We had a conference on public theology at Westminster last weekend, and I was pleased. I was thankful to the president and administration for allowing students in at a cut-rate discount. I got a jolly decent steak out of it too. It showed some good judgment that Westminster invited Robert George, Molly Hemmingway and R. R. Reno to speak on campus. I wonder whether there will be consequences from having Hugh Hewitt spontaneously invite the archbishop of Philadelphia onto the panel, considering presence of members of the board. And I very much doubt, if the idea is to get Van Tillians to get involved in that kind of public dialogue about faith, that that part will go far.
But it was tremendous and worthwhile. The reason for gathering these speakers, one gathered from the speakers, is that the left has advanced with alarming speed and does not intend to stop with the gains achieved so far. As it advances, the goals become more bizarre, and this reveals at heart a war with reality. The more advanced the progressive agenda becomes, the more inhuman it becomes, endeavoring to destroy the reality that is, for example, human nature. I think it is not entirely unlike what C. S. Lewis pictured in That Hideous Strength; at some point it goes far enough that it becomes evident that what they are doing is diabolical. The sense of the conference is that this is what the obvious tendency at present is and that we must stand against it. The point of saying ‘they are never going to go that far’, ‘things will settle down’, ‘they are going to be satisfied’, this point has been passed.
One of the great things Robert George did was to call us to courage. It is obvious that if we don’t stand they will crush us. He made an eloquent argument even against the abandoning of the political sphere in order to protect just home and church. His argument was that if we abandon the public institution of government, the academy and such, they will come and crush us in our private institutions. The left knows who the conservatives are, and the way they deal with us is by intimidation. George is certain of this, and certain that we defeat ourselves if we do not cultivate the cardinal virtue of courage, because we cultivate instead its opposite: cowardice. He was convincing and inspiring.
Some on a panel were more interested in fearmongering: persecution, etc. Molly Hemingway certainly pointed out how unscrupulous the fight is against any conservative position. I was impressed how sensible she is, how necessary clear thinking and argumentation are, and that there are few unscrupulous lengths the left has not experimented with in the madness of achieving its ends. From her it was good to get the sense that the situation is bleak and therefore there is much to do. There is a good fight to put on, a good fight raging even now. And even if we are persecuted, it is nevertheless not something we should be anxious or fearful about. One of the great things of that conference was the courage of Robert George and the scrappy Molly Hemingway, and the sense that there are people who care about honor.
My criticism—and I did not remain to listen to celebrity evangelical Kevin DeYoung—was that the interesting conversation between Reno and Trueman we were scheduled to get was filibustered by Robert George when Hewitt called him up along with the archbishop. I think Reno is a lot less dismissible than he was in former times, and I have almost forgiven him for not being Neuhaus.
Anyway, if you think at this point that the progressive agenda is not at war with reality, has reached the stage of bizarre aims, and will somehow stop of its own accord, you must not be paying too much attention. This conference, hosted at of all places Westminster, was well attended, variously represented (we even had Orthodox clergy attired in power), and shows how aware some are of the bad situation that they are willing to come together and think seriously about these things. It is impressive that in the few years these things have been dominant (Obama against redefining marriage in his first term, now for it in his second) arguments have been marshalled. Not only that, little platoons have been forming, and not of the Evangelical celebrity variety. What we don’t need is to capture power and put good people in influence, what we need is little platoons of clear-thinking individuals fighting back and adjusting the incentives so that even bad people will do the right thing. First thing is to stop the forward momentum. And it is refreshing to be around people who are fighting not only because it is the only thing left to do (which is enough) but also because they perceive the possibility of making some gains. There is more than cold resolution, there is some eagerness. I am made a bit dubious when Robert George uses the word transformation and when the triumphalism some want to hear is heard. At the same time, I think you have to make a qualitative difference between Catholic and Evangelical transformation, don’t you? Something, however slight . . .
Which is why I’m rather mournful at the reaction to the Trump beast. We know what Hillary stands for and what she will continue. Here is a chance to vote and make sure she is shut out at all costs: which will send a message. But politicians and Christians would rather grandstand about character and conscience. God forbid they should ever do something that doesn’t feel good or express outrage whenever anybody withdraws that inalienable right.