I haven’t read a single word of Stephen Wolfe’s new book The Case for Christian Nationalism – unless you count the back cover. But I have had pretty good seats up here in the nosebleed section of the world wide stadium and I’ve been watching the conversations, blood sport, and what shall we call it, world cup theatrics? running apace. And here I am to add my three cents.
I’ll begin with the overarching point I’d like to make, proceed to throw a few rocks in various directions, and then tie it all off with a nice rhetorical bow.
I’ve seen not a few folks taking Wolfe’s book to task for being so dern Thomistic. In fact, when I watched the sit down conversation Wolfe had with Douglas Wilson introducing his book on Christian Nationalism my initial thought was that Wolfe is a real life, flesh and blood Christian Platonist. It boggled my mind, in an exciting sort of way. Because I thought those were all extinct. But there was a real one sitting there talking about the highest good and ends and all that. I guess technically, he must be more Aristotelian, since as I understand it, that was Thomas Aquinas’s primary classical muse. But regardless, the thrill hasn’t really died down.
At any rate, not a few critics have wondered what in the blue blazes a thoroughly Vantillian, Kuyperian outfit like Canon Press could possibly be doing hooking up with a blue haired chick like that. My metaphors may have gotten carried away, but hopefully my point is clear. Moscow has been internationally identified as something of a successful Reconstructionist project. Christ Church and New St. Andrews College and many of the related projects are direct offshoots of the influences of Van Til, Rushdoony, Francis Shaefer, Greg Bahnsen, John Frame, etc. One of the themes of much of their work has been the demolition of unbiblical dualisms: sacred vs. secular, material vs. spiritual, political vs. religious, etc. Nothing is neutral. Christ is Lord of all. Worship is warfare. And not a little suspicion of Greek metaphysics.
And again, I say, not a few folks have cocked their heads slightly to the left as if listening for a distant screech owl, scratched the side of their head, and wondered out loud whether there has been some kind of mistake. Why would Douglas Wilson, Vantillian to his back molars, find a Thomistic, natural law defense of Christian Nationalism helpful, edifying, or worthwhile?
OK, that took a few more paragraphs to set up than I originally anticipated, but here’s my thesis: Clive Staples Lewis.
There you go.
Just zings you right in the forehead doesn’t it. You’ve got that woozy Goliath feeling in your legs, don’t you? Don’t worry. No one is going to be stealing your sword and decapitating you. We promise to wake you up shortly.
Alright. Ready to go? What I was saying is C.S. Lewis is the key to understanding why a thoroughly Kuyperian community like Moscow would find a Thomistic natural law defense of Christian Nationalism helpful.
As Dr. Kirke might say to some of our interlocutors: “It’s all in Lewis, all in Lewis: bless me, what do they teach them at these schools?”
Which, if you recall your Chronicles, in The Last Battle, is Kirke’s comment regarding Plato and the fact that the real and best Narnia is what we might call the eschatological Narnia, the Narnia that is further up and further in. The notion that anything good in this world must answer to its highest, perfected version or highest good comes from Plato, Aristotle, et al. Now before sketching why I think Lewis is the answer to the question about why our community might have a measure of appreciation for Wolfe’s book, let me share my heart on some of the recent doings on the interwebs regarding Wolfe, his friend Thomas Achord, Alastair Roberts, and company and that little firestorm.
Now for a Few Rocks
Douglas Wilson has already pointed out what seems to be a screaming double standard on the part of those who justly tarred and pilloried Thomas Achord, erstwhile podcast cohost with Stephen Wolfe, for running a pseudonymous Twitter account with enough racial filth and bile for a mosh pit at Woodstock. The problem, in my opinion, was not people publicly pointing this out. It was a public account. Thomas Achord was Stephen Wolfe’s cohost on a public podcast, and The Case for Christian Nationalism is right out there in public for all to see. If you want to play with the big boys, you need to put your big boy pants on. I also agree with critics who have pointed out that Achord’s apology was lame and sub-Christian, and while I respect Wolfe standing by his friend, I wish he would have been a better friend by insisting that Achord speak more clearly into the microphone, taking full responsibility for his actions, whatever other factors may have been in play.
The problem was not pointing out confused and twisted sentiments on an obscure Twitter account. No, the problem is what was driving the attacks. And I’m not talking about personal animus. As far as I know Alastair Roberts and company have clean consciences and simply did what they did because they thought it was the right thing to do. I have no reason to doubt Roberts’ own description of why he did what he did (concern for the branding of Christian Nationalism and keeping it far from racialists). No, the problem is embedded in the double standard that Doug Wilson has pointed out. The problem is that everyone is acting as though racial sin is the nuclear bomb while acting like sexual sin is a difference of opinion.
I’m repeating Doug’s point, but I want to jump up and down on the point and launch a few Roman Candles and try to draw a crowd. Alastair Roberts has the luxury of sharing a podcast with Matt Anderson who is on the board of Revoice. You know, the Revoice of “supporting and encouraging sexual minorities so they can flourish in historic Christian traditions.” Revoice of Greg Johnson fame. Revoice of “What Queer Treasure will be in the New Jerusalem?” infamy. That Revoice. Now, Roberts has voiced his opinion publicly that he disagrees with Revoice. He is very much not fine with that mission or organization. OK, fine. But let’s do a little thought experiment. What if it came out that Thomas Achord was on the board of a Kinist organization? Let’s call it ReKindle (get it?). And let’s say ReKindle’s mission statement is to “support and encourage white separatist Christians so they can flourish in historic Christian traditions.” Would it be just as well for Stephen Wolfe to say, well of course I disagree with that, now let’s carry on talking about Christian Nationalism?
Or the same thing has been pointed out regarding Matt Anderson’s Mere Orthodoxy blog and writer Tara Isabella Burton and her Lesbian erotica book Social Creature. On the one hand, there is the simple double standard, but the fact that many have a hard time even caring about the double standard reveals the more profound point. What is driving the attacks is an alien and profoundly pagan worldview. My point is not to accuse any particular person of embracing this worldview consciously; my point is the proxy war being waged at the tectonic plate level. This is not merely a case of sin being revealed in somebody’s life. No problem with that at all. No, this is a case of sin being revealed by a troupe of folks who are casually getting drinks with the enemies of our civilization. Again, I have no problem with sin being pointed out, even by full-throated enemies, but to the extent that Alastair Roberts has openly said that he’s personally concerned about all of this because he cares about the branding and trajectory of the Christian Nationalism project, we need to be clear that Roberts must not be allowed anywhere close to the steering wheel.
All racial prejudice, vainglory, pride, and animosity is sinful and will burn in Hell forever. And to Hell with the soft forms of it in Kinism. But Jesus has some words for those who strain out gnats while swallowing camels. And that wasn’t Jesus giving gnats a pass. Despite the fact that Neil Shenvi’s pastor infamously insisted that God only whispers about sexual sin but shouts about other sins, the Bible is actually profoundly clear that sexual perversion is an abomination, the kind of sin that gets into the water supply, kills all the fish, and gives the next three generations in town birth defects.
The Bible is very clear that all hatred and pride is also sin, and God judges nations for those sins as well. But the Bible shouts that sexual perversion is a nuclear waste site, a veritable Chernobyl. But Alastair Roberts is fine doing a podcast with a notorious supporter of soft sexual perversion. No doubt, Roberts honestly, sincerely disagrees with Anderson. But what is absolutely clear is that Roberts doesn’t think that the kind of error Anderson is involved in is of the same toxicity-levels as the confused bigotry of Thomas Achord’s Twitter account with 20-some followers. It is clear that Roberts does not believe that a nationally renowned conference celebrating flirtation with toxic perversion is nearly as soul-destroying or brand-degrading as a small town Christian school headmaster saying troubling things anonymously. Again, my point is not that Roberts didn’t have any reasonable questions, my point is that Roberts clearly doesn’t believe that Anderson is doing for his scholarship what he claims he’s afraid Achord (and by the connection) Wolfe may be doing to Christian Nationalism.
Roberts is perfectly fine with being adjacent to the national movement that has been threatening the orthodoxy of the PCA and many other conservatives, but is quite concerned about the face of Christian Nationalism being adjacent to (checks notes) a rancid twitter account with 20 followers and what Stephen Wolfe might be thinking in his heart of hearts. We have Revoicers holding conferences telling us exactly what they think out loud about their confused sexual identities, Greg Johnson saying he’s “gay” in Christianity Today, but even though Wolfe has repeatedly denied tying natural affection to blood or genes or biology, he’s the real concern?
Conclusion: What Do They Teach?
And this brings us full circle to C.S. Lewis. And what, you may be wondering, do those rocks I just chucked, have to do with Lewis? Well, as the Apostle Paul might say, much in every way.
To begin with, simply on structural grounds, Lewis was definitely very comfortable in the scholastic, Thomistic, and medieval worldview. His Abolition of Man is certainly a defense of natural law. And at the same time, Lewis was way more Vantillian than he knew. He rejected the naturalists and materialists early on in Miracles because he realized that unless intelligence preceded nature, you could not reason from irrationality and chaos to rationality and intelligence. He pointed out that that you actually couldn’t reason at all. This is a sort of intelligent design presuppositionalism, or deconstructive presuppositionalism. Unless you presuppose an original, foundational order and coherence, an ultimate, transcendent standard, it’s completely irrational to reason at all. This is Lewis’s version of there is no neutrality. You cannot go anywhere in this cosmos and presuppose not-God and then reason anywhere intelligent. For Lewis, the Tao exists because there is an Intelligence behind the world (even if I think he was a bit too optimistic about human nature on this point).
But the primary way that Lewis acts as a bridge of sorts is in his insistence on consistency. Lewis had his own blind spots and inconsistencies, but not for lack of trying to avoid it. He was remarkably consistent in his thought, concerned to apply as one writer has said, what he thought about everything in what he said about anything. And this is the point for Alastair Roberts and company to consider: what is the consistent standard you are appealing to? No doubt the answer will come back “the Christian Scriptures and tradition,” but then we really must have this conversation about playing footsie with homosexuality. It is not a tu quoque fallacy to ask for the ground rules. It is not a tu quoque fallacy to ask for the rule book. Or as Van Til and Rushdoony taught us to ask: “By what standard?”
Lewis said in Screwtape Letters: “The game is to have them all running about with fire extinguishers when there is a flood, and all crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gunwale under.” Now as it happens, I’m happy to admit that a fire has broken out in some parts, with some so-called conservatives abandoning their principles and embracing their own brand of racialist identity politics, antisemitism, etc. But the flood in our land has been and continues to be sexual perversion and debauchery. We are gunwale under in sexual perversion.
The Senate just passed a Disrespect for Marriage Act, attempting to couple sodomite marriage with interracial marriage, as if those are remotely similar concerns, and at best, we might assume that Roberts and company would nod sagely regarding these twin threats to society. But in reality, the flood is an LGBT+ jihad; the flood is children being chemically castrated and mutilated and groomed for exploitation by Drag Queens and sex ed curricula and in many so-called conservative Christian churches Revoicers. And for all of Rod Dreher’s concerns about sexual exploitation and abuse in the church, his radar seems to be a bit busted. Where are the KKK rallies? Where are the serious (note: I said “serious”) contemplations of white supremacy or separatism in any halls of political or cultural power. At best you can point to Kanye melting down on Twitter or Alex Jones and obscure Twitter or QAnon accounts. OK, now who’s warming conservative Christians up to sexual confusion in the PCA and SBC?
If Stephen Wolfe says that what he is arguing for from a natural law, Reformed-Thomistic framework is building something much closer to what theonomists and Vantillians are praying and working for, why wouldn’t we be grateful and receptive of the conversation? If Wolfe is aiming at the idols of our day: feminism, egalitarianism, and sexual paganism, then we have a ton of common ground, especially when some of his fiercest critics do not appear to see how they have made peace with the enemy’s shock troops.