The Conversation in America is Coming to a Close

This crazy assignment is so difficult for our team since we don’t know America’s story — or the Christian story — very well. So, we are sometimes frustrated at how slow we connect the dots.

But our wonderful team member, Paula Wong, helped us see things we would have otherwise missed.

And one of the most powerful indicators of where you are heading is that, as your division grows, the conversation between the opposing sides is ending.

But you can’t do your democracy/republic without continuing a serious and real conversation in your nation…


At the very heart of democratic civil society is the idea that we don’t stop talking to one another, even when — perhaps especially when — the conversation is frustrating and seems futile. Why? Because ending the conversation is tantamount to ending the relationship, and when the relationship ends, everything hardens, polarization reigns, and your opponents turn into your enemies.

The Seven Habits of Highly Depolarizing People, By David Blankenhorn, American Interest, February 17, 2016

Civic engagement and collaboration are the lifeblood of any republic.

A House Still Divided, By IBRAM X. KENDI, The Atlantic, OCTOBER 2018 ISSUE

So, we enjoyed this video Paula showed us…

 


And because you Americans fail to see your situation through the lens of story, one of the wonderful things for our Party is…

So few Americans believe your divided house will ever begin to actually crumble – even though you have been down this road before! 

Such denial puts you in a tight spot. So, here is a must read book we discovered about America’s past. It may give a clue to your future…


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This book is a wonderful account of the role which contempt played in the 40 years leading up to the American Civil War.

And contempt is also in play now in America…


We are responsible for our contempt addiction, of course, just as meth addicts are ultimately accountable for their addiction. But there are also our pushers-the political meth dealers. Knowing our weakness, dividing leaders on both the left and right seek power and fame by setting American against American, brother against brother, compatriot against compatriot. These leaders assert that we must choose sides, then argue that the other side is wicked-not worthy of any consideration-rather than challenging them to listen to others with kindness and respect. They foster a culture of contempt. 

Arthur Brooks, Love Your Enemies

And The Approaching Fury is fascinating because the author happened on a unique way of helping us to understand what was in the minds of the key players.

Here’s a link to an interview with the author, Stephen Oates:


The Approaching Fury: Voices of the Storm, 1820-1861


And notice what he says about Thomas Jefferson and his premonitions of the coming disaster…


LAMB: Thirteen characters in this book, how did you pick them?

Dr. OATES: Actually, you know, they kind of picked themselves. I’d I liked all of them to begin with, but they each–they have a purpose in the story. We start with Thomas Jefferson because Jefferson is just slapping the side of his head, profoundly upset over the Missouri crisis of 1819 to 1820. It was the first crisis over the territorial issue of slavery, and it was a territorial issue that will ultimately smash the nation up.

And I start with him because he’s upset and he says that the–that the threats of disunion here in 1820 cause him to look into the future. And he actually sees the Civil War and he slaps the side of his head and he said, `My God, this country’s going to have a blow up. It’s going to be a–when it hits us, it’s going to be like a tornado.’ I’m–to quote him; that’s exactly the word he uses.

And he’s the first of a whole line of seers that look into the future and see that this territorial issue and, beyond that, the issue of slavery in a nation based on the Declaration of Independence–that this combustible issue is going to blow the sections apart.


And look what Kirkus Reviews observed about one of the key points Oates was attempting to make…



[H]is point: that the North and South eventually saw the world so differently that they stopped talking the same language.


And that is just what is happening in America right now.

And your Benedict Option guy recognizes you have stopped talking the same language…


But American Christians are going to have to come to terms with the brute fact that we live in a culture, one in which our beliefs make increasingly little sense. We speak a language that the world more and more either cannot hear or finds offensive to its ears. 

Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option

And look what your Archbishop Charles Chaput warned America about…


That leads to the key point I want to make here. The biggest problem we face as a culture isn’t gay marriage or global warming. It’s not abortion funding or the federal debt. These are vital issues, clearly. But the deeper problem, the one that’s crippling us, is that we use words like justice, rights, freedom and dignity without any commonly shared meaning to their content.


We speak the same language, but the words don’t mean the same thing. Our public discourse never gets down to what’s true and what isn’t, because it can’t. Our most important debates boil out to who can deploy the best words in the best way to get power. Words like “justice” have emotional throw-weight, so people use them as weapons. And it can’t be otherwise, because the religious vision and convictions that once animated American life are no longer welcome at the table. After all, what can “human rights” mean if science sees nothing transcendent in the human species? Or if science imagines a trans-humanist future? Or if science doubts that a uniquely human “nature” even exists? If there’s no inherent human nature, there can be no inherent natural rights—and then the grounding of our whole political system is a group of empty syllables.

OF HUMAN DIGNITY, by Charles J. Chaput, First Things, March 18, 2015

And Paula showed us an interesting quote about America from two decades ago…


One thing is clear—today the public square is in crisis. Those on either side of every significant public policy debate continue to talk, and to shout, past each other. The participants are not on the same wavelength, not even on the same planet. “Each side represents the tendencies of a separate and competing moral galaxy.” The public square is not a workshop for building a national moral consensus. It is a battleground for a culture war, as James Hunter asserts, and moral public discourse is subverted, useful only as weaponry. The voice of the nation has been effectively shattered. We speak in a broken tongue.

……

Catholic theologian John Courtney Murray sounds a grim note of warning: “If the public argument dies from disinterest, or subsides into the angry mutterings of polemic, or rises to the shrillness of hysteria, or trails off into positivistic triviality, or gets lost in a morass of semantics, you may be sure that the barbarian is at the gates of the City.” The City falls for the lack of consensus, a degeneration from within.

To further complicate matters, postmodernism as a cultural influence and public “philosophy” questions the necessity, virtue, or even possibility of cultural consensus. It wants to position itself as a catalyst for furthering the decay of a unified, consensual public discourse in the name of pluralism. It is my contention that the influence of postmodernism is expanding, both in academia and in society in general. If this trend continues, the future of public moral discourse (and therefore the future of the republic itself) is in jeopardy.

Speaking in a Broken Tongue: Postmodernism, Principled Pluralism, and the Rehabilitation of Public Moral Discourse, Theodore A. Turnau III, Westminster Theological Journal, (Fall 1994)

So, as the tension continues to grow in America, the conversation between Americans who embrace different versions of the story we are in is grinding to a halt…


Recently the great Catholic scholar George Weigel spoke at Georgetown University, and as the lecture wound down, there was a moment of solemn acknowledgment that the culture war is probably lost. Mr. Weigel, whose talk was based on the life of John Courtney Murray, noted that those who disagree with him have no interest in a genuine argument.

….

At one point a member of the audience asked Weigel how the culture war stalemate could ever be broken. Weigel, a man not only of great intellect but good cheer, had a blunt and unavoidable answer: “When you have a gnostic philosophy that ignores the very fabric of reality — and it is wed to a coercive state — it’s hard to know where to go.”

Ben Affleck and the End of Argument, By Mark Judge, Real Clear Religion, October 9, 2014

Through the prism of contemporary European intellectual and cultural history, Joseph Weiler helps us understand by a twenty-first century European constitution that can accommodate 70,000 other words found no room for the word “Christianity.” Yet I cannot resist the suspicion that the argument over what became known as the invocatio Dei in the European constitution was, in many respects, a stalking horse for another argument that Europe’s constitution makers really did not want to engageand that is the argument over the very meaning of freedom.

George Weigel, The Cube and the Cathedral

George Weigel isn’t alone in this way of seeing. Look at the following from the noted Christian philosopher David Bentley Hart…


Simply said, we have reached a moment in Western history when, despite all appearances, no meaningful public debate over belief and unbelief is possible.

Gods and Gopniks, by David Bentley Hart, First Things, May 2014

And, if some of the sharpest minds among you have come to such conclusions, the outlook for America is pretty bleak…


Democracy and common sense teach us to seek the truth by listening to one another. If we will not even provide a room for people who want to talk with one another because we do not like what they say, then democracy is impossible.

No Room for Sanity at the Inn, by Anthony Esolen, Public Discourse, December 4th, 2015

We live at a time when national unity is at a particularly low ebb. Everything seems to divide us — religious belief, ethnic background, gender, political ideology, party — and very little unites us. Separated into media- and technology-enhanced silos, we seem to have lost the ability to meet and converse with large numbers of fellow citizens on common ground. This is a serious problem that may, in time, signal the end of the American republic and its promise for the world.

Pursuing Unity: Race and the American Story, By S. Adam Seagrave, Public Discourse, August 16th, 2017

See that?

It looks like we just have to continue to be patient as you continue your death march into the Danger Zone of the House Divided.

After all, just think how far the conversation in America has broken down in the past twenty years. At the rate things are going, well, look at this…


[T]he truth is rather that an agreement that we share no fundamental ethical positions — that we are utterly divided, that belief in a root American ethics is a sentimental delusion — would mean the end of discourse.

It may even mean the end of the culture. Philosophical discourse is not the only way, or even the primary way, in which people are persuaded to change their ethical systems. There is social pressure and (many Americans still believe) conversion by the grace of God. And there is war.

Facing Up to Infanticide, by Joseph Bottum, First Things, February 1996

At the rate things are changing, the United States may not survive until 2025!

So, it looks like America is ultimately dividing over two opposing answers to the profoundly important question…


Which Story Are We In?


And now that our secular story allies in America have gained the commanding heights in your society, the conversation is coming to an end.

But your republic cannot survive if things keep going that direction.

So, if you Christians want to keep America from coming apart…


You have to try to reopen the conversation – and persuade.


You see, even though you Christians are in desperate trouble, we’re going to show you in this report that you really do have the advantage in America’s story war.

And you could make a heroic effort in America’s unfolding drama to try and reopen the conversation in America and pull the United States back from the abyss of the house divided.

But you would have to come to recognize that your God is the Great Storyteller — and he has designed story to be far more powerful than you realize. Because if you want to try to reopen the conversation in America and begin to persuade, you have to pay attention to the power of story…


Storytelling. When we try to explain or persuade, effective stories are the key. We must connect with the people we are talking to, and narrative is the best way.

Can English Departments Be Relevant Again?, By Burt Wallerstein, James G. Martin Center, April 25, 2013

There are two ways to persuade people. The first is by using conventional rhetoric, which is what most executives are trained in. It’s an intellectual process, and in the business world it usually consists of a PowerPoint slide presentation in which you say, “Here is our company’s biggest challenge, and here is what we need to do to prosper.” And you build your case by giving statistics and facts and quotes from authorities. But there are two problems with rhetoric. First, the people you’re talking to have their own set of authorities, statistics, and experiences. While you’re trying to persuade them, they are arguing with you in their heads. Second, if you do succeed in persuading them, you’ve done so only on an intellectual basis. That’s not good enough, because people are not inspired to act by reason alone.

The other way to persuade people—and ultimately a much more powerful way—is by uniting an idea with an emotion. The best way to do that is by telling a compelling story. In a story, you not only weave a lot of information into the telling but you also arouse your listener’s emotions and energy.

Storytelling That Moves People: A Conversation with Screenwriting Coach Robert McKee by Bronwyn Fryer, Harvard Business Review, June 2003

Someone once said, “If you want to change the world, tell a different story.” That’s because storytelling is a very formative means of shaping our imaginations for how we live. In fact, Robert McKee says, “Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world.” So if you want people to see the world differently and live differently, then they need to hear a different story.

The Imago Dei: It’s Who We Are, By K. Rex Butts, Kingdom Seeking, June 6, 2018

Taylor suggests that those who convert to unbelief “because of science” are less convinced by data and more moved by the form of the story that science tells and the self-image that comes with it (rationality = maturity). Moreover, the faith that they left was often worth leaving. If Taylor is right, it seems to suggest that the Christian response to such converts to unbelief is not to have an argument about the data or “evidences” but rather to offer an alternative story that offers a more robust, complex understanding of the Christian faith.

James K.A. Smith, How (Not) To Be Secular

And because of your current President, you should take this seriously…


Under a regime that spouts lies, there is no way to protest in the name of truth. Where truth doesn’t count, conversation is empty. Where truth doesn’t count, persuasion can be no more than seduction or intimidation. Power rules.

Put another way, when power, wealth, and position threaten to tyrannize, people must be able to appeal to truth. Only when truth is cherished as an imperative does civilization become possible. Only then can human beings enter into rational conversation with one another. For civilization is constituted by conversation. Barbarians bully; civilized people persuade.

Truth and Freedom, by Michael Novak, First Things, January 2, 2009

America’s founders had learned from the history of empires that keeping diverse peoples under the same roof requires interfering as little as possible with their views of themselves and of the good. Time to relearn federalism.

The limits to such forbearance are set by the Declaration of Independence’s requirement that no one may rule another without his consent; such unity as may be possible, therefore, has to result from the politics of persuasion.

THE COLD CIVIL WAR, By Angelo M. Codevilla, Claremont Review of Books, April 25, 2017

And Paula showed us that these brilliant people of yours see it…


Respect for the dignity of the other person created in the image of God requires that we not silence or exclude him but try to persuade him.

Why We Can Get Along, Richard John Neuhaus, First Things, February 1996

Persuasion, or some combination of persuasion and moderation, might allow us to end or endure our great political division.

America’s Cold Civil War, By Charles R. Kesler, Imprimis, October 2018

And consider this, from the noted Christian philosopher who sees the secularist age you are in…


Solidarity is essential to democratic societies; otherwise, they fall apart. They cannot function beyond a certain level of mutual distrust or a sense on the part of some members that other members have abandoned them.

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We live, today, in uncharted territory. We face a challenge that is unprecedented in human history: creation of a powerful political ethic of solidarity self-consciously grounded on the presence and acceptance of very different views.

This can succeed only if we engage in vigorous exchange with each other in order to create a kind of mutual respect for these different views. The advancing force of Islamophobia in Europe and the US, with its attempt to reduce Islam’s complex and varied history to a few demagogic slogans, is the kind of utterly ignorant stupidity – there’s no better description of it – on which democratic societies founder.

But that is true of any kind of dismissive view of the “other.” Our societies will hold together only if we talk to each other with openness and frankness, and, in doing so, recreate a certain sense of solidarity from all our different roots.

Solidarity in a Pluralist Age, by Charles Taylor, Project Syndicate, September 27, 2010

But do you want to make that attempt?

Let us know.

Because we really want to know what you want, here in the story. And it looks like there are some Christians in America, like this famous preacher, who are trying to think broadly about persuasion…


As Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor says, we need to “criticize these practices from the standpoint of their own motivating ideal.” Each of the narratives aspires in part to something good, and we must be genuinely appreciative of this. People rightly want to be free; they want justice; they want a truly open and pluralistic society. However, we must show them that only in Christ can these aspirations be rightly fulfilled. “Instead of dismissing this culture altogether, or just endorsing it as it is,” Taylor concludes, we ought to show its members “what . . . they subscribe to really involves. This means . . . the work of persuasion.” 

How do we do this? I will give examples of how to do this in present-day Western secular culture in the next chapter. As a short preview – we must first describe the narratives well, making them “visible” to the listeners. Next we must use the Bible to identify what we can affirm and appreciate about the narrative. Then, using the culture’s own respected voices, we must challenge the narrative in several ways. We must show that most of the rest of the world and other cultures do not consider this belief to be self-evident. To act as if “everyone believes this” is therefore ethnocentric. We must also show that the narrative is too simplistic, that it does not account for the complexities of real life, and that it requires leaps of faith as great as or greater than those called for by religion. 

Timothy Keller, Preaching

But as you’ll see in this report, it looks like that Keller guy is probably an exception.

And that is so encouraging to our team. 

Still, you may want to reflect on this in relation to how your drama may unfold…


North and South venerated the Founders. They shared the same language, the same religion, and, in large part, the same general stock. Most of all, they shared what Jeff Sessions was recently rebuked for calling an “Anglo-American heritage” of liberty under law, stretching from the mists of medieval England — even before Magna Carta — to our own Bill of Rights.

Today, however, our divisions are so deep and fundamental that Americans cannot even agree on what marriage is or what a man or a woman is (which is pretty darn fundamental).

The lunatic self-righteousness of the Left (and yes, I’m afraid one must point fingers here), where disagreement is bigotry to be prohibited by law or even condemned and prosecuted as treason, is a consuming, destructive fire that will not be easily quenched, and cannot be reached by cool waters of rational argument.

America’s Next Civil War Will Be Worse Than Our Last, H. W. CROCKER III, The American Spectator, July 26, 2018

So, what if your situation in America is actually very dangerous?

Look at this…


Freedom cannot grow-it cannot even survive-in every atmosphere or clime. In the wearying journey of human history, free societies have been astonishingly rare. The ecology of liberty is more fragile than the biosphere of Earth.Freedom needs clean and healthful habits, sound families, common decencies, and the unafraid respect of one human for another.

……

To maintain free societies in any of their three parts – economic, political, or cultural – is a constant struggle. Of these three, the cultural struggle, long neglected, is the one on whose outcome the fate of free societies in the twenty-first century will most depend. We will have to learn, once again, how to think about such matters, and how to argue about them publicly, with civility, and also with the moral seriousness of those who know that the survival of liberty depends upon the outcome. The free society is moral, or not at all.


No one ever promised us that free societies will endure forever. Indeed, a cold view of history shows that submission to tyranny is the more frequent condition of the human race, and that free societies have been few in number and not often long-lived. Free societies such as our own, which have arisen rather late in the long evolution of the human race, may pass across the darkness of time like splendid little comets, burn into ashes, disappear.

Awakening from Nihilism: The Templeton Prize Address, by Michael Novak, First Things (August/September 1994)

And we came to see that if you Christians don’t begin to see America as a story, well, you’ll have trouble considering these insights…


I know that many of you feel the way I do—that our great nation is losing her way. Dear graduates, you are entering an American society that is more anxious and more bitterly divided than I have ever seen in my lifetime. But the biggest challenges we face do not concern globalization, technology, or demographics. I believe our biggest challenge is a crisis of identity. America has lost her way because we have lost the threads of our national story. We no longer know who we are as a people or what our national purpose is.

A NEW STORY FOR A NEW AMERICA, by Jose Gomez, First Things, May 23, 2018

In short, American civilization has lost its way. America’s struggle for independence took flight on two wings: commonsense reason and humbled faith (faith humbled into turning from the narrow way of self-centeredness and persecution into the broad uplands of religious liberty and pluralism). Today the American eagle is trying to remain aloft solely on its secular wing. In tolerance for one another, in morals and manners, in national morale, in mutual amity, its decline has been steep and swift.

Americans have lost the thread of the American story.

Lose the story, lose the culture.

Lose the Story, Lose the Culture, By Michael Novak, National Review, July 2, 2016

If Novak is right, this means a lot to our team.

As long as you Christians continue to deny you are in a story war in America, you will fail to see the undefended space of the secular version of the story we are in, and therefore fail to begin to engage it and reopen the conversation in America.

And your country will continue to come apart.

But at least this may become your new national anthem…