David Sessions does yeoman’s work trying to disambiguate “culture wars” as a term:

I think most of us loosely think of culture warring as a special class of ressentiment, combat driven by a mentality of besiegement, symbolic struggle, and supposed existential threat to a cultural identity. But I’m not so sure we can make a clean separation between that and good old democratic disagreement. Democracy as we generally conceive it is a structure for managing and containing conflict, a framework for legitimate political struggle. There will always be factions, sides, particular interests, etc, and those imply we will have political friends and enemies. Deep down, I think describing serious political conflict as a “culture war” is part of the liberal allergy to vigorous debate; it tries to shove deep disagreements into a corner with some kind of label indicating that this is not welcome in “reasonable” discourse. “Culture warrior” is an epithet, used by the “sides” against each other and by bipartisan elites against all that shrill partisanship. But the reality is that certain issues like abortion, gay marriage, etc, are deeply divisive, and they symbolize and encapsulate dearly-held views about what is good and right in our country and the identities of people who hold those views. Despite what Washington pundits might tell you, people should have strong feelings about these issues, and they should fight about them. It’s called politics.

This presents a dilemma for Christians on opposite sides of political issues, who need to both remain faithful to their theological/moral/political beliefs and to love other Christians who disagree about those very charged issues. It’s hard to do, but it’s not impossible. And the worst thing that can be done, I think, is to keep using the term “culture wars” against people who disagree with your politics while, in the same breath, claiming you are tired of fighting. I don’t mean to pick on Rachel here, because she is a lovely person who is doing much worth admiring. I get what she’s trying to say, and I have even made these same arguments in the past. But in a post like this, she is taking a fairly clear political position: that evangelical political opposition to gay marriage is wrong.  She opposes Amendment One. I agree with that position, but I can’t deny that it is a position, and that it puts me on a “side” of the “culture war.” (Similarly, Matt cannot convincingly claim he’s “not much of a culture warrior” when a significant amount of his work is devoted to energizing a conservative Christian worldview that has political dimensions he cares about passionately.)

I’d planned on saying something very similar to this to try to clear up how someone can be a conservative and say that folks should vote for conservative positions without being a “culture warrior,” but David has already done it for me.  So make sure you read the whole thing.

The question that I am kicking around these days whether the hostile strands of democratic discourse are exacerbated during peacetime, as there’s no external foe that the factions can align themselves with.  If (God forbid) the ludicrously implausible happened and Russia dropped a nuke on American soil, well, I suspect the “culture war” rhetoric would mostly recede to the background and we’d find a relative level of consensus.  This is all hypothetical, of course, and I don’t have the time right now to read up on the relationship between the emergence of the Religious Right and the ending of Cold War.  Perhaps some smarter folks will weigh in here.

I am more optimistic than David, though, about differentiating culture war ressentiment from the simple advocacy for positions on divisive issues.  It’s fascinating to me that those who decry the culture war seem to have such an anxiety about doing so.  Rachel’s solution, after all, is broadly to listen to stories.  And she’s not alone in commending that sort of approach.  I have suspicions that the wariness of “vigorous debate” has less to do with liberalism than it does with a particularly late-modern suspicion about assertion at all.  Call it a “postmodernist” hangover, if you will, though the term is so contested as to probably not be useful.  But ressentiment is a symptom of a deeper disease, and while David seems to point at liberalism I’m not yet convinced.

But those differences shouldn’t overwhelm what is the main point:  David is almost exactly right about all of this.  And as he uses “culture warrior,” he’s right to suggest that I belong in the class as well.   My stance has largely been one of agreeing with many of the positions (though not all) of the Religious Right on matters of policy, while getting there by a different path.  Non-culture war conservatism, if you will, if you’ll allow me to use “culture war” there to denote the “special class of ressentiment” that David describes it as.  Whether I’ve been successful at this, well, God and the reader will be my judge.  But even if I’ve failed, I’m optimistic that it can be done.  And maybe next week I’ll say a few things about how.


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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.


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  2. I am going to go out on a limb here and offend somebody.

    The fact that I have read most of a dozen posts on this blog on Christian orthodoxy in culture from multiple sides of the spectrum by well-educated and well-connected people concerning the culture wars (which is at least in voice a war about God) without reading one verse of Scripture is the sole greatest symptom of the cycle of rot that pervades Protestant “christianity”. Maybe I’ll start — not because I’m any better but rather because I’ve found close study always drags a person to the best answers, which have and always will be Scripture.

    You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.

    Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James)

    Maybe I’ll be first to say that this is bullshit. The church’s great problem is that it’s engaged in these great big “culture wars” that primarily revolve around sex and money — who we’re mating with and how much we’d like to pay for it. There’s the cry for “peace” but all “peace” means is that I want to mate with somebody and pay an appropriate price for it.

    “I said, ‘You are “gods”;
    you are all sons of the Most High.’(Psalms qt. John)

    …and here we are arguing about who is spreading their legs for whom (Ezekiel) and who is sticking their whatever in what (Ezekiel again).

    In all truth, what do we, as sons of God, as kings of humanity, as partakers in the mastership of the most high God, have to do with the actions of dead flesh? And why on earth, if we really believe what we believe, do we treat anything this side of the grave with more than the properly due consideration?

    Let gays marry if they want to. They’ll receive their own penalty. We know what a spade is, and there’s not much sense in expecting dead flesh to adhere to divine law — it is impossible (Romans). If it was possible, Christ would not have had to die (Romans).

    As it is, we are not “Christian”. We are not “God-like”. We are man-like with a god tattoo. We are “western”; we are “American”; our faith has more to do with patent nationalism than actual godliness. We are divorced from the source, rank with sin, and we discuss everything but God in Christ.

    Everybody’s so intent on being civil. Why? Millennials leave the church because they’re godless and like mating with rocks trees and eachother, not because the music is bad. No one in their heart of heart cares about the music. If we’re tired of the “culture wars” why not just say “Well I don’t know what you think, but I know what the Bible tells me, so that’s how I’m going to live, and if someone shoots me in the head for it or taxes me for it, well then whatever — this isn’t my home anyway.”

    Instead, there’s this constant mentality of victimhood like our future is somehow in jeopardy. Let the dead bury their own dead, for goodness’ sake.

    Let the dead bury their own damned dead.


  3. […] We are all Culture Warriors Now(?) | Mere Orthodoxy | Christianity …May 18, 2012 … “Culture warrior” is an epithet, used by the “sides” against each other and by bipartisan elites against all that shrill partisanship. But the reality is … […]


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