Standing Athwart the Culture Yelling “Stop!”

What is left to say about our president that I already haven’t said in this blog? I’ve done my best to be honest and forthright about his radicalism, both culturally and politically, yet I don’t feel I can stop and say, “Well, that about covers it; on to the next topic.”

Actually, I do make a conscious effort not to make Obama the subject each day, but he keeps on doing things that force me to focus on him again. His choices for when to interject himself into the news, for instance, are always worthy of comment:

Obama Speaks Out

And we would all be hearing a whole lot more all the time about his many attempts to destroy political enemies, if not for the connivance of the press corps to avoid mentioning such embarrassing episodes:

Confidentiality

Richard Nixon was an amateur in these matters compared to Obama, yet the former was driven from office while the latter gets virtually no pressure from those who like to call themselves the “watchdogs” over politicians. They’re more like well-trained poodles.

The latest fiasco is also the most dangerous and foolish, simultaneously—the pending deal with Iran.

Have you noticed that Obama seems to have less difficulty working with terrorists who continue to chant “Death to America” even while he’s speaking with them than with Republicans in Congress?

Finally

Then, when one member of the press goes off the rails and actually questions Obama’s lack of concern for the American hostages who are still being held by Iran, he becomes sarcastic and does his best to demean the reporter publicly. No one likes to have a complete “cave” pointed out:

Keep the Hostages

The only place where there is any rejoicing over this “deal” is in Iran:

Hard Bargain

The ultimate insult to the Congress is that the deal is going to be presented to the United Nations first, to get its approval to lift all sanctions. This is just another example of Obama’s utter contempt for America’s Constitution. He’s a Citizen of the World in his heart, not the United States.

So why do I continue to write about our president? Even if it does no good, there needs to be an ongoing witness to the truth.

I’m reminded of a conversation William F. Buckley had with Whittaker Chambers back in the mid-1950s when he was trying to bring Chambers aboard as a contributor to his new magazine National Review. Here’s how Buckley described what transpired in that talk:

Whittaker Chambers 1A year before National Review was founded, I spent an evening with Whittaker Chambers, and he asked me, half provocatively, half seriously, what exactly it was that my prospective journal would seek to save.

I trotted out a few platitudes of the sort one might expect from a twenty-eight-year-old fogy, about the virtues of a free society. He wrestled with me by obtruding the dark historicism for which he had become renowned. Don’t you see? he said. The West is doomed, so that any effort to save it is correspondingly doomed to failure. . . .

But that night, challenged by his pessimism, I said to him that if it were so that providence had rung up our license on liberty, stamping it as expired, the Republic deserved a journal that would argue the historical and moral case that we ought to have survived: that, weighing the alternative, the culture of liberty deserves to survive.

So that even if the worst were to happen, the journal in which I hoped he would collaborate might serve, so to speak, as the diaries of Anne Frank had served, as absolute, dispositive proof that she should have survived, in place of her tormentors—who ultimately perished. In due course that argument prevailed, and Chambers joined the staff.

Even if, ultimately, we don’t win the argument with the culture, it is imperative that the argument be made. For me, it’s a matter of being faithful to what God has called me to be—one of those voices standing athwart the culture yelling “Stop!”

Only when there are enough voices doing so, and enough courageous individuals who will act on what they are saying, will we have any hope of successfully challenging the spirit of this age.

Whittaker Chambers: Conservatism or Counterrevolution?

Chambers at DeskThe year: 1938. The occasion: a meeting between Whittaker Chambers, who had, at great peril, left the American communist underground, and General Walter Krivitsky, a defector from Stalin’s secret police. This meeting was instrumental in helping Chambers decide to inform on his former underground associates, and eventually led to the front-page drama of the Chambers-Hiss controversy from 1948-1950.

Chambers was hesitant to talk with Krivitsky. He knew it might lead to that fateful decision that would change the rest of his life, bringing untold misery and anguish to his family and destroying his budding career as a writer for Time magazine. He reluctantly agreed to the meeting, and it became a pivotal event in his life.

Krivitsky challenged Chambers to take a stand against the forces of the communist revolution. As Chambers relates in his classic autobiography Witness, “Krivitsky said one or two things that were to take root in my mind and deeply to influence my conduct, for they seemed to correspond to the reality of my position.” Chambers focuses on one in particular—Krivitsky’s contention that, in the struggle taking place between totalitarianism and liberty, there are only revolutionists and counterrevolutionists.

Victory against the communists/fascists/totalitarians, Chambers concluded, will only come via an active counterrevolution, not through a passive conservatism. Here’s how he phrased it:

WitnessCounterrevolution and conservatism have little in common. In the struggle against Communism the conservative is all but helpless. For that struggle cannot be fought, much less won, or even understood, except in terms of total sacrifice. And the conservative is suspicious of sacrifice; he wishes first to conserve, above all what he is and what he has. You cannot fight against revolutions so.

There is much wisdom in those comments. “Conservative” is a fluid term. I can say I am a conservative because I want to maintain the original spirit and letter of the Constitution and America’s founding principles. A Russian conservative, on the other hand, would want to conserve the old Soviet ways.

Chambers’s words still apply today. We may not be faced with an external Soviet Union, but the totalitarian spirit remains. “Fascism,” Chambers explained, “is inherent in every collectivist form.” Modern liberalism/progressivism is a form of fascism due to its inherent desire to make everyone conform to its tenets.

This is why Christians are told they must accept the cultural revolution that heralds abortion on demand, same-sex marriage, and the withdrawal of Christian faith to within the walls of an external structure that the world calls “the church.”

But the church is not an external structure. It is the aggregate of all true believers who have been told by their Lord to take the faith into all areas of society. If we are passive, if we allow the society to lurch toward moral depravity without a counterbalancing message and the courage to proclaim that message, we are no more than timid conservatives who seek to retain what we have.

God has called us to more than that. We are the new counterrevolutionaries. We are the ones with the message of life. We are accountable for how we spread that message to our society.

Whittaker Chambers 1Whittaker Chambers did what he had to do in his day, and he suffered for it. Yet what he did was essential to the preservation of liberty and the recognition of Western civilization’s debt to the Christian faith.

Chambers instructs us that this battle “can be fought only by the force of an intelligence, a faith, a courage, a self-sacrifice, which must equal the revolutionary spirit” of the enemies of Christian faith and liberty.

Will we go forward in our day with the same courage Chambers exhibited? If we do, be assured there will be suffering. Yet action on our part is absolutely essential if we hope to turn the tide.

The Lewis-Chambers Missed Opportunity

Another of C. S. Lewis’s regular American correspondents was Mary Van Deusen, someone with whom he shared thoughts on deep theological issues and on current events. One of her chief concerns, in the early 1950s, was the knowledge of how communists had infiltrated the American government. In one response to her, Lewis talked about how that issue showcased one problem with the modern concept of democracy:

C. S. Lewis 6Your question about Communists-in-government really raises the whole problem of Democracy. If one accepts the basic principle of Govt. by majorities, how can one consistently try to suppress those problems of public propaganda and getting-into-govt, by which majorities are formed. If the Communists in this country can persuade the majority to sell in to Russia, or even to set up devil-worship and human sacrifice, what is the democratic reply?

When we said “Govt. by the people” did we only mean “as long as we don’t disagree with the people too much”? And is it much good talking about “loyalty.” For on strictly democratic principles I suppose loyalty is obligatory (or even lawful) only so long as the majority want it. I don’t know the answer.

But of one thing he was certain: “Of course there is no question of its being our duty (the minority’s duty) to obey an anti-God govt. if the majority sets it up. We shall have to disobey and be martyred. Perhaps pure democracy is really a false ideal.”

WitnessJust a few months before this response, Van Deusen had encouraged Lewis to get the book Witness by Whittaker Chambers, who had been an underground communist agent in the 1930s, but who had then turned his back on communism and found God. As a senior editor for Time magazine, Chambers had even referenced Lewis in an essay he wrote called “The Devil.” As one reads that essay today, one can see the connection with The Screwtape Letters.

Chambers’s book that Van Deusen wanted Lewis to read was a bestseller in 1952, as it exposed not only the communist underground, but positively pointed to the need for Western civilization to return to its Christian foundations. Many have described Witness as one of the most elegantly written autobiographies of the century, and I agree with that conclusion.

When Van Deusen suggested he get the book, Lewis merely answered, “I’m afraid I can’t find a W. Chambers book. It’s better not to send the book. They all get lost in the pile on my table.” This could be one of the great lost opportunities of the twentieth century. One would have loved to know Lewis’s response to that book, which, although written as an autobiography, is a wordsmith’s delight. But it was not to be.

Our Executioner Awaits

As I continued to follow the news yesterday of the search for the Islamic terrorists in France, I wish I could say I was stunned by revelations of Western cluelessness. Unfortunately, I was not.

Imitating President Obama, we now have a multitude of voices saying that Islamic terrorists are not really Islamic. And a chorus is arising—the same chorus we’ve heard on and off since 9/11—fearful that Americans will now persecute peace-loving Muslims in our midst.

That “boy-cried-wolf” scenario, if it had any validity at all, would have occurred in those days following 9/11, but it never has.

Our mainstream media, fearful of being attacked themselves, pull back from associating this latest atrocity with Islam. They still think there can be peaceful co-existence, if only we play nice.

Whittaker ChambersListening to all this vacuous thinking reminded me of a quote from Whittaker Chambers in his book Witness. Reflecting on his world in 1925—a world unaware of the Communist threat it faced—he penned these words that could equally apply today in our time of peril:

The dying world of 1925 was without faith, hope, character, understanding of its malady or will to overcome it. It was dying but it laughed. And this laughter was not the defiance of a vigor that refuses to know when it is whipped. It was the loss, by the mind of a whole civilization, of the power to distinguish between reality and unreality, because, ultimately, though I did not know it, it had lost the power to distinguish between good and evil.… The dying world had no answer at all to the crisis of the 20th century, and, when it was mentioned, and every moral voice in the Western world was shrilling crisis, it cocked an ear of complacent deafness and smiled a smile of blank senility—throughout history, the smile of those for whom the executioner waits.

Scary words to me. Scary because they ring so true in the 21st century also. What has happened to Western culture? It has lost its Christian underpinnings. Keen analysis is rare due to our rejection of truth. We are dying, but we laugh. We have lost the power to distinguish reality from unreality because we have lost clear concepts of good and evil that come from the Biblical worldview.

Our elites, whether in government, the media, or academia, have no answers. We are in a crisis that they refuse to acknowledge. The few—the Christian few, and others who retain the Christian framework in their thinking—point to the crisis, but complacent deafness and the smile of blank senility is the only response. Our executioner awaits, if we don’t return to our roots.

A political cartoon yesterday sums up our plight:

None So Blind

Whittaker Chambers & Psalm 91

Chambers Testifying at HUACWhen Whittaker Chambers was making his testimony against Alger Hiss, his former associate in the communist underground, the stress of the situation was sometimes overwhelming. But encouragement can come in many forms. In his classic autobiography Witness, he remarks on one of those means of encouragement:

In those days, came the first of a series of letters that I was to receive throughout the Hiss Case. They came almost weekly and, in the depths of the Case, sometimes twice a week. After Hiss’s conviction, they came at longer intervals and at last stopped.

They were never signed. They were written in an angular hand and contained just three words: “The ninety-first Psalm.”

That Psalm, therefore, became a source of strength for Chambers. What did it contain? Here are some excerpts:

PrayerHe who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.

I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust!”

For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark.

You will not be afraid of the terror by night, or of the arrow that flies by day; . . . A thousand may fall at your side and ten thousand at your right hand, but it shall not approach you. . . .

For He will give His angels charge concerning you, to guard you in all your ways. . . .

“Because he has loved Me [says the Lord], therefore I will deliver him; I will set him securely on high, because he has known My name.

“He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him.

“With a long life I will satisfy him and let him see My salvation.”

Those words are not for Whittaker Chambers only. They were given by God to provide strength and assurance for all who trust in Him. May they be real in your life if you are experiencing any trouble this day. He will be with you; He will rescue you.

Cultural Collapse & the Remnant

A friend shared an article with me that I read late last night. It can be found here: http://publicreligion.org/2014/03/leaving-religion-lgbt-issues/. It’s from an organization called the Public Religion Research Institute. The point of the article is that the millennial generation is rejecting the Christian faith at a record high rate, and that the main reason for it is what they perceive as “negative teachings about, or treatment of, gay and lesbian people.” The report, based on a survey, goes on to say,

Most Americans agree that religious groups are alienating young people by being too judgmental about gay and lesbian issues. Nearly 6-in-10 (58 percent) Americans agree that religious groups are alienating young people, while roughly one-third (35 percent) disagree. Millennials remain most likely to believe that religious groups are alienating young people. Seven-in-ten (70 percent) Millennials believe that religious groups are alienating young adults by being too judgmental about gay and lesbian issues.

I felt a wave of sorrow and anguish wash over me as I was reading it. Here’s how I responded:

We’ve had nearly two generations now raised on the premises of non-judgmentalism. I think the source of most of that training has been Rogerian/Maslovian self-esteem teaching that has permeated our schools. The old cliché about getting hold of the minds of the children is coming to fruition in our day. We are seeing the results of this idea that has seeped into every part of our culture.

The medium through which this has occurred is government-controlled education. I think we will see very soon a more frontal attack on all Christian education, from homeschooling to evangelical colleges. We will be called—even more so than today—narrow-minded, bigoted, and out of the mainstream.

We will no longer be able to be comfortable with a large swath of our culture; in a sense, there will be a separation between the sheep and the goats. A divide will occur between those who hold firm to Biblical truth and those who are tossed by every trendy wind that comes along. The good news in all this is that the truth will stand out more clearly than ever before, and some will be drawn to the Lord through those who remain faithful to the message.

If this sounds too pessimistic, maybe I’m just revealing my affinity with Whittaker Chambers. Yet, as always, I believe the Lord can be seen in the dark times, and He can bring good out of evil if we stand with Him.

On the homosexual issue, I tend to agree with those who say the battle is already lost. However, that doesn’t mean we don’t continue to shine the light in this darkness. We just have to be prepared for the consequences.

I truly believe we are at a tipping point.

So was this response the result of staying up too late and being too tired? Am I too negative? Or have I caught the drift correctly? I do sense our culture is on the verge of collapse; I also sense that Christians need to wake up to this looming collapse and not pretend it’s all going to turn out alright. Can it be reversed? I don’t know, but my hope is that the Lord will once again use a remnant to make the difference, and what I do know is that I’m going to be part of that remnant. I hope you join us. Perhaps God will be able to show mercy to our society once more.

The Witness of Whittaker Chambers

Chambers at DeskEvery other year, I have the opportunity to teach a course I call “The Witness of Whittaker Chambers.” I’m teaching it again this semester. Chambers is not well known to most of our generation, but he was to an earlier one. Product of a dysfunctional family, devoid of any Christian upbringing, hit hard by life and seeking answers to the crises of the world after WWI, he turned to communism as the solution. Eventually, he became part of an underground cell that worked to place communists in key positions in the American government and pass secrets on to his master, Stalin.

Chambers finally came to realize the horror he was supporting and broke away. He then had to come to grips with the God he never knew. When he made the conscious decision to turn to God, his worldview was revolutionized. In his bestselling autobiography, Witness, he explained what happened when the transformation took place:

WitnessWhat I had been fell from me like dirty rags. The rags that fell from me were not only Communism. What fell was the whole web of the materialist modern mind—the luminous shroud which it has spun about the spirit of man, paralyzing in the name of rationalism the instinct of his soul for God, denying in the name of knowledge the reality of the soul and its birthright in that mystery on which mere knowledge falters and shatters at every step.

He now saw things in a new light and realized the connection between the spiritual and the political:

External freedom is only an aspect of interior freedom. Political freedom, as the Western world has known it, is only a political reading of the Bible. Religion and freedom are indivisible. Without freedom the soul dies. Without the soul there is no justification for freedom. . . . Hence every sincere break with Communism is a religious experience.

His masterful autobiography is filled with memorable quotes. One of my favorites is this one:

There has never been a society or a nation without God. But history is cluttered with the wreckage of nations that became indifferent to God, and died.

Perhaps it’s time we heeded these wise words uttered more than sixty years ago. His insights are more apropos today than they were when they were written. Will we ever learn?

Chambers was not too optimistic about our society’s openness to the truth. In one of his essays in Time magazine, “Ghosts on the Roof,” he commented through the imagery of the Muse of History,

I never permit my foreknowledge to interfere with human folly, if only because I never expect human folly to learn much from history.

While I tend to agree, in the main, with that sentiment, I still hold out hope for a solid remnant who will cling to truth and make a difference in our culture. Those who know the One who is the Truth have both a deep responsibility for spreading the message and a reason for hope, not only in the next world, but also in this one. We need to be faithful to the task to which we have been called.