Part Six: You Can’t Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too
“I am including a defense of the moral values and fundamental worldview of any Judaeo-Christian tradition as a desire to defend, to a substantial degree, the Bible, its message, and its worldview.”
~ Jack Crabtree, 2013
In the last two parts of this series, I looked at two underlying assumptions of Jack Crabtree’s America-is-ending narrative. I pointed out that this narrative is inspired by a neoconservative theory of American superiority as well as a Marxist theory about the artificial and imposed nature of values and norms.
Concerning the first assumption, my basic objection was that it is based on a disingenuous motivation: while claiming to be an opposition to class warfare, it is actually an opposition to the feeling of being on the losing side of the warfare. I also pointed out that the way the narrative is constructed, for both Jack Crabtree and Angelo Codevilla (the man who inspired Jack’s ideas), requires an equivocation between a particular “class” and a particular person’s cultural preferences.
Concerning the second assumption, I argued that the idea that a ruling class is responsible for what people believe is based on a Gramscian/Kuyperian framework that denies human freedom and ignores empirical reality. This framework perpetuates an either/or myth that has led to the very culture wars that have ravaged the United States.
In other words: not only is this narrative constructed disingenuously and illogically, it also is harmful and completely unnecessary.
What I aim to do now is look at how Jack equivocates between Contrabiblicism, Leftism, and anti-Rightism. In the same way that Angelo Codevilla conflated far too many things — American exceptionalism with libertarianism with conservatism with evangelical Christianity — so too does Jack.
Other speakers at the Summer Institute took Jack to task over his equating of the Beast with Contrabiblicism with Leftism. Which makes sense. It is honestly the weakest link in his paper. But I am going a step farther than some of the speakers. I am going to argue that how Jack defines Beast/Contrabiblicism/Leftism is not only an example of weak thinking. I am going to argue it creates a non-functioning thesis.
By a non-functioning thesis, I mean that the thesis contains self-contradictions. It cannot even get off the ground because its internal machinery is broken. If Jack had contented himself with looking at the Beast, or Contrabiblicism, or Leftism, or the superior class, or Pseudo-Rightism, or any number of other angles from which to gather insight, this problem might not exist. Yet Jack — in Codevillan fashion — tries very hard to equivocate all these disparate categories.
Insofar as he does, the argument gets nowhere.
Is There a Mexican Beast? And Is it Named Chupacabra?
The first term that Jack introduces is the idea of Beast. Remember how he defines the Beast:
“In the arguments of this paper, I use the phrase ‘the beast’ to describe any such effort by Satan to oppose God and his purposes—anywhere in the world and anywhere in history. So, the beast can designate any person, culture, institution, or society—anywhere in the world and at any time in the world—that seeks to thwart and defeat God and his purposes and that asserts its superiority to God.”
This is not a revolutionary or controversial way of thinking about a beast, in my mind. In a way, this is really a basic definition of human sinfulness according to traditional Christian theology. Putting the validity of that theological framework in brackets, I do not necessarily have any objection to this definition. The framework postulates that all have fallen short of the glory of God, and all are opposed to God. God has chosen to soften the hearts of certain people, and those are the people who (hopefully) are choosing to oppose God less in their daily lives.
But if the Beast is any opposition to God and human sinfulness in general, it literally cannot have any origin in time and space — apart from, say, the Garden of Eden (depending on your interpretation of that passage in Genesis). The Beast — Satan — has existed since the creation of time and space.
But then Jack changes the definition:
“[The American Beast] was born over a century ago and has been controlling the direction of American culture for approximately 150 years. It is this beast that I want to try to describe and explain. Consequently, whenever I make reference to the ‘Beast’ in this paper—unless I indicate otherwise—I will always have in mind the cultural power that came into its own in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and has been the force that has shaped American culture ever since.”
The moment Jack starts talking about the American Beast, he is moving away from his original definition.
Insofar as opposition to God and his purposes is universal and apolitical, there is no such thing as an “American” Beast or a “Canadian” Beast or a “Mexican” Beast. There is just The Beast. The Beast is all of us, everywhere. (This is the essence of Earle Craig’s response to Jack at the Summer Institute, aptly titled, “We Have Met the Beast, and He is Us.”)
So we are already seeing Jack define the Beast one way and then alter that definition to allow him to talk about a specific sociopolitical reality rather than a universal spiritual reality. It is obvious why: he wants to talk about “the cultural power that came into its own in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.”
Could he argue that this particular cultural power is part of the Beast? Yes. But he would also have to talk about all the other cultural powers that existed in those same centuries. Because insofar as all cultures and all powers are beastly, all cultures and all powers come from the same beastly source. The cultures and powers of American Christendom, for example, during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries — to which the “American” Beast is supposedly reacting to — are just as much a part of the general Beast as the American Beast is. So those cultures and powers should be included not only in the general Beast, but also the “American” Beast. But Jack really wants to talk about a sociopolitical movement that he does not like (and not talk about sociopolitical movements that he does like) — and make that synonymous with the “American” Beast.
So these are the definitional questions: Is the Beast opposition to God, or is the Beast a cultural power “that came into its own in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries”? And is the Beast all cultural powers that came into their own in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, or just the ones that Jack dislikes?
Defining and Thinking About Contrabiblicism
Jack next argues that the agenda of the “American” Beast is Contrabiblicism. Now, insofar as the word “Contrabiblicism” means at face value “against the Bible,” it somewhat flows from how Jack first defined the Beast: the Beast being opposition to God. If the Beast is opposition to God, then obviously the Beast’s agenda would at least include something like “be against the Bible.”
No problem there.
This is what Jack initially presents as Contrabiblicism: “The beast’s agenda: to promote a set of values, beliefs, and practices that is entirely different from those taught by God.” So far, so good.
But then Jack changes the definition:
“Contrabiblicism, by its very nature, is a rejection of what the Bible teaches. It can be selective about which elements, in particular, it rejects. Hence, it may not reject absolutely every tenet of the biblical worldview. But its essential purpose is to stand in opposition to and as an alternative to whatever God recommends.”
So it is not merely a rejection of the Bible. It is also a twisting of the Bible. In other words, it can affirm half of the Bible and reject the other half. Or it can affirm half of the Bible and then give a false interpretation of the other half of the Bible in order to like it.
Yet if Contrabiblicism is the agenda of the general Beast, speaking of the Bible is too narrow. The Beast existed before the Bible as a text existed, so clearly it cannot be the agenda of the general Beast.
But it could be the agenda of the American Beast.
Let us imagine it is the agenda of the American Beast. This means that when we are talking twisting the Scriptures, we are talking about specific actions in history. Twisting the Scriptures cannot happen in a vacuum. Indeed, as Jack pinpointed the rise of the Beast as the 1850s, it is pretty obvious what sort of “twisting” he has in mind: higher criticism, Darwinism, and so forth — in other words, progressive Christianity. But the type of Christianity to which progressive Christians were responding was fundamentalist Christianity. And fundamentalist Christianity also twists the Bible.
Yet Jack holds back little in his favoring of the fundamentalists over the progressives in his paper.
It is abundantly clear that “Contrabiblicism” is advanced against the progressives and in favor of fundamentalists.
But that does not work with the definition. Just like the definition of the Beast should require condemning all cultural powers that came into their own in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, so too should the definition of Contrabiblicism require condemning both the fundamentalist Christians and the progressive Christians. Yet once again, Jack is playing favorites.
Defining and Thinking About Leftism
As we consider “Leftism,” we see the full breakdown of Jack’s equivocations. Previously, the Beast was any opposition to God. But then the Beast became temporal, beginning in the 1850s. Next Jack identified the agenda of the Beast as a rejection of the Bible. But then the agenda became a twisting of the Bible that resulted from Marxists, Darwinians, and adherents to Freud and higher criticism.
And now, surprise, this is all considered “Leftism.”
Now, before we continue, I want you think about what Leftism is and who leftists are. It is a pretty broad and vague term, meaning everything from pro-social equality to pro-economic redistribution to pro-Marxism to anti-war.
When I think about Leftism and Leftists, personally, I think about very specific ideas and people. Honestly, I think about Marxists and Communists and “far-left” ecological and social justice activists. This is just the opposite of what I think about when one says Rightism or Rightists. In that case, I think about the Religious Right and American nationalists and far-right Christian fundamentalists and theonomists.
Honestly, the whole Left/Right spectrum bothers me. At the extremes of either end we find people that want to use force to stratify their ideologies. I do not like that. The politics of Marxism make me as uncomfortable as the politics of Christian Reconstructionism. So if someone chooses to use a Left/Right spectrum, I have no preference over “Left” and “Right.”
I would also not classify conservatives as Rightists and liberals as Leftists. I see a fundamental difference between a Left/Right spectrum and a liberal/conservative spectrum.
Let us look at what Jack actually said about Contrabiblicism, and replace the word “Contrabiblicism” with “Leftism” to get a sense of what this means:
- “The strategy that the Beast is currently using to oppose God and his purposes is to promote [Leftism].”
- “The content of [Leftism] is a fragmented and incoherent set of beliefs and values that is, as a consequence, philosophically indefensible.”
- “Intrinsic to the very nature and role of [Leftism], the content of its beliefs and values is determined negatively and reactively, not positively and constructively.”
- “[Leftism], by its very nature, is a rejection of what the Bible teaches.”
- “The values and beliefs that constitute [Leftism] are not elements of a philosophy derived rationally and coherently from certain observations about human experience.”
- “[Leftism] is not built from the ground up into a coherent philosophical worldview.”
- “[Leftism] came to be established as the official religion of America’s superior class.”
Now let us go one step further and replace each case of “Leftism” which a specific form of Leftism that Jack seems to have in mind, say, “Marxism”:
- “The strategy that the Beast is currently using to oppose God and his purposes is to promote [Marxism].”
- “The content of [Marxism] is a fragmented and incoherent set of beliefs and values that is, as a consequence, philosophically indefensible.”
- “Intrinsic to the very nature and role of [Marxism], the content of its beliefs and values is determined negatively and reactively, not positively and constructively.”
- “[Marxism], by its very nature, is a rejection of what the Bible teaches.”
- “The values and beliefs that constitute [Marxism] are not elements of a philosophy derived rationally and coherently from certain observations about human experience.”
- “[Marxism] is not built from the ground up into a coherent philosophical worldview.”
- “[Marxism] came to be established as the official religion of America’s superior class.”
You should see, right away, that these statements make little sense. Marxism is by no means the official religion of America’s superior class. Both Democrats and Republicans alike would reject a significant amount of Marxist thought. And if the Beast is trying to oppose God and his purposes by means of promoting Marxism in America, land of freedom and Nascar and McDonalds, then — good luck to the Beast? The Beast would make more inroads using these very idols of the U.S. — freedom, Nascar, and McDonalds — than importing the idols of Germany in the 1800’s. (Also, if Jack looked at the Beast from the lens of those idols, his paper might have been more insightful.)
The same things could be said of Jack’s other examples of Leftism, like Darwinianism and Freudianism (which is the funny one to me, since Freud has long been out of vogue).
Here is the problem: As far as I can tell, Jack made up the word “Contrabiblicism.” It therefore means nothing to us automatically and he can therefore define it however he wants. But the word “Leftism” actually means things. Jack did not make that word up. In fact, Jack explicitly says he chose that word because it means things — and he wants us to have in mind what it usually means when he talks about it. But Jack is using it in a way so different from what it actually means that it honestly loses its meaning.
It would be one thing if Jack said, “Hey, I want to redefine this word in a very different way so you can look at things from a new angle.” In a sense, Jack wants that — he wants you to think of Leftism as, well, anything and everything that is anti-biblical. But he also wants you to think about Leftism in its normal sense. Because he wants to equate Leftism with anything and everything that is anti-biblical. Which is simply unfair and untrue.
William Jennings Bryan and Martin Luther King, Jr. as Litmus Tests
To complicate matters further, let us add in Jack’s Right/Pseudo-Right distinctions. Before we do this, however, note that Jack did Rightism the courtesy of being split in different categories. He did not give Leftism this courtesy. Leftism is just one big monolithic agenda that is trampling American culture.
So there are two classes of “Right-Wing” reactions to the anti-Christian monolith that is Leftism. These reactions are Rightism and Pseudo-Rightism. Rightism includes reactions that defend the Bible against Leftism. Pseudo-Rightism includes reactions that attack Leftism but do not defend the Bible.
So far, so good. The point at which one appears to draw a line in the sand, saying, “What I mean to distinguish here is true Christianity versus Christendom fan clubs,” I get it. I get that distinction.
But. The distinction between true Christianity and Christendom fan clubs is not a Rightist distinction. Would not this distinction be within Leftism as well? Well, depending on how one defines Leftism, of course. If Leftism is Contrabiblicism is any and every opposition to God, then obviously not. In the anti-Christian camp, there will be no pro-Christians (or would there be? Would not Jack argue some atheists will be heaven?) But if we are talking about two types of Rightism — pro-Christian rightism versus anti-Leftism rightism — should there not be two types of Leftism — pro-Christian leftism versus anti-Rightism leftism? I know this is getting abstract, but do you the significant distinction here? Insofar as Jack was to radically alter the meaning of the word “Leftism,” I get the point. But insofar as he — at the same time — explicitly tell us to keep Leftism’s common definition in mind, I do not get the point.
So we have Rightism (anti-Leftism, pro-Bible) and Pseudo-Rightism (anti-Leftism, anti-Bible). Jack next attempts to play political favorites and divide up sociopolitical movements and shove them carelessly into one category and not another. So Rightism includes: Radical Biblicism, Evangelical Fundamentalism, Fundamentalist Evangelicalism, Christian Religionism, Cultural Conservatism, and American Loyalism/Patriotism. Pseudo-Rightism includes: Constitutionalism or Political Conservatism, Libertarianism or Objectivism, and Republican Partisanism.
At first blush, I have no idea why Jack puts some groups into one category and not another.
Radical Biblicism of course belongs in Rightism, merely by definition. Though I would criticize that definition, since radical allegiance with the Bible does not necessarily equal radical allegiance to God. Also, radical allegiance to God does not necessarily mean love of God.
But the other ones are even more questionable. Evangelical Fundamentalism and Fundamentalist Evangelicalism are both -isms entailing specific sociopolitical and theological ideas that many would argue are anti-biblical and anti-Christian. “Christian Religionism,” insofar as it includes not only Protestants but Catholics and all sorts of widely diverse groups of people, is by no means necessarily Rightist. Many of the people that make up that category would easily fall into the so-called “Leftist camp.” It is honestly too broad a category to be classified as one or the other. And what about Cultural Conservatism and American Loyalism/Patriotism?
Since when was nostalgia for a particular culture or dedication to a specific country related to Christianity or the Bible or a defense thereof?
To make sense of these distinctions, let us consider William Jennings Bryan. Bryan was a key figure in the Scopes Trial, defending anti-evolutionism and arguing in favor of Christian fundamentalism. Yet Bryan was also a key advocate for popular democracy and the Prohibition. In other words, he was a defender of populism and statism, which are considered classic Leftist ideologies. So would Bryan be a Leftist or a Rightist? Well, according to Jack’s categories, he was certainly either a fundamentalist evangelical or an evangelical fundamentalist. He also defended key components of what would now be considered a Judeo-Christian worldview. Furthermore, he defended all these things because of his commitment to the Bible. So that technically should qualify him to be a Rightist.
William Jennings Bryan is pretty much one of the biggest rock stars of American Christian fundamentalism.
But his commitment to the Bible (in his mind) led him directly to what Jack would consider Leftist thought and action. His commitment to the Bible led him to promote governmental intervention in education, to a national ban on people’s ability to drink alcohol, and push America towards something many Founding Fathers were against, namely, popular democracy. Bryan is a classic example of both political liberalism as well as conservative statism.
And yet he was an evangelical fundamentalist who defended a Judeo-Christian worldview because of his commitment to the Bible.
So is William Jennings Bryan an agent of the Beast or an agent of God?
Half of Jack’s definitions and categories would place Bryan in Leftism, pushing forwards the Beast’s agenda, but the other half would place him in Rightism, staunchly defending God and the Bible against the Beast. But he simply cannot be in both because of how Jack constructed his narrative. If he is in both and yet he cannot be in both, then this narrative is contradicting itself. Also, if your model of thinking even tempts you to put Bryan, the man who took a bullet for Christianity and Creationism in the Scopes Trial, in a category of people who are anti-God and anti-Bible, then your model of thinking is wack.
Let us look at another example: Martin Luther King, Jr. Using Jack’s standards, King is undeniably a Leftist — far more so than Bryan. King was a key figure in the African-American Civil Rights Movement, working to undermine policies of segregation that were institutionalized by White Protestants: “American Protestantism before the civil rights revolution stood foursquare, shoulder to shoulder, and homily to homily as a defender of white supremacy.” He was influenced by and worked alongside a gay socialist. He voted for John Kennedy for President and also went so far as to say, “The Republican Party geared its appeal and program to racism, reaction, and extremism.” He also advocated for economic redistribution through a “Federal Public Works program to provide jobs for all the unemployed” and “a guaranteed annual income.”
And yet why did King do all these things? Because of God, Jesus, the Bible, and all things “righteous.” King’s life projects, his speeches, his vision of what the U.S. should be – these were all rooted in his passion for Christianity and fidelity to his understanding of the Bible.
So is Martin Luther King, Jr. an agent of the Beast or an agent of God?
Just like the case of William Jennings Bryan, half of Jack’s definitions and categories would place King in Leftism, pushing forwards the Beast’s agenda, but the other half would place him in Rightism, staunchly defending God and the Bible against the Beast. But Jack’s narrative does not allow King to be in both.
Jack’s narrative, therefore, is non-functioning. It neither applies to reality’s complexity nor helps us understand that complexity.
Let Them Eat (Judeo-Christian) Cake?
So at this point, the Beast is any and all opposition to God — and by that, Jack really means “the cultural power that came into its own in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.” The agenda of all opposition to God — or, the agenda of an 1850’s-born cultural power — is opposing the Bible — and by that, Jack really means supporting progressive Christianity. Jack then surprises everyone by saying that opposition to God (or an 1850’s-born cultural power) and its progressive agenda is actually “Leftism” (though did that really surprise anyone?). And by Leftism, he does not mean actual Leftism (though he actually does); he means opposition to God. Using opposition to God as a litmus test, he then divides the Right into two camps: in the one camp are those who love God and in the other camp are those who do not love God — and what distinguishes them is whether they are for or against Leftism (and this time in the actual sense of the word).
At this point, what’s the point of using normal words anymore?
If you are going to set forth definitions and then not abide by them, and redefine words so you can use them strangely (but at the same time still use the original meanings), what is the point?
I hate to say this, but:
If you don’t agree with Jack, you are a Leftist.
I feel that’s what Jack is saying. He started with a decent thesis — wanting to point out how opposition to God can manifest itself politically and socially — and then collapsed a bunch of disparate categories in order to attack a group of people — Leftists — that he does not like. In fact, everyone he does not agree with he just slaps with a “Leftist” label, even when it makes no sense to do so.
Not to mention the most glaring problem here, that I already mentioned: Where is the Pseudo-Left/Left distinction? It seems curiously and conveniently absent. Should not Leftism be separate from Pseudo-Leftism? Should there not be many categories of Leftism, like:
- Social progressivism
- Democrat Partisans
- Labour Party
Had he separated Leftism from Pseudo-Leftism, he could have at least avoided the possibility of classifying people like Martin Luther King, Jr. and William Jennings Bryan along with anti-God, anti-Bible individuals. But then again, that would require Jack to not universally bash Leftists — something that seems difficult for him in his paper.
When you present a Left-Right spectrum as Jack does, there need to be markers on both sides. If the spectrum goes from Left (where Left is defined as anti-true-Christianity) to Right (where Right is defined as pro-true-Christianity), then so be it. That is a very weird use of a Left-Right spectrum — but Jack has chosen to define his terms that way. But if that is how Jack is setting up his spectrum — namely, in a spiritual sense — then the spectrum necessarily is simple. On the right is one and only one marker: true Christians. On the left is every other imaginable marker in the world: Leftists, Rightists, Centrists, evangelical fundamentalist, socialists, American patriots, Marxists, etc. Everyone.
You cannot make a single exception.
Also, note that this spectrum — insofar as it is spiritual — cannot be used for sociopolitical analysis. Sociopolitical analysis cannot determine who is a “true” Christian and who is not.
But if Jack wants to establish a Left-Right spectrum not based on guessing people’s relationship with God (and since when was guessing people’s relationship with God an intelligent idea?), where Left means something like anti-Judeo-Christian worldview and Right means pro-Judeo-Christian worldview, that is an entirely different spectrum.
And that very different spectrum? That is what Jack actually admits in a footnote that he is using:
“I am including a defense of the moral values and fundamental worldview of any Judaeo-Christian tradition as a desire to defend, to a substantial degree, the Bible, its message, and its worldview.”
He admits that he is including in Rightism not only a defense of the Bible but also a defense of any Judeo-Christian tradition. This is huge. As far as inconsistencies go, this is not on par with “opening the door just a crack.” This is on par with swinging the door wide open and saying, “Let’s party!”
A defense of the Bible and a defense of a sociopolitical interpretation of the Bible are two very different things. You cannot pretend they are in any way similar. By including “a defense of a Judeo-Christian worldview” as part of true Christianity, he destroys his entire argument by betraying the very foundations upon which he was building. Because if his spectrum is based on the affirmation or negation of a Judeo-Christian worldview, then the very language he is using is the language of a particular sociopolitical movement.
The concept of a “Judeo-Christian worldview” is a concept that comes from neither Judaism nor Christianity. It comes Pat Buchanan.
The idea of a “Judeo-Christian tradition” is “a relatively recent historical innovation.” The very first use of that phrase dates back to only 1829 (from a missionary journal of a man named Joseph Wolff), and the first articulation of some sort of Judeo-Christian ethical system dates back to only 1939, where The New English Weekly spoke of the phrase “the Judaeo-Christian scheme of ethics.” And then it only was referring to something specific. It was not until the 1980s when that concept became a culture war buzzword popularized by Pat Buchanan:
“By the 1980s, the United States was widely believed to have a core Judeo-Christian culture; the term appeared primarily as a reference point in the so-called culture wars and was most often appropriated for conservative purposes. This usage surged across the 1990s.”
So Jack is beginning his analysis by already assuming a partisan ideology that would reject a truly Christian approach that eschews all partisan ideologies. In short, Jack is trying his best to have his cake and eat it, too: where “have his cake” means separate what is essential to Christianity and what is essential to each and every sociopolitical movement and where “and eat it, too” means still hold onto the sociopolitical movement of conservative American Christianity and claim it as essential to Christianity.
But like people say, you can’t have your cake and eat it, too.
Because he is trying so hard to do this, Jack sets forth what I have pointed out is a non-functioning thesis. He is defining words one way and then employing them in a way that contradicts the definitions. He is setting for distinctions between essentials and then ignoring what distinctions he made in order to then include non-essentials. And all this while justifying the non-functioning thesis with (undocumented) examples of what are actually still-existing White Protestant privileges — just to assert that the world is ending and we need to do something drastic.
To be continued.