Liberals have it exactly backwards. Conservatives engaged in the culture war are not against modernity. We’re against pre-modernity. We’re against returning to a culture that values only science but not spirit, that worships the false god of government, and that thinks that other people can be used for sexual pleasure without love or consequence.
Human beings have already been there. And we don’t want to go back.
The latest liberal to make the argument that religious conservatives are against modernity is Linda Greenhouse in, shocker, the New York Times. Greenhouse writes about the case of Hobby Lobby, the business whose religious freedom case is going to the Supreme Court. Hobby Lobby is a business owned by Christians who object to providing abortifacient contraceptives to their employees as mandated by Obamacare. Seems like an obvious case of religious freedom — after all, Hobby Lobby is not telling employees not to purchase abortion-inducing drugs. They simply don’t want to pay for it.
But then, that would mean that liberals wouldn’t get to tell the rest of us how to behave sexually. And we can’t have that. Because, according to Linda Greenhouse — and Bill Maher and Dan Savage and Michelle Obama et al — that would be a step back to premodern times. It would be a return to the 12th century, or even earlier. As Greenhouse puts it: “This is the culture war redux – a war not on religion or on women but on modernity. All culture wars are that, of course: the old culture in a goal-line stance against a new way of organizing society, a new culture struggling to be born.”
But this is not a new culture struggling to be born. It is a very old culture, in fact an ancient culture, struggling to be reborn. In his great encyclical God is Love, Pope Benedict notes that, contra the philosopher Nietzsche and his anti-Christian offspring at the New York Times and the rest of the liberal media, Christianity did nothing to destroy eros. In fact Christianity redeemed it. Benedict observes that the Greeks “considered eros principally as a kind of intoxication, the overpowering of reason by a ‘divine madness’ which tears man away from his finite existence and enables him, in the very process of being overwhelmed by divine power, to experience supreme happiness. All other powers in heaven and on earth thus appear secondary.” Then Benedict writes the following:
But it in no way [did Christianity] reject eros as such; rather, it declared war on a warped and destructive form of it, because this counterfeit divinization of eros actually strips it of its dignity and dehumanizes it. Indeed, the prostitutes in the [Greek] temple, who had to bestow this divine intoxication, were not treated as human beings and persons, but simply used as a means of arousing “divine madness”: far from being goddesses, they were human persons being exploited. An intoxicated and undisciplined eros, then, is not an ascent in “ecstasy” towards the Divine, but a fall, a degradation of man. Evidently, eros needs to be disciplined and purified if it is to provide not just fleeting pleasure, but a certain foretaste of the pinnacle of our existence, of that beatitude for which our whole being yearns.
The entire canon of Dan Savage dispatched in one paragraph.
What conservatives fear, with good reason, is happening in American and Western culture is a return to pre-modernism. It’s like horror movies, from “The Exorcist” to “Ghostbusters,” where the demon is in fact an ancient, even primordial, force. It’s the evil that is ancient. The people battling that evil are the ones who are new.
George Orwell once used a vivid image to depict what happens to once civilized societies that reject the core elements that helped make their civilization possible in the first place: they are like a person sitting high up in a tree, sawing away at the branch they are sitting on. Ultimately they fall back to the place they started. The Hobby Lobby case, as with so many other culture war battles, is not about sexless conservatives trying to hold back the modern world. It’s about trying to hold back a world that history has already lived through — a world of pederasty, prostitution, false gods, and the will to power.
I’m got going back, at least not without a fight. Christianity revolutionized the world. By preaching morality, a properly understood concept of love, and the primacy of loving a God who is not just love and mercy but ultimate justice, a great civilization rose. It gave us great architecture, philosophy, books, music, the United States of America, universities, the dignity of women, stable families, the civil rights movement, and U2. It destroyed the old temple, where it was the official law of the state that people could be used sexually, treated as objects, and discarded in the name of fleeting pleasure. It was a place without grace, real happiness, God or genuine love. Hobby Lobby and those of us on their side have no interest in helping to rebuild that evil place.