Monday, 27 November 2017

Douglas Wilson's Letter From Moscow

Tribal Truth

Douglas Wilson


I want to offer a “get yourself oriented” explanation for the lunacy that has apparently descended upon virtually everybody. A fogbank of dunsical folly, stretching the length of the entire East Coast, has worked its way across the nation, and so it is that we hear distant, muffled cries, from out there in the fog somewhere, “Who’s to say what a little boy is?”

Change the metaphor. The degradation and collapse of our civilization proceeds apace, and while millions of Christians in that civilization think that “something is wrong,” few of them have any idea of just how wrong it all is. And we have erstwhile leaders who have assumed the role of reassuring us, trying to make us think that, provided a culture is unbelieving, there is no appreciable difference between its rise and its disintegration. Take a glance to the right in order to check out a recent promo vid on a glossy web site for one of those Big Name Christian Conferences.

And so let’s begin with the theopolitics of this, and then move on to cite a few illustrations of it snatched from today’s headlines. I won’t say what these examples are about exactly, but one of them rhymes with Sal Planken.


Every social order requires an arche, a point of integration. That point of integration ties together a society’s beliefs, symbolic customs, shared narratives, and lifestyles. If that point of integration fails, then you don’t have a society that exists as a counter-example to my statement, but rather you have a failed society. For a society to cohere, there must be an adhesive. If these elements are not held together, then what you have is a non-society. Now this point of integration, this adhesive, is what I call the “god of the system.”

For the Muslims, this is the will of Allah. For the Philistines it was Dagon. For the Jews it was Jehovah. For the Greeks it was Zeus. For the Amorites, it was Martu. For the Egyptians, it was Ra. I use the phrase “god of the system” to indicate that this reality of societal cohesion is shared both by worshipers of false gods and worshipers of the true and living God. To appeal to Henry Van Til’s formulation, culture is religion externalized. All cultures are some religion externalized.

For secularists, this point of integration is Demos, the people. The catch for them is that they want to believe that their Demos is a predictable god, just as the Christian God is. Our God is immutable, without variation or shadow due to change. Their god is fickle, but they still like to pretend that what “everybody knows” will always remain that way—when it transparently will not. Stability is a feature of the older order that they have been busy replacing without knowing it. Demos has violent mood swings; Demos needs to be sedated sometimes. Jehovah is constant, the same yesterday, today, and forever.

So for Christians, the arche is the Lord Jesus Christ, the one who holds all things together. “And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning [arche], the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence” (Col. 1:18).  He holds everything together; He has the preeminence in all things; He is the arche.

Christians assert that the claims of Christ are universal and transcendental. He is the Lord of heaven and earth. He has authority over everything He created, and He created everything. “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3). There is not a quark or a photon anywhere in this cosmos that was not spoken into existence by the Word of God, who is the Lord Jesus. In short, He is no tribal Deity. And His omnipresent authority does not mean that He is rolled out thinly over everything, stretched out to cover it all. No, all of God is present in every place.

It angers Him when the impudence of men tries to “isolate Him,” tries to locate Him in one place to the exclusion of another. “And there came a man of God, and spake unto the king of Israel, and said, Thus saith the Lord, Because the Syrians have said, The Lord is God of the hills, but he is not God of the valleys, therefore will I deliver all this great multitude into thine hand, and ye shall know that I am the Lord” (1 Kings 20:28).

It is also great folly to fall into the trap of the “religious,” those who think they can get God to stay put in a decorated box called a sanctuary, provided they layer it with enough gold.

“Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the prophet, Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool: what house will ye build me? saith the Lord: or what is the place of my rest? Hath not my hand made all these things?” (Acts 7:48–50).

Christ is therefore a universal king. He is not Lord of one place, and not of another. He is not Lord of one category (sacred) and not of another (secular). He is not the king of one religion and not of another. He is therefore the king (thus far unacknowledged) of the Jews, the Muslims, the Hindus, the Buddhists, and all others. Our task as Christians here on earth is found in the Great Commission. We are commanded to disciple every Muslim nation, every Hindu nation, the one Jewish nation, every Buddhist nation (Matt. 28:18-20).

And will that happen? Of course it will. It is happening now.

“They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, As the waters cover the sea. And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, Which shall stand for an ensign of the people; To it shall the Gentiles seek: And his rest shall be glorious” (Is. 11:9–10).

God’s instrument for accomplishing this is the proclamation of the gospel, the preaching of the crown rights of King Jesus, with His eternal throne established on the everlasting foundation of His shed blood, His three days in the tomb, His resurrection in power and glory, and His royal reception by the Ancient of Days. Preach that, and you will find that that will preach.

God’s instrument for accomplishing this is not a craven and cowardly demeanor on the part of His servants, going out into all the world to find common ground, to split the difference, to search out the lowest common denominator, to seek the peace of Gomorrah, or to tell the world that their deepest felt needs were the compass that Christ steers by.

So Christ’s saving authority is absolute. It is universal. It is transcendent. It is consummate, final, complete, simple, unlimited, total, and utterly unrivaled. Thus far the Christian gospel.

Now when worshipers of false gods seek to approximate and counterfeit this, they have to take their local deities on some kind of a promotional tour. What this means is that the local deity has to become the god of some empire or other, and the followers of Christ must be harried, persecuted and marginalized. In centuries past, this promotion of a local god was done by means of overt conquest . . . in these times, it is done by the lying tricks of the cultural Marxists, the sitcom laugh track being just one of them. Gramsci called for the long march through the institutions, in just the same way that drywood termites commence their long march through the floor joists. Their idea was to get Demos to stop trying to make sense, and to just follow the gonads.


Truth is that which serves and worships the Deity. Christians believe that truth is absolute because their God is absolute. Truth is an attribute of the eternal God. Jesus said “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)). Pilate asked what truth was when the final and ultimate answer to that question stood bleeding in front of him (John 18:38). True truth is that which therefore honors the true God, which it has to do, being an aspect of His Being.

The world is structured in such a way that devotees of localized religions and finite gods, despite themselves, have to function in the same way. Truth will always be defined as service to the god of the system. When someone say that “that is true for you, but not for me,” what they are doing is confessing their faith in a finite god. Your god requires you to say and do certain things, as does mine. This approach is polytheism—and the political name for that is pluralism.

And when the false universalism of empire, or of globalization, fails—either fails to cohere, or coheres for a time before collapsing—what is the result? The result is that all unbelievers default to their respective natural tribes. These tribes may be ethnic, national, ideological, or political. And truth becomes whatever the god of that little system requires. But little systems requires the truths to be little truths. “That’s true for me.” “That’s true in our faith community.”

Absent a universal arche, there is nothing whatever that can be done to stop this—it is a necessity. Courses in logic won’t fix this because man is of necessity religious, and truth is always a matter of religious dogma. Examples to follow, further down.


So when the god of an empire fails, or the god of the cosmopolis no longer commands the respect of the people, if the people have not in the meantime been converted to Christ, then they will necessarily default to their local baals. Nobody thinks the United Nation has any religious mojo anymore. Neither does the federal government. Those centers have lost their adhesive powers.

And so when it defaults, it defaults to locally congregated groups. For some it is ethnicity. For others it is ideology. Truth is what serves the interests of Black Lives Matter. Truth is what advances the hard leftism of Bernie Sanders. Truth is what reinforces the assumptions of the alt-right. Anything but Jesus.

Now some might object and say that I am lathering too much theology over the top of this. We have always had hyper-partisanship, have we not? And isn’t that what you are talking about? People who are so “into” their cause that absolutely anything is pressed into the service of that cause?

Yes, we have always had that, but such fanatics have been outliers. When a society is intact, the center holds, even if it is a false center. But when a culture starts to balkanize, and the hyper-partisanship becomes standard operating procedure for most groups, then local tribal truths start to play smashmouth with other local tribal truths. And when someone points out a contradiction this has the effect of just highlighting the conflict, which is the whole point, and the other guy just doubles down. And the conflict intensifies.

So we have always had people who could not be convinced by any evidence whatever. There is the story told about the guy who was always critical, never saw the good side of anything or anybody. This exasperated his friends a great deal, so imagine the delight of one of those friends who bought a retriever for his duck hunting, and discovered on his first outing that his dog knew how to walk on water. His first thought was that this would impress his critical friend. So he took him out duck hunting the next day, shot a duck, and the dog ran out over the surface of the water, and returned to the blind with the duck. The critical friend said nothing. This happened two more times, and still the critical friend said nothing. In the truck on the way home, the exasperated man asked in frustration whether his friend had noticed anything. “Well, yes,” the man replied. “I didn’t want to mention it because you all never want to hear my perspective. But since you asked, I did notice that your stupid dog can’t swim.”

We have all known people for whom no evidence was sufficient. But what is happening when this is descriptive of all the major factions in a culture?

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.


So let’s start with the Franken example. The point of this is not the tawdry scandal itself, but rather the way people are talking about it, how they process it, how they rationalize after the fact.

I saw a reporter in the White House press corps, pressing Sarah Sanders on why the president had tweeted something rude about Franken, and hadn’t done the same thing concerning Roy Moore. Isn’t this inconsistent? Well, no—whether or not you believe that Moore is guilty or innocent.

For the reporter, it was simply a matter of “a” sexual accusation made against a member of his tribe, and there was also “a” sexual accusation made against a member of the opposing tribe. The fact that they were wildly different situations was totally ignored—and here is the difference. The one person denies it ever happened, and in the other instance we have a photograph of him doing it.

That kind of difference doesn’t matter if truth is whatever advances the cause of your tribe. If there is any kind of semi-plausible argument that can be made, and enough people are willing to push it for the sake of the tribe, then that is what truth is.

This works when we are talking about the true and living God. Truth really is what pleases the triune God. But this approach results in absurdities everywhere else. All local gods of necessity come a cropper, all of them face plant like Dagon.


Another example of this problem is something I have seen in nominally conservative circles. One similarity between two disparate individuals is picked out, the whole thing is flattened, and that one similarity is regarded as the only relevant thing. For example, I have been told before that my satiric language, directed at the forces of secularism and unbelief, is equivalent to the cutting language used by Euodia on Syntyche. Elijah mocking the priests of Baal is equivalent Shimei mocking David. After all, are they not both “mocking?”

This objection reveals that the true tribal allegiance is to the referees (falsely understood), and not to one of the teams. Many professing Christians have fallen for this. They know enough not to cheer for the devil’s team, but they don’t know enough not to cheer for what they believe to be the “neutral” refs. But everyone pretending to neutrality is on the devil’s team, whether they intend it or not.

So this is like saying there is no difference between your left tackle blocking the man across from him, and your right tackle pulling and blocking your own right guard. Are they not both blocking? Or if your running back gets spun around, and starts running with the ball in the wrong direction? Is not the essential thing that he be running, and maintaining good ball control? Well, that is essential to his task, but it is not the only thing that is essential. Running in the right direction is also suggested.


All the talk we hear about white privilege, or white fragility, or ubiquitous white racism, is an example of the same kind of thing. And, by the way, I am not here talking about blacks and whites who know that the only true possibility of ethnic reconciliation is to be found in the gospel of Christ—the teaching that blacks and whites are equally trapped in sinful rebellion against God, and are offered forgiveness on equal terms, which is to say, on the basis of the blood of Christ. That is real reconciliation.

But there is a tribal truth version of ethnic reconciliation out and about. In this version, being white automatically entails guilt. Possessing any kind of privilege at all (parents not divorced, taught math as a child, growing up in a crime-free community, etc.) is considered to be a mortal offense against underprivileged groups, instead of being what it actually is—a gift from God. Egalitarianism is driving this, and envy is what drives egalitarianism. The tribal god is demanding that the happiness of people in other tribes be denounced.

And then when certain whites, suffering from what can only be called incurable whiteness, join in with this, and call upon fellow whites to recognize their inescapable racism, this is what is happening. Contrary to the opposing tribe, which would be the alt-right, the whites who do this are not being race-traitors. It is far worse than that. They are reality-traitors.

The problem is not that they are betraying their people. Rahab did that, and was thereby justified (Jas. 2:25). The problem is that they are betraying the arche that rules over all nations, all ethnicities, all tribes, all men. Truth is not what serves and helps blacks. Truth is not what serves and helps whites. Truth is not what helps the progressive left. Truth is not what helps the reactionary right. Truth is the belt around the waist of Messiah the Prince.


We are caught in a maze of confusions because we continue to insist that secular democracy, which of necessity denies any ultimate arche, is a viable system. It is not. It is moribund, defunct, teetery, doomed, done for, and perishing. It is lying on its back in the pasture of its discontents, with all four feet pointing toward the sky. In the great words of that Monty Python parrot skit, it has joined the choir invisible.

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