David ‘Vichy’ French Wants Christians to Surrender
David French launched a blistering attack on my old friend Eric Metaxas in Time. Because Eric offers qualified support for President Trump. For one Christian to take such a quarrel to the hateful mainstream media (ever eager to divide and destroy the Church) seems a bit … disloyal to me. Like a rabbi in a dispute with another rabbi pleading his cause on Iranian state media. So I’ll answer.
Responding to anything David French writes about President Trump is a bit like answering the question, “When did you stop beating your wife?” That’s because everything French says on this subject is based on an equally false premise. That premise is simple and silly. So silly, in fact that I find it hard to believe he sincerely accepts it.
In fact, I think that French, like other neocons, is simply working through a years-long tantrum over losing control of the GOP Xerox machine. It’s their “red stapler” from Office Space, and to get it they’re willing to “burn the building down.” The premise is just a pretext.
The Hidden, Ridiculous Premise
That premise is this: Christian citizens discredit their faith and give scandal to the Gospel itself if they choose a lesser evil in public life. Instead of accepting a much greater evil, and keeping their hands “clean” by giving up any influence, even in self-defense.
Now there are certain cases where something like this principle might apply. For instance, in one of those stupid “dilemma” questions posed in freshman ethics classes. (Those designed by men with no metaphysics, who have no business teaching ethics — or, indeed, any subject at all.) Hence:
A runaway train is headed toward a dozen blind schoolchildren. You see a very fat man near the tracks. The only way you can save the blind kids is to throw the glutton in front of the train. Should you do it?
The answer, of course, is “No.” Because you’d be murdering an innocent person. That’s active, direct participation in an intrinsic evil. No end justifies that means.
Trump Derangement Theology
Does any sane person think that supporting Donald Trump in America today is on a par with deliberate murder? (Well, Ross Douthat did compare voting for Trump to shooting an abortionist, just a week before the 2016 election.)
I’d like to hear such an argument. At least, an argument that would explain why it was not evil to support slave-owner George Washington, white racist Abraham Lincoln, or White House sex addict John F. Kennedy. Oh yes, and the feckless George W. Bush, who left almost a million Christians to be ethnically cleansed from Iraq. Why? Apparently, because he didn’t care enough to have our troops protect them.
French knows that his hidden premise of political purism and quietism can’t stand the light of day. And he doesn’t really believe it. So he uses feints, sleights of hand, misdirections, and moral panic attacks to keep us from noticing it. It reminds me of Lily Tomlin’s character in the comedy classic Flirting With Disaster. Whenever she and her drug-dealing husband needed to fuddle the cops, she’d warn of her “spastic colon” or explosive “reflux.”
Theological Sleight of Mind
This time, French has chosen to wave the colorful handkerchief “fear.” He complains that Christians like Metaxas “abandon long-held principles” out of unseemly fear. And French wants to twist things around until what we fear is fear itself.
With a few rhetorical gestures, French shrugs that the Church is in political danger. That a Democratic president would indeed appoint Supreme Court justices who’d trash the First Amendment. That Democrats want to bankrupt orders of nuns vowed to poverty if they won’t hand out abortion pills. And close down Christian bakers who won’t make Satanic sex toy cakes. Then shutter countless churches by denying them tax exemptions for resisting sodomy. And fund abortion on demand through all nine months of pregnancy for any reason in 50 states. Little things like that.
To all this, French mewls a pious bible quote: “For God gave us not a spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control.” And he summons an optimism we can only judge as rash:
Indeed, of all the groups in American life who believe they have the least to fear from American politics, Christians should top the list. The faithful should reject fear.
Then French calls on Christians to mount a kamikaze primary attack on Donald Trump. All to accomplish what? To preserve “our witness.” That is, to keep up appearances. Since we’d know such a gesture would fail, squander our influence with Trump for the good, and likely elect some Diocletian in a dress like Kamala Harris.
The Only Thing I’ll Use to Scare You Is Fear of Fear Itself
I want to talk about fear. Was it ungodly for Mordecai and Esther to fear Haman’s plan to murder the Jews? For them to scheme, and cozen the pagan Persian monarch, to stop that? Was it ungodly for Jeremiah to fear the punishment that hung over Jerusalem, and warn people against it? Later, was it ungodly for Mary and Joseph to fear Herod, and flee into Egypt?
Was it un-Christian of the Apostle Paul to flee persecutors when possible? To summon the authority of the pagan State, and use his Roman citizenship to frustrate his persecutors? How ungodly was it for the early Church, which French holds up as a model, to hide out of fear in catacombs? Then to welcome Constantine’s Edict of toleration? Constantine was no boy scout. He killed family members who threatened his rule. He left slavery and gladiatorial combat in place. Maybe Christians should have prissily refused his protection.
Some did, in fact. There was a sect of Christians who couldn’t reconcile themselves to a post-martyrdom Church. They scorned anyone who’d compromised with the pagans, and refused communion with lesser, “impure” Christians. These people were called the Donatists, and they were the group of heretics whom Augustine spent most of his time fighting. Their dogged war against the mainstream Church left North Africa ripe pickings for Islam.
Moving forward in time:
- Should the Christians of Gaul have feared the Saracen invasion, and cooperated with the ruthless warlord Charles Martel?
- Should Martin Luther have feared the Inquisition, and fled to the protection of the exploitative feudal lord Frederick III?
- Was it un-Christian for the French Huguenots to fear the persecution of the Valois kings, and engage in bloody warfare in self-defense?
- Were the Puritans un-Christian for fearing Anglican persecution, and fighting Charles I or fleeing to Holland?
Let’s jump to the 20th century, and a topic dear to Eric Metaxas’ heart. Was it wrong for Dietrich Bonhoeffer to fear the future evils Hitler might commit? Did he act like a pagan when he conspired to assassinate that tyrant with German officers who had blood on their hands, who’d waged Hitler’s wicked war?
An Unseemly Consuming Rage
I doubt that French would condemn any of these Christians for trying to protect themselves, their families, and innocent civilians from greater evils, even though it meant sullying themselves by associating with the impious.
I think Donald Trump is a special case for him. In fact, I think it’s a problem he needs to take up in prayer. As I observed on Twitter:
I don’t even hate French the way he hates Trump. It’s the kind of perfect hate that made some French right-wingers welcome the surrender in 1940, muttering “Better Hitler than Leon Blum!” For this Vichy Frenchman, it’s “Better @KamalaHarris than @POTUS.”
— John Zmirak (@JZmirak) June 29, 2019
John Zmirak is a Senior Editor at The Stream, and co-author of several books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Immigration.