Postmodern Conservative

Amazing Grace, History, and Our Flag

I don’t think anyone at NRO has gotten around to talking about it, but President Obama had a fantastic week or two. Not only did the Supreme Court given him what he wanted (while seeming rather incompetent at constitutional interpretation), that eulogy in Charleston about “Amazing Grace,” including the president leading the congregation in singing the hymn, was maybe his most accomplished effort yet. You say his was using Christianity to further his political agenda. Well, sure, but he did it quite effectively and with an undeniable element of authenticity.  His approval rating has climbed above 50 percent. Good thing the Constitution keeps him from running for reelection. All in all, this was also a fantastic week for the Americans who love the president, because they were reminded in more than one way about why they do. Are they deceived? Well, maybe or certainly to some extent, but why shouldn’t you be grateful when you’re getting what you think you want?

Well, the most important thing now is to be on the right side of History, which is a bit confusing for those who believed that History died with Communism. Damon Linker tried manfully to reconcile his belief that SSM was inevitable, and all opposition to it is reactionary, with a defense of reactionary religious commitments as sincere, sometimes ennobling, and certainly not necessarily bigoted. People trapped in the “Founders good/Progressives bad” mode of thinking, wake up! The newest form of Progressivism has nothing to do with socialism or even bigger and better government; it’s about freeing the individual from forms of oppression once thought necessary and proper. Our friend Pat Deneen is exaggerating more than a bit when he says that observant Christians in America now, in effect, live under Communism or a regime in which ideological lies are being deployed to stamp out living in the truth. Still, he is right that you can’t defend religious liberty without really believing that unfashionable religious opinion — opinion seemingly on the wrong side of History — might actually be true. Justice Kennedy certainly gave no evidence for his complacent assertion that all the recent changes in the American idea of marriage have made marriage stronger. Most — although not all – of the evidence points in the other direction. Some gay writers acknowledge that marriage has been on the ropes in our country, and they claim that the infusion of a large number of same-sex marriages will strengthen it. That hope has the merit of being more nuanced than Kennedy’s History, and we will see whether it pans out. Let’s just say that inquiring minds still have plenty of reason to disagree, and le’s hope that discussion (on both sides) can become reasonable.

I really was quite moved when, driving through the heavily gay midtown section of Atlanta last Sunday, I saw so many homes and businesses flying the rainbow flag with the American flag. It’s not a a small thing that so many gays now feel fully at home in their country, where they’re free to live openly as who they are. But I wish more people were moved by Catholic writers calling for the American flag to be removed from the sanctuaries of their churches. Some argue that it never should have been there in the first place, and a Christian should always think of himself, as Saint Augustine says, as an alien or a pilgrim in his country. Still, many Christians have written in the last few days they have come to think of themselves, for the first time, as aliens in their country, and they know they will soon be marginalized if they live loudly and proudly (and charitably) as who they are.

Notice that I’ve managed to avoid waxing judgmental about the Confederate battle flag, although Apple moved to banish Civil War games that show that flag in the context of Confederate soldiers actually going into battle. Well, let me add one point: The main flag fact about the South today, especially the small-town South, is not the Stars and Bars; it’s the Stars and Stripes seen everywhere in places public and private, commercial and residential. The Confederate flag, it goes without saying, is hardly at all and shouldn’t be at all a sign of some present-tense form of allegiance.  That doesn’t mean Americans should be deprived of historical literacy just because one flag lost and even deserved to lose. And it shouldn’t be a thought crime to believe that Lee and Jackson were really great generals and even good (although certainly misguided)  men.

Speaking of flags and huge corporations, Frank Bruni had a complacent little article in the New York Times saying that our corporations, animated mainly by greedy enlightened self-interest, are maybe the most potent agents for change when it comes to getting rid of the Confederate flag and all things Confederate as well as to SSM, immigration, overturning laws that allegedly protect “religious freedom,” and various other progressive causes. Trust the corporations more than the government, because they are more democratic in the sense of being more consumer sensitive. I take Bruni’s article to support Pat Deneen’s claim that when it come to being down with capitalism and subservient to the corporate oligarchy, there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the dominant sectors in our two parties now. That, too, is surely an exaggeration, although it’s ironic that the Republicans right now are more (if getting less) about resisting the tide of History that can also be called the dynamic of the 21st-cenury global competitive marketplace. The truth is that the corporations, in the service of one form of diversity, work to stamp out other forms — beginning with genuine moral and religious diversity.

Peter Augustine LawlerPeter Augustine Lawler is Dana Professor of Government at Berry College. He is executive editor of the acclaimed scholarly quarterly Perspectives on Political Science and served on President George ...

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