THIS is going to be a foreign column, starting from the unlikely launchpad of “Feedback”, the New Scientist’s compulsive page of silliness at the end of each week’s magazine. That discusses the case of Pastor Paul Sanyangore of Victory World International ministries in Zimbabwe, who has God on his speed dial.
It’s true. I have watched the video on YouTube, where he stalks up and down with the phone clamped to his ear, asking questions into it and then shouting the answers into a microphone.
Of course, there are always scoffers and mockers. His own brother has denounced him on YouTube as a fraud, unfortunately not in a language that I can speak. So, the magazine explains, Pastor Sanyangore released the number he uses to call God. A South African DJ tried it, live on air, of course. The call went through to voicemail. Apparently among the options given were “forgiveness, lost love, winning lottery numbers, world peace and . . . press 5 to smite someone.”
It is unwise to check any evidence on YouTube, for it leads into an infinite rabbit hole. But I managed to turn back after reaching another video for which the blurb started “People are now getting their delivarance [sic] from the water that Pastor Sanyangore walked on. For more information on how to talk meet the man of God Pastor Sanyangore call Pastor Andy on . . .”
THE serious stuff comes with an exchange between two American intellectuals, Rod Dreher, the conservative whose book The Benedict Option (Sentinel) has been getting a lot of notice, and Benjamin Teitelbaum, who reviewed it for the Los Angeles Review of Books, alongside the leftish Roman Catholic Archbishop Charles Chaput’s latest work.
Anyone of liberal temperament ought to read Dreher’s blog to see what an honest and thoughtful conservative looks like; then read the comments section to make the acquaintance of the other, more numerous, sort.
The Benedict Option can be boiled down, I think, to two central principles. The first is that virtue can best be cultivated as part of a community effort. The second, impossible to argue with, is that mainstream white American Christianity has been utterly corrupted by consumerist culture.
Teitelbaum’s review is hostile, as one might expect, but it is also scrupulous, and fairly sympathetic: “According to Chaput and Dreher, secular liberalism has breached the innermost ramparts of our society, and mainstream American culture now finds itself in a loathsome state of aimlessness, in which history, place, and even our bodies mean nothing.
“The authors mobilize to expose this social confusion and guide Christians on a path toward spiritual and cultural survival. This path is one of entrenchment, of waiting out liberalism’s vital phase.”
The review does contain the most convincing argument I have come across about why opposition to gay marriage is so very important to the conservatives: “[Chaput’s] concern centers not on same-sex marriage per se, but rather on what it allegedly represents and perpetuates — namely, a society in which we are no longer able to orient ourselves because one of the most fundamental features of identity, gender, has been stripped of consequence. Any notion that certain features of who we are might be givens, that we could be born into one association or social role but not others, is now anathema.”
This line of reasoning would also explain why conservatives are committed to the idea that homosexuality is learned behaviour, which can and should be unlearned.
Teitelbaum’s review and Dreher’s response on his blog deserve a great deal more space than I can give them here, and I’d urge everyone to read both at length. Teitelbaum zeroes in on the claim that there are moral facts: “You might think that the claim ‘All men are created equal’ is not the same kind of falsifiable statement as ‘The temperature outside right now is 86 degrees’; but Chaput begs to differ. The former is as much of a fact as the latter, he claims, and if it is regarded as a non-fact — as an opinion — it is more easily relativized and conditionally dismissed.”
Dreher picks up on, and concedes, the really important point that liberalism is in some sense an outgrowth of Christianity, which first came up with the idea of universal moral truths valid for every culture, and thus that anti-modernism will in time become profoundly hostile to Christianity itself.
“Racialism is a powerful god — a false one, but a powerful one. Look at how identity politics (racial, sexual, etc) has destroyed old-school liberalism. Racialism is going to do the same thing to old-school conservatism. Even if our churches are conservative in theology, if all they’re giving is right-wing politics and bland therapeutic pieties, it will give us nothing with which to resist the anti-Christian Right.
“The question I always have for liberal critics of anti-modernists is this: what do you have to offer? If the Christian religion and its precepts are no longer undergirding and binding our civilization, what is?”