Did Josh Hawley just call for a Christian revolution?
The religious energy behind National Conservatism is no longer in the shadows
For roughly the last eight months, the Left-leaning sectors of the American media have been warning about an emerging “threat to democracy”: Christian nationalism. For instance, according to a recent piece by a trio of political scientists in the Washington Post, the Right, with its rhetoric about “an ongoing religious war against White Christian national dominance”, is increasingly adopting an “ethnocultural nationalist ideology” that — stop me if you’ve heard this one before — is “at odds with liberal democracy.”
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Here in Miami, on Day Two of the National Conservatism conference, the message is clear: yes, we’re religious and we’re nationalists — deal with it.
First, conference organiser Yoram Hazony brought the Old Testament thunder with a speech entitled “After the Revolution—What Happens Next?” Hazony’s thesis, in brief, was that the year 2020 marked the final death of American liberalism at the hands of “woke neo-Marxism.” “If you’re somebody like Andrew Sullivan or Bari Weiss who actually thinks that the old liberalism should continue, then you’re in a tiny minority,” the Israeli scholar said. “You’ve been dispossessed. And what we’re seeing now is a completely new America”.
The question is what can stand in the way of this “woke neo-Marxism.” For Hazony, an Israeli Jew, the only sufficiently powerful force in the United States is Christianity. “If America is going to change, it’s going to change because you” — now directly addressing the conference attendees — “decide that Christianity is going to be restored as the public culture of the United States.”
And who will be the instrument of that restoration? Cue Josh Hawley, the populist Republican Senator from Missouri, who delivered a keynote speech nominally about the Left’s war on American history. It did not take long, however, for the real theme to appear:
For an American politician, it was a surprisingly erudite speech — Hawley quoted Fustel de Coulanges, the British historian Larry Siedentop, Charles Taylor, Tertullian, and even Gandalf to argue for the Christian origins of modern conceptions of individual liberty; he also discoursed at some length about Herbert Marcuse, arguing that woke “repressive tolerance” is, in effect, an attempt to plunge America back into the Nietzschean hierarchies of the ancient world.
Hawley ended with a story about the destruction of the Serapeum, the gist of which shouldn’t be too hard to puzzle out:
In AD 390, a crowd of Christian believers gathered at a pagan temple known as the Serapeum in Alexandria, a shrine to the god Serapus. A few years before the virulently anti-faith emperor Julian had attempted to throttle Christianity and purge Rome of Christian influence. Among other measures he seized control of the education system, he barred Christians from teaching, he demanded that all students in the empire study in the ways that he approved.
On this day in 390, in the shadow of the state’s recent persecution, this group of believers gathered at the temple to take a stand. In the center of the temple, we read, there was a statue of the god clutching a three-headed serpent. The legend went that if any impious hand should dare to violate the majesty of the god, the heavens and the earth would instantly return to their original chaos.
One soldier stepped forward carrying an axe. All we really know about him is what the historian Rufinus tells us, that ‘he was better protected by faith than he was by his weapon.’ But at that moment, this man made a choice to challenge the powers and principalities of his age… He climbed a ladder to the top of the statue, lifted his battle-axe, and with all his might, drove it home. Onlookers reported that as the blow fell, the god’s jaw broke away, and as it did thousands of rats came surging out of its rotten insides.
Good. It’s about time people of good will, and who believe in liberty, take a stand whether they are Christian or not. The phrase “culture war” is not just a clickbait headline, it’s a literal statement of what is happening in the West. If we value our traditions we must fight.
I find the involvement and centrality of Yoram Hazony in this whole movement quite interesting – openly calling for (a return of) Christianity.
The way I see it, about a 100 years ago Nazis, who were amongst the most fanatical progressives of the time, loudly talked about how they’d destroy the Jews, and how Jews were the biggest problem in the world. They went ahead and did pretty much what they outlined when they got the chance, while the rest of the world watched.
Today’s most fanatical progressives live in the US. They’re openly calling Israel an apartheid state that should be torn down, and pushing forward the BDS movement to starve Israel of funds.
Americans simply watched things happen last time while the Roosevelt administration refused to lift the proverbial finger to do anything. So, I can understand why the Jews of Israel would be uncomfortable with a progressive administration in America today.
Most incidents of anti-semitism are coming from the Left in the USA Today (rather like the Labor Party in the UK). What’s mystifying is that most Jews vote on the Left today for Democrats seemingly ignoring the intolerance of their religion. So, the only explanation for this is that most Jews in the USA are ‘culturally’ but not ‘religiously’ Jewish- they just don’t practice the religion so they don’t see the anti-semitism being about them. They also don’t feel much affiliation with Israel and have been indoctrinated at university to side with the Palestinians.
I suspect it has to do with being a minority. Everywhere outside of Israel, Jews are a minority, so they tend to vote more left-wing. In Israel, at least recently, there has been rather right-wing governments in contrast. It’s a similar story to the Muslims. In Germany for example, vast majority (75%+) of Turks vote left-wing, whereas the same people vote heavily right-wing when they vote (from abroad) in Turkish elections (65%+).
Today was the first day of my American Government civics class. Literally the first thing I discuss with the students is the theological nature of the Declaration. Everyone knows the “all men are created equal” line, but the very next one is “endowed by their creator with rights”. Philosophically, universal human rights require a transcendental source, since lacking that, they are rights created by man and are therefore revocable, not inalienable. In short, you can’t get to “all men are created equal” without starting from “man made in the image of God”.
That’s what Hawley is talking about. It’s hardly novel or nationalistic.
But neither is it Christian exceptionalism. The founding fathers were deists (or perhaps, to use a more neutral construction, philosophical idealists), certainly not fundamentalist Christians. Many on the liberal and left are lost and confused because they have bought into the materialist mindset, they have lost any sense of the transcendent. But the answer to that cannot be a return to the infantilism of “traditional” Christianity. If national conservatism is to appeal to a wider constituency it cannot appeal only to the Christian Right.
But what is the answer then? I once thought I was mildly liberal, but trying to change things from a mildly liberal viewpoint is getting us nowhere. We always lose out to those with stronger convictions. Because my values come from a Christian framework, I find myself falling back on to them simply because I vehemently disagree with the new progressive moral framework that is being imposed upon us, e.g: gender as construct, externalization of sexual fetishes, racial retribution, and affirmative action. Beyond a strong Christian resurgence I’m not sure how we can fight the progressive Beast.
You are lucky not to be in the UK, where the framework of progressivism is being constructed by the Anglican Archbishops!
Unfortunately, the mainstream (liberal) churches over here are no different.
True! – it’s hard to avoid ‘woke’ in Protestant sects today in the USA. Interestingly, I’ve talked to a number of people who’ve moved over to Catholicism as a result.
Nationwide in the USA, mainline Protestant denominations are indeed losing members to Catholicism. The appeal of Catholicism extends across various demographics. Apart from their innate appeal (reverent worship, for example), most Catholic Churches don’t participate in woke social justice virtue signaling.
Not to be overlooked is the fact that many mainline Protestant churches kept their doors locked well after restrictions were lifted. I don’t know how it is enforced, but it is a fact that some Protestant churches in the USA require what they call “full vaccination” in order to attend services. Others invite “scientists” to give “sermons” on such hotly (pardon the pun) contested topics as climate change, rather than comment on the Gospel.
Well-off Americans born in the 50’s and 60’s who were raised Catholic and who left the Church in large numbers remain bitter toward the Church. But this cohort being status-conscious and ever alert to what their peers are doing, I bet some will return, as their peers, children and grandchildren become Catholic.
Yes, it could be that the woke moment energizes and makes people reevaluate the traditions embodied in the Catholic Church, an institution, with a ‘woke’ Pope even, that has still not abandoned the goodness that ritual and tradition provides and which has been left behind by Protestantism. It’s as if Protestants are ‘over their skis’ at this moment in time.
Roughly once a decade, Pew has put out an analysis of religious switching. The most recent one I can locate is 2015, and it found,
“both Catholicism and mainline Protestantism, the two groups whose shares of the overall population have declined most sharply in recent years, have lost more members to religious switching than they have gained. Among U.S. adults, there are now more than six former Catholics (i.e., people who say they were raised Catholic but no longer identify as such) for every convert to Catholicism. And there are approximately 1.7 people who have left mainline Protestantism for every person who has joined a mainline denomination.”
That tends to belie the argument that there’s a significant number of conversions to Catholicism taking place.
My suspicion about the Pew (but not pew) poll, and others like it, is that respondents underreport being Catholic and overreport being this or that Protestant, due in large part to uniformly negative, sensationalized coverage of Church scandals by an overwhelmingly biased media, coupled with the desire to claim some sort of religion.
A more recent poll showing a (suspiciously) massive decline in American evangelicals most likely suffers from this same problem, after endless media smears.
But what I wish to emphasize is not about numbers but motivation. From my own experience and what I hear from priests, seminarians and missionaries from all over the USA, mainline Protestants who convert to Catholicism are doing so for specific reasons: moral clarity and reverent worship. Issues which have been highlighted since the onset of the Wuhan flu panic and its side effects.
I don’t know what a significant number of converts to Catholicism would be but I have been told that RCIA enrollments are increasing in recent years and that since its inception RCIA has led to a very high retention of converts.
That was plausible during Pope Benedict’s time, but is a pretty tough sell during the era of Pope Francis, who’s adamantly opposed to the Latin Mass but bestows honors on Fr. James Martin and similar LGBT affirming Catholic leaders.
While what you say about Pope Francis is true, and disappointing to many Catholics, I haven’t heard of catechumens saying they are converting because of the Pope; nor for that matter does this or that Pope appear to be the reason Catholics leave the Church.
The appeal of national conservatism far from limited to the Christian Right (which itself to be clear is of course willing to compromise Christian principles, or form alliances with non-Christians and so on, for political gain). And of course there are plenty of critics of national conservatism on the Christian Right. The extent to which Christianity is being “instrumentalized” is an open question and I look forward to hearing Hawley’s speech.
If they are being honest most Americans probably believe that national conservatism is most likely to protect religious freedom.
Surely in general it is not the “traditional Christians” who are behaving like infants.
You’re right — the very next thing I tell my students is that Jefferson wouldn’t fit in at most of their churches (I teach at a private, Christian school), but that any suggestion he was an atheist is absurd.
You say that Hawley’s ideas must appeal beyond “the Christian Right”, but it is precisely Enlightenment liberalism’s cultural dependency on Christianity that can do that. The philosophical ideas of Christian life (hard work, tolerance for others, the golden rule, universal rights, married parents, single-income families, solidarity) are broadly appealing to many people who would never set foot in a church.
The likely new Italian Prime Minster has an interview in the Washington Post today where she explains how to square that circle.
You can acknowledge, respect, and even show preference for the Christian philosophical underpinnings of your society without needing to endorse a particular strain of theological interpretation. Is that hard? Absolutely. But it’s a line worth walking. Whether you track divorce rates or average earnings, the current liberal-globalist cultural free-for-all isn’t working for most people, even for most non Christians.
“By embracing the “modern mentality,” Christianity became a doctrine which it is not easy to respect, nor interesting to do so.”
― Nicolás Gómez Dávila.
NGD’s aphorisms are worth reading and pondering!
Yes, and I find the best ones moving. The worthy heir to Pascal’s cast of mind.
Shock horror! Whoever would have thought that pushing people to make identity the center of their lives would make people’s identity the center of their lives!
Well done lefties, this is what you pushed for since the 70s.
What’s that I hear you say? Oh, you thought it would only apply to your chosen groups? Oh, and that you could turn it on and off when it suited your personal quest for easy unearned status within batshit crazy Ivory tower social groups?
The Christians must have missed the small print on that one. Silly people!
Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
I say to you that everyone who iw angry with his brother shall be guilty for the court; and whoever says to his brother ‘you are good-for-nothing’ shall be guilty before he court; and whoever says ‘you fool’, shall be guilty.
Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; there be reconciled to your brother, then come and present your offering.
Make friends quickly with your opponent at the law while you are with him on the the way, while you are with him. . .
Do not resist an evil person, but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father will enter. Many will say to me on that day ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophecy in your name, and in your name cast out demons and in you name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.
If more religion, or Christianity specifically, is the answer, why are the countries that have more of it, worse off, on most metrics?
Christianity is like a desert flower. It doesn’t do well in lush environments.
Really? Because it’s been all but expunged from the desert in which it emerged, and thrives in Europe and Americas, pretty much the lushest lands on the planet. Perhaps you are speaking to real Christianity as opposed to whatever the organisations do?
Yes — that’s a marvelous historical anecdote by Mr. Hawley. Thanks for re-stating it. Julian’s apostasy was more public and promulgated than the American version.
Interesting that Hawley would identify the current right wing movement with the radical 4th century Christian rules and elites slowly transforming the Roman Empire instead of as the reactionary Pagans just trying to hold on. Is this what the kids call copium?
On thing I greatly admire about true Christians is how true they are to the example of Jesus- in everything from loving the other as thy neighbour, to accepting their demise so that mankind may live in freedom. Not sure what the likes of Hawley are – certainly not a true Christian….a Serapian perhaps?
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