Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Contra Mundum

“If we take the widest and wisest view of a Cause, there is no such thing as a Lost Cause, because there is no such thing as a Gained Cause.  We fight for lost causes because we know our defeat and dismay may be the preface to our successors’ victory, though that victory itself will be temporary; we fight rather to keep something alive than in the expectation that it will triumph.”
I think the larger cultural battle is mostly lost to us, for a season. It’s been several years now since I looked at most political battles and felt like I had a dog in the fight. I believe that politics are downstream of culture, though certainly (particularly in our media-drenched age) it’s an iterative process; consequently, I believe that while we can and should stem the tide of decay and destruction through political means wherever possible, the battles ultimately have to be fought at the individual level to have any real impact in the long run.
The only approach I feel I can take, then, is to be an unapologetic champion of truth and virtue, offering no equivocation or justification for sin or wickedness in the service of a larger good. One thing the War in Heaven teaches us is that there is no route to virtuous ends via wicked means; the wicked means will be destructive of the very end we claim to seek. We are living in a fallen and imperfect world, and we cannot and should not expect perfection from anyone. But neither should we justify malice, dishonesty, or intentional provocation of contention in order to manipulate outcomes, simply because the individual(s) indulging such wickedness are pushing for policies that are more desirable than their opponents’. Making a sound argument for a principle or policy in which you believe may have the unintended but unavoidable consequence of making those who disagree with you angry.  But their anger should not be your goal, and, if your heart is in the right place, it should give you no pleasure.
The Lord makes explicitly clear that contention is not a tool he endorses: “he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another. . .this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine: that such things should be done away”.  It is one thing to occasionally give in to the temptation for anger or to act out contentiously in battles where the other side is gleeful in their abuse of you or the things you hold dear; such a reaction is understandable, but it is not right.  I can never throw my support behind those who use contention frequently and intentionally, gleefully stirring up the hearts of men to anger and conflict, as one of their primary political tools.   
The Lord has at times ordered his people into battle, to protect their “homes and their liberties, their wives and their children, and their all, yea, for their rites of worship and their church”; but he also quickly rebuked any who delighted in bloodshed. Holding firm to principles we love will inevitably invite challenge and conflict, and there are very real and insidious actors against liberty and goodness busy about their work, but how we fight those battles matters. Delighting in contention–and its inherently destructive, corrupting nature–is much like delighting in spiritual and emotional bloodshed.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Their moment of truth before King Nebuchadnezzar came as their people were gaining some power and influence in his court. Daniel had recently interpreted a dream for the King, a dream in which he saw a stone cut from the mountain without hands, which grew and filled the whole earth. The interpretation is one we should remember in these times of trouble, which are likely to grow increasingly troublesome in the coming years: the stone was the Kingdom of God, rolling forward and filling the whole earth. No unhallowed hand can stop that work.  Yet shortly after that revelation, three young men refused the King’s order to worship his golden idols.  They believed in God.  They believed they had a responsibility to stand up for what they knew to be good and true, and to refuse to give quarter to that which was not, no matter the temporal consequences. Their choice was binary: worship the idol, or be thrown in a furnace to burn alive. The temporal consequence of refusing to compromise their principles was steep; the flames were real. 
The choice appeared binary, and disastrous.  But they made it clear that they would do what they knew to be right, and trust the consequences to the Lord–that if they did burn, they believed that they would be in the Lord’s hands. And somehow, the consequencesweren’t binary: they did not worship the idol, and they did not burn.  
We have, I think, fallen prey to the temptation to make winning–temporal, political winning–our idol.  We have rationalized away, justified, overlooked things that we should not, because it seemed the most reasonable, pragmatic thing to do–no one is perfect, we have to be realistic, we have to live to fight another day, to give good things a chance of survival.  And the temporal consequences that may await us are no less real–and are likely to be no less severe, at some point–than the flames faced by those three young men many thousands of years ago.  The choice is binary, we tell ourselves.  And it is. The choice is always binary, but sometimes we’re not accurately identifying what the two options are.  Will we be humble servants of truth or will we not?  Do we believe that the Kingdom of God will roll forth and fill the earth or don’t we?  Do we trust that, no matter what happens to us, we are in the Lord’s hands?  Or don’t we?
I not only think that the costs of temporal, secular losses are likely to be painful and steep, based on revelation of how things go from here, I expect it. I don’t think that means we give up and abandon the political or secular realms (there is no wilderness left to flee to).  But I think it makes it that much more essential that we keep ourselves as unspotted from the world as possible.  Those who have ears to hear will be more likely to trust that we are someone worth listening to; and that is our greatest hope for turning the tide.
If by taking this approach all I manage to accomplish is to be a speed bump for dishonesty or a stumbling block for contention, I will wear those bruises with contentment. It may be that the best thing one can do at this point is to be an unyielding stone of virtue in a river of wickedness.  The work has ever been moved forward by faithful people who refused to abandon that which was plain and precious, doing the small and simple things that bring about great things.  If the world is against truth, against honor, against virtue, then I am against the world.