God is God—Government is Not

I’ve noticed something, and I’m sure you have too. We’re facing a time of major cultural upheaval across the Western world. Divisions run deep, and the cultural rifts that have long sat silent beneath our feet are emerging in the light of COVID-19 and the U.S. election.

When the world around us starts to shake, we naturally feel around for something to hold on to. And in a secular age, one of the most obvious stabilising forces for us is politics. More than I can ever remember, we seem to be hoping for political solutions to our crises, and are forgetting the healthy limits of government.

With our tax dollars, governments provide important services that the private sector could never manage alone—from healthcare to policing to infrastructure and more. We need government. But we also need to resist the temptation to ask government for everything—and to protect us from everything.

Like the proverbial 40-year-old still living in his parents’ basement, it’s easy to expect our governments to meet every need that charities, businesses or we ourselves might have provided in a past age. We are especially at risk when we ask the government to save us from the consequences of our own unpredictable and unhealthy lifestyles.

We could go on outsourcing our needs to bigger budgets and more powerful bureaucrats, and in doing so, we would find short-term solutions to our problems. But we’d also build for ourselves a suffocating surveillance state and be tempting tyranny. Thomas Jefferson wisely warned that “a government big enough to give you everything you want is strong enough to take everything you have.”

Last century, many nations responded to their times of cultural upheaval by turning to politics as an all-encompassing solution. But it ended in terrible bloodshed.

The scourges of fascism and communism seem like a mystery to us until we realise that their infamous leaders won the trust of the masses with grand promises. So great were their promises that the only way to fulfil them was for their nations to become totalitarian—to make every aspect of life the concern of government. As C.S. Lewis sagely warned,

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive … those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

As they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

It’s not as though tyranny is just around the corner for us (though recent events in Victoria rightly have many Australians concerned). Still, for the health of our democracies and for our own headspace, we need to return to some basic truths.

The human race was made to need God. In the modern era, we have put God at a distance, or we have redefined him as a kind of impersonal force that isn’t too concerned with everyday human affairs.

The disappearance of faith from the West is why we are so tempted by political solutions today. In the absence of God, the State feels like the next best thing; the most powerful alternative to God that can fill the empty void above us.

But political solutions are only temporary—and they can be both divisive and dangerous.

We will always have to deal with politics and government. Even Jesus told us to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s—whether our taxes, or in a democratic age, our votes. But we have a higher hope than politics: the God who is there. Most important of all is that we render to God the things that are God’s.

Even as we live out our days in these unstable and earthly kingdoms, God invites us to find our stability in his unseen, eternal kingdom.

As Psalm 20 reminds us, “In times of trouble, may the Lord answer your cry. May the name of the God of Jacob keep you safe from all harm… Some nations boast of their chariots and horses, but we boast in the name of the Lord our God.” (Psalm 20:1,7).

An eternal perspective has very practical benefits. It reminds us that the utopia we naturally long for is coming and therefore doesn’t need to be attempted down here. (This is a relief, given how many of our past attempts at it have ended in disaster). It is also a warning to would-be tyrants that they won’t escape judgment.

Faith in God also safeguards us from having our opinions assigned to us by “the powers that be”. If we are all made in God’s image, then each person has the freedom to form their own opinions, and the government has an obligation to protect that freedom.

Most important of all, knowing that we are citizens of heaven allows us to lift our eyes above the debates and divisions of the day and find our hope and security in God himself. C.S. Lewis had wisdom on this, too:

“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”

You Can’t Learn From Deleted History

The “memory hole” is one of the most haunting images in George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Used by government workers at the Ministry of Truth, this chute in the wall enabled Oceania’s one-party government to edit history at will and incinerate all evidence of their propagandistic deeds:

Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.”

In the weeks following the murder of George Floyd, multiethnic mobs who clearly haven’t read Orwell have been busy trying to memory-hole statues, monuments and street names across the Western world.

The first big story to hit the media was when crowds cheered in Bristol, England, as a statue of 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston was pulled down, stomped on, and tipped into the river.

“Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.”—George Orwell

In the United States, jeering throngs managed to decapitate a statue of Christopher Columbus in Boston, and pull another one down outside of the Minnesota State Capitol. In Sydney, Australian police were forced to guard a statue of explorer Captain Cook after it was defaced, and when further plans to topple it were made public.

Originally, this seemed to be a campaign against memorials of slavers and early explorers. But it has since morphed into a protest against almost any historical figure whose crimes involve being white, male, and no longer with us.

In central London, a statue of Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister who led the nation in defeat of the Nazis, has been targeted. First vandals defaced it with the word “racist”—and then it was boarded up by authorities to prevent its complete destruction. The irony here is stark: so-called ‘anti-fascists’ are trying to erase literal anti-fascists from memory.

“Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”

Abraham Lincoln is one of the most loved presidents in American history. But this didn’t stop one protester from spraying graffiti on the iconic Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, and many others from trashing the Lincoln statue in London.

A statue of Thomas Jefferson was set alight in Birmingham, Alabama. A product of his time, Jefferson owned slaves—but he also authored America’s Declaration of Independence and was arguably the founding father of the nation.

Even a Matthias Baldwin monument in Philadelphia was tagged with the words “murderer” and “colonizer”. Baldwin stood doggedly against slavery in the early 1800s, long before it was fashionable to do so. Never mind, he too must go down the memory hole.

If this crusade couldn’t grow any more bizarre, we have now seen the “don’t mention the war” episode of Fawlty Towers scrubbed from UKTV. Likewise, HBO Max has pulled Gone With the Wind from its streaming service for its depiction of slavery. This blockbuster, by the way, starred Hattie McDaniel, the first black woman to win an Academy Award. Fortunately, it sounds like both of these decisions will now be reversed.

“Our memorials aren’t all there in praise of our forebears.”

I believe a good case can be made for why statues of certain slave owners or Confederate soldiers should be reinterpreted with new signage, or perhaps even moved to a museum. But cancel culture turned cancerous the second we were no longer allowed to remember our civilisation’s own heritage.

Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it, so the maxim goes. We must remember that our memorials aren’t all there in praise of our forebears. Think Auschwitz, the slave-built Pyramids—or the Colosseum, which Michael Cook has satirically suggested must also be razed to the ground.

Some memorials that do celebrate past heroes were erected by contentious people in contentious times. Mount Rushmore’s four presidents were carved on stolen land by a man with ties to the Ku Klux Klan. Should it be demolished? Do we bulldoze the work of every chauvinist architect since the Renaissance? How far must the purification go?

Far more productive than cancellation is education. A bit of education certainly would have helped those who tried to memory-hole Matthias Baldwin and other historical heroes in the recent puritanical purge.

“So-called ‘anti-fascists’ are trying to erase literal anti-fascists from memory.”

Understanding our history, rather than just raging against it, enables us to debate the good, the bad and the ugly of every era and learn from all of it. We have a lot to learn, not just about those who were memorialised, but also about those who did the memorialising. If we are willing to listen to our ancestors, we can benefit from understanding both their masteries and their many mistakes.

We might even grow some humility.

See, the cancel cult reveal at least as much about themselves as the historical figures they seek to erase. They display a deeply judgmental impulse by enforcing on people of centuries past, a new set of moral standards that we hardly agreed on five minutes ago.

They assume that they alone would have acted differently if they had grown up in the same circumstances. They seem to hope that if a line can be drawn under George Floyd’s murder and all before that be forgotten, the world might be a better, purer place.

“Prejudice is a difficult weed to eradicate from the human heart.”

But in trying to delete the past like they might delete their browser history, they miss what Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn saw after staring Soviet totalitarianism in the face:

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”

We may make all sorts of progress. But prejudice is a difficult weed to eradicate from the human heart—as the cancellers themselves remind us. Because of this, all of us desperately need the past.

We need it, at the very least, to hold ourselves accountable.

Be brave, don’t self-censor and give into the mob. If you think this article will help others, please hit share. Also, scroll down if you’d like to subscribe. Thanks for reading!

A Christian’s Guide to Cultural Marxism

If you Google the term “Cultural Marxism,” you will likely be told that it is a right-wing conspiracy theory. But pick a different search engine, or scroll for long enough, and you will find a more robust definition.

Cultural Marxism—for those new to the concept—is a worldview gaining immense popularity throughout the West. It refers to a collection of ideas rather than a collection of people. Cultural Marxism is a secular philosophy that views all of life as a power struggle between the oppressed and the oppressor.

The oppressor is usually an aspect of traditional western society such as the family, capitalism, democracy, or Christianity. The oppressed is anyone who is or who feels marginalised by these institutions, depending on the cultural and political debates of the moment.

“Cultural Marxism is a secular philosophy that views all of life as a power struggle.”

Several years ago, the oppressed group in focus was the members of the homosexual community who wanted to marry. Last year, it was schoolchildren who felt threatened by climate change, and biological men seeking to identify as women and compete in women’s sport. This year, it is ethnic minorities protesting police treatment.

What needs to be acknowledged up front is that this power dynamic in our culture is real, since even the most well-intentioned societies produce inequality that must be addressed.

And as followers of Jesus, we are called to care for all people, and to be particularly sensitive to those who are sidelined by society. Love for ‘the least of these’ is, after all, the example Jesus set for us.

“Even the most well-intentioned societies produce inequality.”

But if we are not discerning, our impulse for compassion will be recruited and used for harm. Jesus stood for the downtrodden—but he also stood for marriage, gender norms, private property, a God-given moral code, good pay for hard work, a faith lived out in public, and civil law and order.

Cultural Marxism, on the other hand, sees all of these divine norms as the problem. And Christians who uncritically accept the oppressed-oppressor narrative end up fighting against the very institutions that God has ordained for human safety and flourishing.

To better understand Cultural Marxism, we do well to trace its origins. To read about it in depth, see the Gospel Coalition’s brilliant exposé on the subject. For a potted version, read on.

Karl Marx (1818–1883) was a German political theorist who believed that workers were oppressed by capitalism and should rise up to overthrow it. He dreamed of a socialist or communist utopia—a classless society where all resources were shared.

“Cultural Marxism sees divine norms as the problem.”

Marx’s philosophy was trialled in Russia, China, and many other nations in the 20th century. Tragically, 100 million people lost their lives in the communist bloodbath that followed. What became clear through this experiment is that when a stable government is overthrown, bad actors will always rush in to take power—because power corrupts, and the human heart is evil.

In other words, Marxism is good in theory but terrible in practice because it fails to account for the moral complexity of humans. We are at times victims of the sin and oppression of others, as Marx saw. But we are also guilty of sin ourselves and prone to abuse power when given the opportunity.

Despite Marxism’s obvious failings, many of Marx’s followers continued to subscribe to his ideals. One of these was Antonio Gramsci (1891–1937). He believed that Marxism failed because capitalist values were still too deeply embedded in every aspect of Western society.

A culture-wide revolution was needed, Gramsci argued, if Marxism were to succeed. This would involve a reshaping of sexual ethics, organised religion, mass media, academia, the legal system, and more.

“Marxism fails to account for the moral complexity of humans.”

According to Gramsci, “In the new order, Socialism will triumph by first capturing the culture via infiltration of schools, universities, churches and the media by transforming the consciousness of society.” This dream came to be known as the “long march through the institutions.”

The doctrines of Cultural Marxism were further developed by a group of intellectuals in Germany known as The Frankfurt School—most prominent among them, Herbert Marcuse (1898–1979). Fleeing the Nazis in the 1930s, this group ended up scattered in universities across the Western world, most notably in New York and California.

Many of the seismic cultural shifts we have been experiencing over the last decade were being promoted by Frankfurt School academics as early as the 1960s. The sexual revolution, the redefinition of tolerance, radical sex education in schools, belief in gender as a social construct, the virtue of censorship, and Critical Theory can all be traced back to this group.

And as many have observed, however deliberate the campaign has been, this “long march through the institutions” is near complete.

“Cultural Marxism is a mood that defines our generation.”

Cultural Marxism today is not an organised group or a hidden society. It has its zealous prophets, to be sure. And ironically, they tend to be white, middle class, well educated, and able to cushion themselves from any chaos they might inspire—just like the Frankfurt School and Marx before them.

But more commonly, Cultural Marxism is a zeitgeist; a mood that defines our generation. Political correctness and our tendency to self-censor are some of the more obvious signs that Cultural Marxism has now gone thoroughly mainstream.

These new values are being enforced in more active ways, too. If your opinion fails to align with a narrow set of new ‘orthodox’ ideas, you will pay the price in some way or another—whether that’s your reputation, your relationships, or increasingly even your livelihood.

It is necessary to point out that people don’t need to understand the history of Cultural Marxism or own the label to openly promote its doctrines. But nor is it a conspiracy theory to describe these ideas as Cultural Marxism, since the label is proudly owned by many of its proponents, and its teachings have been in the public domain since their inception.

“If your opinion fails to align with a narrow set of new ‘orthodox’ ideas, you will pay the price.”

Today, the unmistakable cry of Cultural Marxism is that of victimhood. Put simply, the more oppressed groups you can claim membership to, the more your opinion counts and the more your demands must be met.

While seeming to promote equality, what Cultural Marxism actually inspires is a never-ending grievance between sexes, races, and other fixed descriptors that divide us. And this is a necessary component of the Cultural Marxist philosophy, since the West’s institutions will only be supplanted if enough anger can be rallied to the cause.

To this end, minority groups often find themselves being used for political advantage by those who claim to care about them the most. Radical groups hijacking the George Floyd protests is only the latest, ugly example of this.

“The unmistakable cry of Cultural Marxism is that of victimhood.”

Always, Cultural Marxist solutions are political ones. And it can only be this way, since Marxism is an atheistic worldview that only deals with a materialistic universe. To Marxists, the state is God.

This is why Christians must tread with caution. Jesus has sent us as salt and light into our culture. Most of the culture-shaping actions he calls us to actually don’t involve government at all—like intercession, care, financial generosity, friendship, community service, and civil debate, to name just a few.

Yes, Christians are called to be politically engaged as well. But according to Jeremiah 29:7, we are to “work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile, praying to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” Our voice should be for reform and renewal, not merely joining the chorus for radical overthrow.

“To Marxists, the state is God.”

But the greatest tool we have been given is the gospel. The truth is that intolerance and oppression and bigotry aren’t some great evil ‘out there’—rather, they are sins found in each of us. As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn noted, “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”

God’s ultimate and eternal solution to these evils is for every individual to be set free from their sin and reconciled to the One in whose image we have all been made. Only on this foundation can we build a truly just society where competing tribes no longer struggle for power—but instead, where each person puts the needs of others before their own.

This side of eternity we won’t achieve utopia. But the closer our culture aligns to the ways of God, the more we will see the vision of Amos 5:24 fulfilled: “Let justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

Be brave, don’t self-censor and give into the mob. If you think this article will help others, please hit share. Also, scroll down if you’d like to subscribe. Thanks for reading!

It’s Time for Revolution

500th anniversaries don’t come around too often. This week, though, is a big deal for western civilisation—or at least it should be. Today marks the quincentenary of the Protestant Reformation.

October 31st, 1517 was the day Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, unleashing a revolution that transformed Europe and helped usher in the modern world.

“This week is a big deal for western civilisation.”

So much that we love and take for granted in the West is a legacy of this event. Personal freedoms, universal education, modern scienceglobal languages, the nation state, and even democracy itself owe a massive debt to the reformers—radical followers of Jesus.

To us this sounds odd because we’ve been told that religion and reason are in conflict; that the world can only progress as faith retreats. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Today’s world is dizzyingly advanced. But as I’ve recently written, our Judeo-Christian heritage is being quickly abandoned, and rushing into the vacuum are anxieties, terrorism, widening inequality, slavery on a scale never seen in history, and alarming social polarisation.

“So much that we love and take for granted in the West is a legacy of the Reformation.”

It was also into a bleak situation (the Dark Ages no less) that the reformers spoke. Post tenebras lux—“After darkness, light”—was their rallying cry.

Three convictions drove them. These convictions turned their world upside down. I’m convinced they could do the same for ours. So what were they?

1. Sola Scriptura

In Luther’s day, a corrupt church was selling heaven’s forgiveness for cash. The construction of St. Peter’s Basilica was being bankrolled by gullible peasants.

Medieval superstition had devoured truth. God’s Word was hidden in monasteries, shrouded in tradition, and uttered only in Latin. The answer of the reformers was Sola Scriptura—back to the Word of God.

“It was into a bleak situation that the reformers spoke.”

“I will cause a boy who drives a plow to know more of the Scriptures than the pope,” said men like Tyndale. And true to their word, they translated the Bible into the languages of the people, reawakening the hearts and minds of a continent.

Today truth has been swallowed by relativism. Now, for example, we’re told that something can be true for you but not for me; that absolute truth doesn’t exist; and that we should question everything.

But why do so few stop to question this? Or to ask if such nonsense is absolutely true? It’s time we stood up and said relativism isn’t true for me even if the befuddled intelligentsia believe it.

“Today truth has been swallowed by relativism.”

Little wonder superstition has returned. Mysticism is in full flower once more in western nations. People are desperate for something real to anchor their lives to. And in this truth vacuum, too many are satisfied with the horoscopes of human speculation, and gimmick-spirituality imported for mass markets.

Today the Bible is more available than ever, but it’s out of fashion and soiled by centuries of slung mud. Still it speaks. God is there, and he is not silent. He has spoken, and his Word remains a sure foundation we can build our lives on.

2. The Priesthood of All Believers

The reformers also rediscovered the priesthood of all believers: we no longer need priests to stand between us and God, mediating forgiveness and blessing. Jesus has opened the way for each of us to be priests, to know God for ourselves and relate to him personally. And that is possible because every person is made in his image.

Today we enjoy individual liberty and human rights, and they arose from these distinctly Christian beliefs. Now everyone cries “equality!” But do they know where this idea came from? More to the point, do they actually mean it?

Many preach tolerance, but only tolerate views they agree with. They tell us don’t judge the morality of others, but condemn anyone too puritanical for their liking. They say that all ethnicities, genders and orientations are equal, but then divide and rank us by who feels the most offended and deserves the biggest megaphone. That’s not equality—and it’s sowing division, not unity.

“Individual liberty and human rights arose from distinctly Christian beliefs.”

Here’s the awkward truth: in our heads, we think of evolution as true and Genesis as a myth. So survival of the fittest must be largely to blame for the racial and gender inequality we have today.

But in our hearts we can’t accept that. No one admits it in polite company, but deep down we still want to believe Genesis and the reformers: that male and female were made equally in God’s image; that no tribe or nation is any less qualified as priests unto God.

If our hearts and heads remain divided as they are, the door stays open to manipulation. When it’s convenient, the culture-makers will preach equality. But when they don’t get their way, they’ll act like some people are more equal than others, and oppress anyone who dares dissent.

It’s time to clear away the dust. The dignity and equality of every person is truly true—but only if the reformers were right. Can we, unashamed, share their convictions once more? Or are we on our way back to tyranny?

3. Sola Fide

Luther’s greatest discovery, the core idea that drove his revolution, was Sola Fide—by faith alone. God’s approval doesn’t come to us through good deeds or religious observance. Jesus won our forgiveness and freedom at the cross. Now it’s a free gift for everyone who believes.

This is dangerous. Fear and control, which religious leaders relied on for millennia to coerce good behaviour, are now powerless. The individual conscience is subject to God alone, and now we must trust that good deeds flow from hearts of gratitude to him, not external threats of judgment.

“God’s approval doesn’t come through good deeds or religious observance.”

It’s also offensive. In every religious system, humans ascend to God through strict obedience, sage insights, or single-minded devotion, and so we get the glory. In the gospel, people contribute nothing. God descends to us, clothes himself in flesh, and achieves salvation on our behalf. We get the gift, but God alone gets the glory.

Finally, it’s liberating—the most liberating news in the world. No longer are we haunted by guilt, bound by addiction, or straining for perfection. God meets us in our weakness, and covers every failure with his grace and everlasting love.

Sola Scriptura, The Priesthood of All Believers, and Sola Fide could change the world once more.

The time has come for another revolution.

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