marc LiVecche speaks to you from his back porch, and somewhere in Maryland Mark Melton is perhaps in his IRD world headquarters office, I could be mistaken. But we come together to share with you our analysis and our conversation about three pieces that have appeared in Providence over the last two weeks, having missed our Marksism chat for last week. We’re starting out with a book review of sorts of the writings of John McWhorter, a smart professor at Columbia University who has regular exchanges with Glenn Loury of Brown University. They are two black professors who challenge conventional cultural elite opinions regarding race and related issues, and McWhorter in his writings has labeled “wokery” or the Black Lives movement as not just like a religion, but it is a religion. And so, his critique centers on that perspective, but McWhorter himself is at least an agnostic, if not an atheist. So, for him to label it as a religion is, of course, the underlying assumption is that all religion is potentially dangerous and he believes that essentially secular liberalism is the antidote to the religion of “wokery” or of intersectionality. Our reviewer is a new writer to Providence named Anthony Barr, who affirms McWhorter’s critique but also challenges him on his hostility to religion. He suggests the only true antidote to bad religion is in fact good religion. So, Marc LiVecche, what say you?
LiVecche: Yeah, that’s right. I think your analysis of the analysis is spot on, and I agree with both completely. I think he does well in challenging McWhorter’s understanding of religion. If religion is as McWhorter is depicted to believe it to be then religion is in fact the problem. The good news is that I don’t think religion, certainly not all religion, is as McWhorter appears to think it. I’m not a McWhorter scholar; I’ve read a bit of them and I tried to read through some of the online texts that are quoted in the piece, and I’m not all together convinced that on every point he gets McWhorter right, but I certainly won’t debate him on the details because I think he knows McWhorter much better than I do. Where I think he does get McWhorter right is McWhorter’s disdain for religion. He doesn’t characterize religion, he caricatures it. So, he sets up a straw man that’s easy to debase. I think his analysis of woke ideology as being a religion, however, is correct, and I think our writer acknowledges that as well. We’ve seen the same thing, I’ve written a little bit on that, Josh Mitchell has written a little bit about that thing, Derryck Green has talked a bit about that. That it is taking on all the sort of accoutrements of faith, and I think that’s an essential thing to identify and it’s something that’s important to grapple with. I think the demise of particularly Christianity, the Hebrew tradition throughout American life, is at least one of the majority contributors to some of the social fragmentation we’re facing. So, I think he’s right to challenge McWhorter on McWhorter’s understanding of faith. I also think he’s right to push against McWhorter’s assertion that liberalism is the way out of this. Our writer taps at the notion that liberalism might in part be what’s gotten us into this problem. That when liberalism goes awry it leads to greater fragmentation, as we begin not to have any sort of unifying center to us but we begin to move into our individual and tribal spaces. And I think that’s a problem. So, when he suggests that the antidote is that old time religion, I think he’s pointing to the only thing that is ultimately going to make a real difference because that’s the only thing that can embrace both human individuality without abandoning community. And I think both of those things are essential and lacking in the present discourse.
Tooley: It sounds like the cicadas are gone but other wildlife is taking their place.
LiVecche: About two hours ago, Tooley, it all of a sudden occurred to me that it is bizarrely quiet in backwoods Maryland and the cicadas today are gone.
Tooley: Can you smell the stink of their rotting corpses?
LiVecche: I’ve read about the stink of the rotting corpses and I have to say I’m underwhelmed if what I smell right now is the rotting, festering masses of decaying cicadas. I just yet don’t smell it. Maybe I don’t have the olfactory potential of the dog.
Tooley: Well, it will come. Moving on to our next topic, a piece about the shifting opinions among young evangelicals regarding Israel, in that American evangelicals have been a key demographic supportive of Israel and yet the up-and-coming generation seems less enthusiastic. The piece is by two young writers themselves, Philip Morrow and Amy Gabriel, and offers a careful analysis that argues that perhaps these surveys are not as dramatic as might be supposed, that there are some sociological reasons, but by and large, think evangelicals are more verse to being polemical and would like to think of themselves as being partial and friendly to all sides and not having to choose dramatically between Israel and the Palestinians. I would counter I think there’s more going on here, and in fact, young evangelicals are arguably less attached to nation states, per se, whether it’s Israel or even the United States. And also, young evangelicals are reacting against what they believe are the mistakes or misdeeds of an older generation of evangelical leadership by perhaps bending over to the other side. But Mark Melton, arguably you’re a young evangelical, what do you think?
Melton: I’m definitely a millennial evangelical, but whether or not you want to call that young or not, at this point I’ve had gray hair since high school. So, I guess I can go either way. But yeah, it’s an interesting article looking at really how surveys can be difficult, and there’s a certain art to it. And I think even the people who did this survey would probably admit to that and could talk about that. But what reporters do in order to get clicks and to get attention is that you find dramatic drops, or you try to find dramatic contrasts, when it could just be the difference occurred because of the way the question was asked. And so, they kind of look into that, how the questions were asked and what options could people be given. For instance, there was one I pulled back up here where they, instead of saying they wanted to support both Israelis and Palestinians, support neither. And why? Because they don’t know the issue. And so, there’s certain things that they dive into with that, but then you do also I think have the shift in theological focus, with, for instance, eschatologies, where with the religious right and others with this sensationalist view, kind of the Left Behind series, especially if you have a resurgence of a kind of more reformed revival in the Baptist, Presbyterians, and other denominations, these are not eschatologies you’re going to find this much. I wrote an article and actually linked to it about millennialism, which is a very, very different perspective. And I think there is a question of what does that do to support for Israel if you lose that eschatological perspective. And so, one of the things I found was that, even despite the differences of eschatologies, there does seem to be continuing support but for different reasons. I think this is something that Robert Nicholson has written about, like there can be multiple reasons for supporting Israel, if for no other reason than for their democracy and as an ally in a very difficult region.
Tooley: And finally, this piece by Eric Patterson on Flag Day and how Christians should regard the American flag. There’s a bunch of controversy over the last decade or more when growing numbers of evangelical elites dispute the flag’s place in the iconography of American evangelicalism. But Eric Patterson, our contributing editor, makes the case that, in fact, Christians rightly can revere their nation’s flag as part of their patrimony for which they give thanks to God. Eric has directly addressed the issue of the American flag inside sanctuaries, but obviously that’s a related issue. So, Marc LiVecche, any points you’d like to elaborate on?
LiVecche: I think the key word is patrimony. You’ve brought it up; that’s the thing that I think is incumbent, it is a duty, probably even a sacred duty, for the older generations, of which you and I are a part and Melton is increasingly a part, even though he’s had gray hair since high school. It is a sacred duty of ours to transmit patrimony of the nation. And the nation is passed to the next generation, and one the effective way of doing that is through symbols. And I think a large part of the problem is that we are no longer comfortable with what symbols are and what symbols are supposed to symbolize and to represent. We don’t know how to read them, we don’t know how to use them, we don’t know how to endorse them. Like the problem with the survey on Israel, people fall into binaries, either you support it or you don’t. And if you support it, that means you support everything that it has ever represented. It just simply is not true. And so, I think Eric does a wonderful job of reminding us that a part of our responsibility is to remember the enormous good that the flag ought to evoke in us when we regard our nation’s past. And at the same time to, out of love for that nation, remember those times that we’ve fallen short and to absorb those lessons into how we move forward. And there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s what symbols do. I think we used to be much more comfortable with symbols, and I think that’s represented in that fairly stirring and very evocative image that Eric took of the two old veterans leaning against the war memorial in order to stand up under the probably three-digit degree heat when they’re dressed in full business suits. They’re refusing to let the flag that they’re holding touch the ground. It’s just a piece of cloth. On the one hand, why are they risking their health to hold this piece of cloth in the wind? Well, it’s because they know what the symbol represents. They know what it stands for, and they know the history that that flag is supposed to remind us of. So, I think it’s a basic truism that symbols are important and we need to learn how to read them. And if we lose our grip on them, then I think the social fragmentation that we’re seeing will simply continue with pace. We need to be comfortable with representatives and to acknowledge the good and the bad that they stand for. It doesn’t seem like a heavy lift. It should be a fairly easy thing.
Tooley: On that note, Marc LiVecche, Mark Melton, thank you for another fascinating Marksism conversation. I’m speaking to you from the campus of Asbury Seminary in glorious Wilmore, Kentucky, and we’ll look forward to further exchanges next week. Bye-bye.