Popular libertarian You Tuber Stefan Molyneux argues with all his rhetorical might that “Free Speech is All That Matters”.
I balk at his insistence. I don’t like the way he puts that. While I find his supporting arguments for this persuasive and important when it comes to politics, overall I wonder about the implications of such words, such devotion. It almost sounds religious to me. Molyneux talks about the importance of humility and self-doubt, but of this he is certain!
Why the intensity of such conviction? In a related comment, Rachel Fulton Brown, University of Chicago professor, interestingly argues that:
“….the freedom of speech enshrined in our national culture was established first and foremost as a freedom to wrestle with religion. Freedom of speech means little without this religious content, which is why cries for contentless “free speech” are so vacuous.”
Versus Molyneux, I would argue that it is only in cultures influenced by Christianity that you get the fruits he so treasures.
So where is the West, guided thusfar by Christian rails, going? Will speech remain free? Is the artistic expression of a florist speech that should be protected, and not extracted as a mere product to be sold? Should local practices of “Christian-only prayer” at public meetings be ruled unconstitutional? (see yesterday’s unanimous decision at the Washington state Supreme Court and the decision by a federal appeals court) Will Christians remain free not only to believe what they want, but to speak their faith in the public square? To practice it not only on Sundays, but in public? What of their schools and universities?
And should we, like the Apostle Paul, insist on our rights by fighting politically – at least to some degree? Or by withdrawing in the hope of being strengthened to “give an answer for the hope that we have” when the world if finally ready to hear – and believe – again? This brings us to the ideas of Rod Dreher, the cultural observer at the American Conservative and a thoughtful Eastern Orthodox Christian. A few days ago, the well-known Christian commentator Albert Mohler had Rod Dreher on his show Thinking in Public to talk about Dreher’s new book The Benedict Option.
It was a fascinating and informative conversation, and one which I would recommend to everyone (I first talked about Dreher’s “Benedict Option” a couples years ago here).
The conversation between the two men ended with the following exchange, always a bit biting for folks like me (I need to hear it though!):
DREHER: …The Lord gave me a second chance, and I would have all your listeners realize that if they’ve got their heads buried in books–I love books, I write books–but it’s no substitute for the life of prayer and service.
MOHLER: Well, a classical historic Protestant can only say amen to that. Thank you, Rod, for this conversation; I’m deeply indebted to you.
That said, earlier in the conversation both men had clearly dealt with the importance of doctrine (note my bold in particular):
MOHLER: I read the articles that you wrote in the beginning, frankly I follow your column very closely at the American Conservative, and we’ve been watching you make this argument out loud for some time. And reading the book, it seems to me it’s significantly different than what I might have expected in terms of some your early articles on the Benedict Option, so let me just spell that out. You began by saying you’re not calling for us to head for the hills—you just used an illustration of heading for the hills—and as I look at those early articles in the American Conservative, it did appear you were calling, more or less—and those are of course partial arguments, just a few hundred words—but it appears you were calling to head for the hills. Nuance that a bit in terms of where you are in the book.
DREHER: I appreciate the chance to clarify this, and in fact my own thinking has been clarified through exchanges with my readers, through talking with Catholics and evangelical friends, and sort of working through these ideas. When people hear, “Head for the hills,” they think, you know, to light out for the mountains and build a compound and sit there and wait for the end. I don’t think we’re called to that. I know I’m not called to that; most people aren’t called to that. But it does mean doing what these monks in Norcia did initially. They were living right there in the town, but they were behind monastery walls. What does that mean for us? It means as lay Christians, we have to build some kind of walls to separate ourselves from the world so that we can continue to go out into the world and minister to people and be who Christ asked us to be. The culture itself is so toxic and so anti-Christian that we’re just not going to be able to make it if we let anybody and anything come into our hearts, into our imaginations. The monks in Norcia say, “We’re called to be monks, but we cannot be for the pilgrims who come to this monastery what Christ asked us to be if we don’t have that time away behind our walls for prayer and study and work.” I want to take that ethic and take it to lay Christian life. We need to have, for example, Christian schools. Not to shelter our kids from any bad idea that comes from the outside, but in order for them to be nurtured and to build that resilience within so when they do get out into the world, they know who they are, they know what they believe and why they believe it. And more importantly, they have participated and built practices necessary to live out this faith and to get the faith in their bones. Because if the faith is only in your head, if it’s only a series of arguments, you’re not going to make it.
MOHLER: You talk about a conversation, rather haunting actually, at a Christian university or college campus where the professors were telling you that so many Christian young people come, and even though they basically hold to some knowledge, genuine knowledge, of Christianity, it’s so superficial that it tends not even to last very long inside what’s defined as a Christian college and university.
DREHER: That’s true. I mean, the situation is horrible with Catholics, but this conversation you’re recalling was on an evangelical campus and the professors were saying, “We try our best; we can only have these kids for four years.” And these are all kids who came out of evangelical schools and evangelical churches. But this is the youth group culture. All it gave them was emotion and having fun. And one of these professors even said to me, “You know, I doubt that most of our kids are going to be able to form stable families.” That shocked me. I said, “Why’s that?” He said, “Because they’ve never seen it.”
MOHLER: I thought in reading that, once again, place still matters a great deal—and I mean place not just in terms of geography, but that and social context and social placement—because I think of the students at our school and I think the vast majority of them did see an intact family It was still close enough to them, if they didn’t come from it, then they saw it. But even in talking with students, you realize in concentric rings of their relationships, you get just one ring out, and then not to mention two or three rings out, and it’s very hard to find. And I think that’s so well documented in something like J.D. Vance’s work now. Where once you would have thought that respect for family and a traditional Christian morality and sexuality and all of that would’ve been taken for granted, it’s now hard to find on the ground….
I do not fully share Rod Dreher’s attitude when it comes to how we as Christians should engage the culture. That said, I can certainly say “Amen” to this exchange above. Because, to ape Molyneux, Jesus Christ is all that matters.
When I look back at my own life, I have no idea why I am as ferociously Christian – Lutheran – as I am. Not everyone in my family has kept the faith I hold on to. I think, however, that one thing that was very helpful for me was learning about the history of the Lutheran Church. I am thankful that I learned the content of Martin Luther’s Small Catechism as a child, but the importance of the words found therein really changed for me when I learned about the 1580 Book of Concord, otherwise known as the Lutheran Confessions (not even reading Martin Luther’s Large Catechism in college really helped me like this did).
Actually, not even that is the full truth. More accurately, the Small Catechism became much more important to me after I learned about the history of the church that produced the Lutheran Confessions. For me, getting in touch with the living history underlying the doctrines in the Book of Concord was essential. As the Reformed commentator Michael Horton likes to put it, “the doctrine is in the drama”. One notes that this is definitely the case for the church’s book, the Bible. We are creatures who hunger not just for “propositional truths,” but the meaningful stories that help situate the important things we should know.
To that effect, I can’t help but recommend some of the podcasts Pastor Jordan Cooper has been doing on his show lately where he digs into the Lutheran Confessions, giving a good deal of background knowledge along the way. The Small Catechism does indeed cover the core elements of the Christian faith, and we can never get to the bottom of the truths it contains. That said, as we mature and look to get our bearings in life, I think that knowing more about Bible, church history, and the history of the Reformation is critical in these last days to ground us in the faith.
(I’d also be remiss to point out that the fine show Issues ETC. also has done many excellent shows on the Book of Concord).
And that, I think, can’t not be good for any nation, including ours.
Images: Molyneux picture from Wikipedia Commons: “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license” ; Pastor Matthew Harrison with BOC from http://mercyjourney.blogspot.com/2009/04/minnie-me-book-of-concord.html