Ride along for an aerobatic flight over the beautiful Flat River near Lowell, Michigan.
There is a collective chuckle from the crowd as he stands to speak, and, as they expect, he spouts the same old tripe. They exchange knowing glances and shake their heads, amused by his absurdity. For twenty years, this routine is repeated: His crazy insistence and their incredulous murmurs. But on February 23, 1807, there is another vote, and tears rush down his tired face. The slave trade has been abolished, and he has won.
I thought of this during the local Board of Education meeting the other night. There was, as the saying goes, an elephant in the room. Every seat was filled, more people stood along the walls, and still more watched from outside.
There was a buzz when the time came for public comment. Everyone knew the topic at hand. A few people rose to speak, and they all agreed. A loud clatter of applause followed every speech.
And then another name was called, and the room grew quiet. I heard a chuckle as she stood, and I noticed the grim look on her face as she began the long walk to the podium. She has taken this walk before, and it is always the same. Incredulous murmurs from the audience. Knowing looks and shaking heads. They all know what she will say, and she is quite alone.
Well, she said her piece, and it was a sad piece. The practice that grieves her, that has set her on that lonely walk through an angry room, over and over again, seemed to her audience a small thing, much as slavery once seemed a small thing.
So, how do we know a small thing from a big thing? How do we recognize the crazy insistence that might be telling an unwelcome truth?
We might begin by noticing the personal cost of that lonely walk, the remarkable courage required to stand alone and say what a roomful of people don’t want to hear.
We might also consider the question being asked – in this case, whether school libraries should provide sexually-explicit materials – and decide if the question deserves a hearing.
It is a strange fact that the audience is often louder than the speaker; we tend to hear as a group and respond as a group, with a clear sense of what the group will find acceptable. It takes courage to listen – to really listen – to hear the lonely voice above the offended audience and take a moment to consider what is being said.
I don’t know if Stefanie‘s question will get a hearing, but I hope our community will recognize the courage and sacrifice she demonstrates in continuing to ask it.
William Wilberforce led a long and determined campaign to eliminate slavery in England. For more information, see https://www.britannica.com/biography/William-Wilberforce.
“Vertigo,” said the well-dressed man at the podium, “is a myth.” He faced the camera and paused, raising his finger for emphasis. “For too long, we have clung to outdated ideas about air transport, marginalizing pilot experiences that fall outside the norm.”
I somehow remembered the President had picked a new FAA administrator.
“As this administration has broadened protections and rejected narrow prejudices in other sectors, we intend to do the same for aviation. We have received numerous complaints from pilots alleging criticism and even sanctions against those who, for deeply held personal reasons, cannot fly straight and level.”
“But, sir!” a reporter interrupted. “Isn’t that a requirement to be a good pilot?”
“Good?” the man almost sneered. “What could be good about exclusionary standards? Transhorizontalism is real, and we will not discriminate against members of this valuable community.”
“Well, uh, sure,” the reporter agreed, not wanting to appear intolerant. “But what about the passengers? Is inclusiveness more important than passengers?”
“Passengers must adjust their expectations of pilots to support the greater good.”
“But!…” the reporter sputtered, amazed. “But what about safety? Gravity doesn’t care about our feelings.”
“We will be introducing legislation next week to address that.”
“You think legislation will change gravity?”
“Well, it changed biology, didn’t it? For centuries, people thought there were only two genders. But look how far we’ve come! No, there are many different ideas about gravity, and who’s to say what’s right for everyone? It’s just one more social construct with suspicious ties to Western civilization.”
The reporter, eyes wide, opened his mouth to speak but was suddenly yanked back into the crowd by two burly men at his elbows, and the blare of a warning bell filled the room. Dazed, I considered for a moment the speaker’s soothing words, but the bell was my alarm clock, and I woke.
American culture is moving toward a state of equity, increasingly sensitive to personal injuries and supportive of personal freedoms. Within this culture, there is a shrinking minority that, in some sense, identifies with Jesus Christ. Within that group, there is a still smaller minority that wants to impose the ethical teachings of Jesus upon a secular culture.
This is, at least, the standard narrative regarding culture and Christianity.
The success of this narrative is clear. The role of Christianity in America has never been smaller. When the name of Jesus is invoked in public, it does not typically refer to the historical person, but to a vague modern caricature, rather like Santa Claus.
While these changes are widely described as progress, the story has a few problems. In fact, life in America is not going so well.
Rather than an increase in personal freedoms, we see a strange decline. Our speech is no longer free. Censorship and false reporting are common. Our streets are less safe, and our conversations are less kind. Our leaders are less competent and less truthful, asserting new powers that contradict law and reason.
American culture speaks fondly of freedom but grows steadily less free.
This happens because, contrary to the narrative, our culture is not moving away from religion, but merely replacing one religion with another. American culture is an increasingly jealous and coercive ethical system, imposing itself on everyone within reach. What we call cancel culture is the new evangelism, with its gospel of condemnation, its altar call to submission, and its sacrament of human sacrifice. In the new religion, you might choose the winning side, but you will never be free.
America began with the Christian idea that “all men are created equal,” which provided a foundation for human dignity and freedom. We have descended to the assumption that men are not created and, quite possibly, not men.
If Christians exhibit a peculiar resistance to this culture, it is because culture exhibits a peculiar resistance to Christianity. It does not ignore Christ as a discarded myth but reviles him as an imminent threat.
A man who robs banks might be comprehensible as a non-Christian who at least has some fun. Not so, the doctor who spends his day snuffing out the lives of healthy children, or the angry crowds who celebrate this macabre event. Or the historian whose theories require the rewriting of history. Or the man or woman who thinks all 30 trillion cells in their own body must be mistaken.
The hallmark of contemporary American culture is not progress or even fun, but a shoddy mangling of beautiful things we don’t understand and cannot replace.
Our freedom from Christianity has left us prisoners, for it was our founders’ confidence in God’s authority over powerful men that set common men free – a confidence that even common men are not common. We traded one just and merciful king for an ocean of selfish and incompetent bosses, yet seem surprised by the disappointing result.
American culture is moving away from a state of equity, away from the idea that people have inherent value, and away from the confidence that anything can simply be true and honorable. To the advocates of this new religion, Jesus is no myth. He is an imminent threat, and their hatred for him is evident in their joyless mangling of the world he loves.