In the last few posts I started to outline some specifics regarding what “loving our enemies while working to defeat them” might look like. Part I
8) Perfect the art of Lt. Columbo Greg Koukl has a whole bit called “Take a Tip from Lt. Columbo.” This reference will likely be a giant swing and a miss with the younger crowd, but most over 40 might get it. Lt. Columbo was this disheveled detective on TV that looked like he didn’t know what he was doing, but he actually possessed a keen intellect and sense of the case, and he would usually solve the case in the show by asking simple, very understated questions. Apologist Greg Koukl has done an excellent job teaching what he calls the “Columbo method,” which is using questions tactically to maneuver in conversations with people. We need to perfect this art in our churches and trainings, teaching the art of conversation. Well placed and worded questions are much more disarming and effective than monologues, and those who are adept at the skill are usually more confident in their conversation abilities and thus more likely to actually put themselves out there more.
Peter Boghossian has a different flavor of this tactic that he calls "street epistemology." In his interactions with people he very effectively uses questions to promote dialogue, and also to subtly show that most of the time the people he is dialoguing with do not have good justification for their beliefs. This thaws the dogmatism of his conversation partners. Though he is an atheist and sometimes uses this method on unsuspecting Christians, we can learn from his method and take it into our own conversations with people. Employing the Columbo/street epistemology method isn't just for individual conversations. We should get creative in the events we put on at the church/organization level to foster dialogue. Our enemies are unlikely to be favorable to much dialogue because in their minds, doing so with us legitimizes something they hold in contempt. They think sharing a platform with us is beneath them, but we can still create conversation by using Boghossian-like methods in our public square interactions. It's interesting, gets people's attention, and draws them in. I prefer being a little more direct than Boghossian was in the linked clips, however we should still pursue ways we can fruitfully use the method.
9) Build counter-institutions
Quit shoring up the imperium, and instead build counter-institutions, parallel communities a la Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option. This is not an admonition to head for the hills and totally withdraw from the world, politics, non-Christian corporations, public schools, and the like. That would be impossible, and a Christian kibbutz is probably not feasible. What it does mean is that, in so far as possible, we should turn our energy to building counter institutions that can stand on their own rather than keeping the secular ones, which are rotting away and don’t advance our interests anyway, propped up. Making this concrete will help with clarity, so let me point to a specific example: Christian classical education schools and organizations. They need to be strengthened and built, which includes a copious amount of funding. My family is so thankful that we have a robust and faithful classical Christian school that we belong to that is close to where we live. These kinds of schools are much better at forming our kids according to the teachings of Christ. For one, the classical Christian model is a much more beautiful and human model than the secular model currently pushed by the government, and it is superior to the way a large number of Christian private schools operate. Directing our dollars, time, and attention in that direction is a much better investment than spending towards keeping public schooling going. I get that some kids need public schooling. I do. What I’m proposing is a bit messy. But there are some realities that we tend not to acknowledge, questions that we need to wrestle with. Some establishments--public schooling is one, I’d argue--are so weak and/or so opposed to the good that we need to re-evaluate our support of them. Some institutions are failed. We should not automatically identify support of the public good with propping up these failed institutions. As Aaron Renn says, “Care for your neighbor or the American people does not necessarily have to equate to maintenance of the American ‘imperium.’” Why spend all this energy propping up a system that is doing its ever best to tear down and destroy everything we stand for and pull our kids away from faithfulness to Christ? Talk about shooting yourself in the foot. Renn says elsewhere, “supporting and investing in institutions generates surplus value that accrues to the institution and which will almost certainly be redirected and utilized in ways you don’t like, potentially by people whose values are very different from yours.” The example he gives is the Boy Scouts:
“I could enroll my son in the Boy Scouts both because I want him to benefit from it and because I want to support an organization helping instill positive values and skills in boys. I could even volunteer so that I could personally monitor and ensure that nothing was being taught to him that I didn’t approve of. But even if 100% successful from a personal perspective, this would also generate surplus value that would accrue to the Boy Scouts as an institution. And what are they doing with that value all those fathers and sons spent decades creating? Launching all-girls scouting troops. So if you invested in the Boy Scouts hoping to specifically invest in helping boys, everything you created might ultimately be invested in girls instead. This isn’t a prediction, but it wouldn’t surprise me if down the road the organization currently known as the Boy Scouts becomes majority female. If you are a believer in scouting, that’s great. As I said, it’s very possible for your sons to have a great experience in the Boy Scouts. But the Boy Scouts are Exhibit A when it comes to institutions heading the wrong direction and which I don’t want to contribute to."
In its current inception, the public school system is built on Cesar’s values, which are the opposite of Christ’s. It is not this neutral public square where anyone of any persuasion can go to gain life skills. It is a sectarian institution that aims to initiate it’s charges into a very particular way of being..a competing religion of sorts. As Voddie Baucham says, if you send your children to be educated by Cesar, don’t be surprised if they come back Roman. “Aren’t you a public school teacher?” you ask. “Isn’t that hypocritical?” Great question, and yea a little bit. The boundaries aren’t as clear cut as I’m making them out. More to balance that out below. At the end of the day, though, no it’s not the contradiction you might think, because the way I see it, I’m not spending my energy strengthening the institution. Quite the opposite. I can’t get into the details here so spelling that out will have to be a 1 on 1 conversation, but suffice it to say that is not my goal. “What about all the people in those institutions? Don’t they need the Truth? Don’t they need Jesus? Are you saying we should just abandon them?” I recognize there’s a tension here. We should still have a presence to reach them, and in a way, our ability to have counter-institutions depends on some of those other institutions being at least somewhat friendly to us. Politicians ensuring religious liberty protections and crafting policy that protects our ability to homeschool and make school choices in line with our values are great examples of this. If those arenas are totally abandoned to the woke it will be a lot harder for us to create space for our own communities and institutions. I don’t know exactly how to balance it all. All I’m saying here is that we should wrestle with the question.
10) On the other hand, go Gramscian Antonio Gramsci was an early to mid 20th century Italian philosopher who was key in the early Critical Social Justice movement. He advanced Cultural Marxist thought but recognized that certain ideals in Western culture that prevented Marxism from taking root were normative and hegemonic (that is, dominant). His strategy for tearing this hegemony down and replacing it with his Cultural Marxism has been dubbed “the long march through the institutions” (though he did not coin the phrase himself). I am recommending “going Gramscian” here not in the sense that we become Cultural Marxists ourselves, but that we acknowledge that today it is those very Gramscian ideas themselves that are dominant and hegemonic in our culture--along with, paradoxically, postmodern ideas--and thus Gramsci’s strategy should be turned back against the very thought he sought to entrench in culture. His “long march” has been so successful that it is his ideas that are normative, status quo, and highly entrenched in existing society. The status quo is not neutral, but stands on and reproduces a particular idolatrous narrative that keeps the wheels of Romans 1 rebellion going. Without our own long march, this will continue unabated and existing society will merely reproduce CSJ ideology. That is, we need our own long, patient march, one that will take generations to bear fruit, just as Gramsci’s own long march took decades to bloom. In this respect, we have much to learn from the woke. They are masters at it. Turnabout is fair play, folks. You might think that this point in this blog post doesn’t exactly sit well with the previous one about building counter-institutions, for “going Gramscian” requires an injection into existing organizations and establishments. That is true, but 9 and 10 aren’t so much contradictory as they are held in tension, because everyone has their role. For some their role is to build counter establishments. For others it is to act as insurgence into existing ones. A few can even straddle both strategies. Here’s one way to hold them in tension in one individual: a parent in a certain town homeschools her own children or sends them to a classical Christian school, but she works as an admin or teacher in the local public school district. She has a plan B stream of income and/or an alternative job/vocation etc so that she is not totally financially dependent on her job in the district. Setting up this alternative stream of income might take some time and require a period of austere financial choices for a time to get it going, but it is crucial so that the woke cannot use the threat of termination to get her to fall in line. If she gets terminated it won’t financially devastate her family so she has a degree of freedom to work against the system. Furthermore, rather than working to uphold the status quo, or working as a passive normie who just does her job, does what she is told, and keeps her head down, she actively and consciously works to subvert and resist Critical Social Justice advances in the district (Counter Wokecraft by Charles Pincourt is a great book length roadmap for how to do this) by her presence. In a way, this is exactly what many parents have started doing by their advocacy in school districts across the country in the last 2-3 years. Loudon County, VA is probably the most high profile example, but its happening all over and it has had an effect. In sum, this mom builds counter-institutions with her own family and children and directs her financial resources and giving in the same direction, while playing her role in the “counter long march” in her job. We need folks like her who straddle both--build counter-institutions with their family and finances while doing the counter long march with their job, and we need folks who focus on wholeheartedly build the counter-institutions with both family and job. It takes all kinds. The key is intention: no more normie keeping your head down, going about your day putting in the 9-5, outside the fray. Everyone plays a role--some in fully building counter-institutions, some primarily in the counter-long march, others straddling both to a degree. Think it through, make a plan, and execute the plan with aggressive purpose. It would also be great if churches were to come alongside these people, creating training and teaching that gives them help and guidance in explicitly thinking all this through. That is, we need infrastructure and guidance from the Church for this to be done well--expecting isolated individuals to just do it on their own will ensure that any momentum generated will be short lived and stunted. Maybe trying for both will stretch us too thin. Maybe building both counter-institutions and insurgency into existing institutions on any scale large enough to move the needle is unrealistic. Maybe, maybe not. But one thing is for sure--we don’t have the luxury of sitting this one out. The woke won’t let us do that. They are very clear: you will be made to care, and there is nowhere to hide. Remember, you are in the culture war whether you want to be or not. In a negative world, be actively fighting or get run over.
We cannot just play defense, which is what conservatives have traditionally focused on. A defensive focus is one reason for the sorry state of most seminaries today--back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when liberal progressives infiltrated and then took over many seminaries, they played for keeps, but the conservatives simply left and started their own seminaries. Ok, fair enough, but the lack of offense just meant that eventually, the very seminaries they started were taken over too. Defense only is a recipe for losing. We need offense too.
"Won't going on offense require a presence in these institutions such that you are propping them up at some level?"
Perhaps. I really don't know *exactly* how to square this circle at the end of the day. Consider this at least a call for both professional writers and the average Christian in the pew to commit to rigorously thinking it through, and commit to act. Whether you stay in the Boy Scouts to try to recapture or leave to start counter-institutions, think hard and then execute with intention. Don't just be the nice guy trying to help. Be willing to ruffle feathers.
No more “grill Americans” who just want to be left alone and grill in their backyards. Think hard about how you are going to be active and get going. Is this just a regurgitation of the “faithful presence” model, which hasn’t produced the fruit it promised? No. I am not advocating a presence trying to uphold the existing system. Throw sand in the gears instead. Fewer Francis Collinses and more Charles Pincourts. One more post to go! Conclusion coming up.